Master's Theses



Degree Name

Master of Fine Arts (MFA)


Mental illness is surprisingly far more common than people care to believe. This is in part due to the stigma which follows close behind it. Stigma, a mark of disgrace, began before medical experts and psychologists started studying mental illness in the 1840s. Before this time mental illness was seen as demonic possession. Usually, severe mental illness develops genetically. Although severe cases of mental illness are rare, the media has exploited them such as Jekyll and Hyde, Psycho, or Frailty. This stigma has caused many individuals who may suffer from mental illness to avoid treatment. I tell the stories of many different individuals with this stigma in my drawings.

How does nature vs nurture affect the mental health of the individual in question? Nature refers to mental illness developing from genetics. Someone that has developed mental illness through social and learning behaviors or experiences is called nurture. The debate over which one causes most harm is not relevant. These two causes will always coexist in harmony and chaos. The individual is at constant odds with these constructs. To fully understand the effects of nurture, nature must also be known and vice versa. This internal battle between nature and nurture can have a profound effect on the mental health of any individual which can cause immediate changes to the psyche and personality. While more severe mental illnesses are found in the nature of an individual, such as Schizophrenia, Bipolar disorder, Autism, or Major Depression, the vast majority of mental illness is created through nurture. Examples of such include Anxiety disorders, Depression, Post Traumatic Stress disorder, and Borderline Personality disorder.

Individuals do not have control over their nature or what family they are born into. Everyone I have met has had experiences which have strongly affected their mental health to varying degrees of stress. My great grandfather was institutionalized for a portion of his life diagnosed with schizophrenia. I know little about him except for a few stories my mother could remember and my own memories of a frail old man bedridden in pen-striped pajamas that I jabbered to on occasion with no response. Learning about my grandfather’s mental illness was eye opening. No one in my family spoke about mental illness except for short responses when I inquired. Mental Illness was never something anyone wanted to talk about. I knew I wanted to understand mental illness. I wanted to understand my family connection to mental illness and how I could take better care of myself. I have no idea how my great grandfather led his life before his time at the mental institution. I often wonder what he did that made others take away his freedom. I remember my grandfather to be harmless. If it had not been for my grandmother, his daughter, there’s no telling what would have happened to him. Perhaps eventually discarded by the state. My grandmother took in a man she knew little about, except for by relation and whatever the hospital told her, fed and clothed him. She nurtured my great grandfather, whom most would see as broken natured.

Individuals do not have control over their nurturing in childhood or the trauma they have experienced in life. Unfortunately, these are serious issues which society is only recently willing to have an open conversation about. There is still resistance towards the subject which keeps stigma alive which continues to cause harm. Stigma can’t be completely eradicated but the conversation begins to diminish it.

I started gathering discarded objects I found during my drives or runs in the country. I found broken wood, a rusty gas can, and anything that was abandoned. These objects reminded me of myself and others who have struggled with mental illness. The found objects I use in my work symbolize this trauma that others have acquired throughout their life. Whether the found object is wood, metal, or another material, the object has been nurtured the same as any individual may be neglected. Drawing stories and events from people struggling with mental illness onto found objects, helps nurture the discarded back to life. I put myself in these people's stories so I can try to understand their anguish or joy. All these drawn elements come together to express nature as well as nurture.


Professor Amy Schmierbach

Date of Award

Spring 2021

Document Type



© 2021 Jared Ean Jennings e.g. © 2018 Melville Dewey


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