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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 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 has more significance for this generation, which is reportedly more stressed than ever, due to our fast-paced lives built around constant deadlines. With the increase in technological advances and attachments to our phones, we are always readily available and reachable, never allowing ourselves 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 available such as colouring in, which has seen a recent sharp increase in popularity.

For some, the power of art is questionable. They fail to see any connection of the potential impact in a therapeutic sense. However, art is incredibly interwoven with emotions, almost always linked with a personal emotional journey. We can witness this in artworks such as Claude Monet’s “Water Lilies”, where his garden offers a sanctuary from war, symbolising not only peace but representing the mourning of those lost in the war. The colours have 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 - a form of escapism. Large portions of the brain are dedicated to social processing, and the emotional triggers of art fulfil our desires, promoting better mental health and wellbeing.

The belief that art has no relevance or ability to portray emotions is often overshadowed by the idea that it must be created with skill. On the contrary, the purpose of art therapy is to uncover 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 artistic skill is required. Referring to the idiom, “a picture is worth a thousand words,” we are able to communicate thoughts and feelings more easily through visual techniques. In addition, art therapy comes in forms such as drawing, sculpting and painting, so we can release our thoughts and emotions in a variety of ways. Furthermore, it is accessible for all ages and is being used in some hospitals, not only for treating current patients, but also outpatients who require further treatment for mental trauma. However, it is not widely offered, nor an option that is highly considered, but with an increase in demand and popularity it will grow and hopefully reach more people.

In recent years, we have seen the rise in sales of colouring books such as Secret Garden by Johanna Basford, which had ranked first on the New York Times' Best Sellers list. This has brought to light a new method of destressing 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, often linking to nature, and are aesthetically pleasing. If you do not have the skill of doodling, this exercises your mind in colours, expressing your thoughts and emotions. We 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 that requires a relationship between a therapist and patient, these books are an option that is financially affordable and widely available. As a university student, this has helped with insomnia and is useful as 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 your screen. Furthermore, it is important to not look at screens with a backlight before sleeping, as this keeps your brain awake and alert, making it more difficult to switch off and go to sleep.

Stemming from the big question: “what is the purpose of art?” there are many answers, which involve the exploration of what art can do for you, as the purpose is catered to the individual. Whether it has the ability to heal would depend on mindset and the individual’s approach.

While research does prove that it has the ability to heal, ultimately it is through determination and belief in its efficiency that it will work. Ultimately, art methods may only act as a guide to assist. However, these methods are still an option, and one most definitely worth considering and are many answers,

which involve the exploration of what art can

do for you, as the purpose is catered to the

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