The Importance of Place
: A practice-led investigation into the liminal space between artist-doctor and patient-artist, in the process of making art and recovery in the House of Artists and the Gugging Atelier, at Maria Gugging in Austria

  • Drew Max Walker

    Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


    This thesis focuses on art, mental illness and recovery within the innovative model of therapeutic healthcare in the Gugging House of Artists, a small-scale psychiatric facility in Austria. Gugging’s 12 Residents live together as self-taught artists in a system of holistic processes, transformative community and socially integrated creativity. The practice-led research, which is the subject of this thesis was carried out between 2016 and 2020 using the double perspective of an artist who also lives with chronic mental illness. It aimed to identify a holistic model of ongoing recovery for adoption in Scotland.

    The research question asks - what is the nature of the artistic and psychological process between patient-artist and artist-doctor in Gugging? In search of answers, this study explores Gugging’s capacity to destigmatize mental illness through art, treatment, and community; how the creativity-relationship played a role in Residents’ recovery through the renegotiation of self; the significance of place to operational- mutuality; and the researcher’s own perceptions arising from investigating these.

    Gugging was primarily examined through the researcher’s own developed methodology called Falling UP; which is also his art practice and artistic community of 32 collaborators comprising artists, medical professionals, and the researcher's own family. Primary research deployed ethnography, interpretive autoethnography, duoethnography, art collaboration, and action research. Art, mental illness and recovery were interrogated through participation, the piloting of creative practices, artworks, interviews, observations, field trips, exhibitions, and advocacy.

    Gugging’s system of two processes, living in art and und die Welt (and the world), has progressively developed through 4 decades of socio-political change, which included de- institutionalisation, major changes in psychiatry, pharmacology, social care, community medicine, and art therapy; times of international political censure of Austria, and the re-definition of art and the art market. Gugging proved to be flexible and versatile, remodelling itself into a unique multi-layered system combining significant elements of societal change. Living together as artists within Gugging’s two processes both destigmatizes and empowers the House of Artists’ intergenerational community towards improved health, and sustainable longevity. Residents’ aspirational lifestyles of intention advocate social justice, value and diversity, supported by co-designed restorative structures of family, resilience and opportunity.

    Gugging operates ecologically through its four component infrastructures (House of Artists; Galerie Gugging; Atelier; Museum Gugging) within living in art and und die Welt to support its Residents’ family-life and family-art business, inside a cultural cottage industry. Gugging provides long-term meaningful, interconnected professional participation in culture for its artist-Residents, their care-staff, and cultural support-staff, collectively forming the wider Gugging-family. Gugging is neither art therapy nor therapeutic art. The research revealed that it is a highly efficacious methodology for improved wellbeing and a supportive ethical business model that involves Residents at the core of day-to-day functioning as professional self-taught artists. Art is their job, and Galerie Gugging their structure and means to earn-a-living in the global art market. Gugging Artists’ work is admired and collected across the world by public galleries such as MoMA in New York, and renowned private collections such as the David Bowie art collection.

    This study’s contribution to new knowledge is threefold: firstly, the creation and deployment of Falling UP as a research methodology, art practice, and collaborative community; secondly, the researcher’s declared qualifications as an artist-researcher with mental illness and the unique perspectives that this offers; thirdly, this is the first study specifically into Gugging’s artistic and psychological processes which also constructs deep insights into the historical socio-political and cultural evolution of Gugging. The researcher theorises this in the form of a triple-helix, positioning living in art and und die Welt to intertwine with society, inter-connected by Gugging’s infrastructures. The helix represents time and evolution through socio-political and cultural engagement to the mutual enrichment of Residents and wider society.

    Scotland’s reductionist position towards artistic and psychological therapeutic care of mentally ill patients does not offer the scope, efficacy, or ambition of Gugging’s system. Therefore, this thesis will conclude by proposing recommendations for change to Scotland’s system of mental health treatments.
    Date of Award2021
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorLouise Valentine (Supervisor) & Jeanette Paul (Supervisor)


    • Art
    • Mental illness
    • Recovery
    • Gugging
    • Stigma
    • Ecology
    • Community
    • Innovation
    • Co-creation
    • Wellbeing
    • Autoethnography
    • Austria
    • Art process
    • Psychological process
    • Falling UP
    • Practice-led PhD
    • Agency
    • Activism
    • Neurodiversity
    • Culture

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