JoAnn's Story

JoAnn Cutler’s journey with art is intertwined with her experience of mental illness – both have been a key presence in her life since she was a young child.  

“I remember painting as far back as four years old, when my father taught me how to use a paintbrush. I’ll never forget that lesson and all the encouragement my family gave me to hone my skills over the years.”  

“In terms of mental illness, my grandmother suffered all her life with bipolar disorder. I was a witness to my family’s care and concern for her and the effect it had on us too. My father also battled a severe anxiety disorder, often being taken to hospital feeling like he was dying. He was unable to work, which put a financial strain on the family and a huge strain on my parent’s relationship.” 

JoAnn would go on to face her own struggles with mental illness, exacerbated by a deeply unhappy marriage. 

“My ex-husband was a complicated man and I lived with stress, unhappiness and mental abuse daily. I developed an anxiety disorder and suffered depression. I began to understand a little bit of my father’s battles and how hard it can be to cope with life. Little things seemed like mountains – insurmountable.” 

"Feathers and Koi" by JoAnn Cutler on display at the 2021 Recovered Futures Art Exhibition.


After leaving the marriage, JoAnn embarked upon a quest to find herself. This involved plenty of art therapy, which brought her great joy and meaning. It also resulted in finding fulfilling employment.  

I have had the privilege of being an Art Team Leader with a major Queensland disability service provider.  Seeing how the clients responded to my teaching methods, and how much they loved the art they were producing, encouraged me to reach out to teach more people.”  

JoAnn recently opened her own studio to facilitate creative arts recreational escapes for people of all abilities. It is in a space where she can really let her artistic creativity loose, while teaching and inspiring others. 

Reflecting on the way mental illness is perceived by society, and how it has played out in her life, JoAnn has a few valuable insights.  

It’s an invisible illness, so it can be difficult for people to understand. It can be such a shock for others to think that this outgoing, fun and seemingly happy person can also be suffering in silence.  That’s where the stigma comes from – it can be hard for others to accept.  But what I’ve learned is that even though a person has a mental illness, it doesn’t define them and it doesn’t define what they can achieve.”