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How does art have the ability to heal you?

Fiona Wong explores how art has been used in therapy as well as commercial development through books.

Art has always been known to be an expressive medium, and from studying the biographies of artists we can certainly see how it has been used to communicate experiences as well as those imagined, offering an escape. As a History of Art student, with a background in practical art this topic has greatly sparked my interest. It is particularly of more significance for this generation, which has been reported as more stressed than ever, due to the fast-paced busy lives of deadlines. With the increase in technological advances and attachments to our phones, we are readily available and reachable, never being able to fully take a break. Methods of relieving stress have been necessarily and heavily explored, including those which overlap with art. In addition to art therapy, there are more commercial methods readily available such as colouring in, which had seen a recent sharp increase in popularity.

For some, the power of art is questionable and they fail to see any connection of the potential impact in a therapeutic aspect. However, art is incredibly interwoven with emotions, often and almost always linked with a personal emotional journey. We can witness this from artworks such as Claude Monet’s “Water Lilies”, where his garden offered a sanctuary from war symbolising not only peace but representing the mourning of those lost in the war. The colours with the incredible ability of being able to evoke emotions of peace and serenity. Even visiting art galleries and viewing artworks is a method of immersing yourself in a different environment, similar to what reading literature can provide, as a form of escapism. Large portions of the brain are dedicated to social processing, and the emotional triggers art fulfil our desires promoting better mental health and wellbeing.

The belief that art has no relevance or the unique ability to display emotions is often overshadowed by the idea that it must be created with skill, focusing on the artistic aspect. On the contrary, the purpose of art in art therapy is to create this journey, where creative expression is used to release the mind as opposed to focusing on producing a work of artistic value. Therefore, no prior experience or “being good at art” is required. Referring to the idiom, “a picture is worth a thousand words,” we are able communicate feelings and thoughts more easily through visual techniques. In addition, it comes in forms such as drawing, sculpting and painting, so one can release their thoughts and emotions in a variety of ways. Furthermore, it is accessible for all ages and is being used in a some hospitals, not only for treating current patients, but also outpatients who require treatment for mental trauma. However, this is not widely offered nor an option that is highly considered, but with an increase in demand and popularity this is growing and hopefully will reach more people.

With the rise in sales of colouring books such as Secret Garden by Johanna Basford, which had reached #1 on the New York Times Best Sellers list. This has brought to light a new method of de-stressing and an outlet for emotions. This trend of colouring in, bringing a hint of nostalgia to us has proven to be calming with effects similar to meditation, as the brain is focused solely on the activity. The books are filled with intricately designed pages, linking to nature and are incredibly aesthetically pleasing. If you do not have the skill of doodling, this exercises your mind in colours, or rather expresses your thoughts and emotions. One may question the real impacts of colouring in, but like many of us can recall from when we were younger, there was a sense of pride and achievement from completing the pages. Although not officially classed as a form of art therapy, as this requires a relationship between a therapist and patient, this option is financially affordable and widely available. As a university student, this has helped with insomnia and useful for an outlet of stress. More importantly, this is a method that does not require technology, so when using it there are no distractions or notifications popping up on the screen. Furthermore, it is important to not look at screens with a backlight before sleeping, and this keeps your brain awake and alert, making it more difficult to switch off and go to sleep.

Stemming from the big question of “what is the purpose of art?” there are many answers, involving the exploration of what art can do for you, where the purpose is catered to the individual. Whether it has the ability to heal would depend on one’s mindset, and how they choose to approach it. With research that proves it is does have the ability to heal, ultimately it is through determination and belief it will work in which art therapy may only act as a guide to assist. But with the growth of the art therapy industry and developments, it is an option worth considering and exploring.

Photo Credit: Flickr

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