Mental Health and Art

There has always been a close nexus between art and mental health. 

For long now, people have used art as a catharsis for their emotions. It does not matter how one chooses to create art. It can take up several forms which depends simply on the individuals – music engagement, visual arts therapy, movement-based creative expression, and expressive writing. Engaging in art or artistic endeavors has always been a relaxing and inspiring activity. 

 

 

Several researchers and scholars have talked about art and its impact on mental health. There are new forms of evidence emerging in the biological, cognitive, and neurological field which draws a correlation between the arts and the brain. For example, researchers have used biofeedback to study the effects of visual art on neural circuits and neuroendocrine markers to find biological evidence that visual art promotes health, wellness and fosters adaptive responses to stress.In another study, cognitive neuroscientists found that creating art reduces cortisol levels (markers for stress), and that through art people can induce positive mental states. These studies are part of a new field of research, called neuroestheticsthe scientific study of the neurobiological basis of the arts

Studies have revealed that art helps people express experiences which are too difficult to put in words. Pain and silences have a language of their own and sometimes it gets manifested in one’s art. Artistic self-expression also contributes to the maintenance or reconstruction of a positive identity. As a result, art therapy is now being used to treat psychological disorders and enhance one’s mental health. It was only around the 1940s that it became a formal program.

The simplest way to define art therapy is an application of the visual arts in a therapeutic context. It helps to deal with grief, loss, addiction, anxiety, eating disorders, depression, dementia, PTSD, trauma. Studies have shown art stimulates the release of dopamine- a chemical that is released when we do something pleasurable and basically makes us feel happier. Increased levels of this feel-good neurotransmitter can be very helpful if one is battling anxiety or depression. Cancer patients, for instance, are also encouraged to take up art therapy as it helps them to explore meanings of their past, present, and future which in turn help them give meaning to their life. Initiatives have also been taken by several volunteer-led groups or universities across the globe to induct refugees into art therapy – a positive channel or rather a catharsis to vent or express their emotions; which finally renders for their emotional or social well being.

It is of utmost importance to thereby pinpoint some of there key benefits of art therapy:

 

  1. Self-discovery: Creating art can help you acknowledge and recognize feelings that have been lurking in your subconscious.

  2. Self-esteem: The process will give you a feeling of self-accomplishment which can be very valuable to improve your self-appreciation and confidence.

  3. Emotional release: The greatest benefit of art therapy is giving you a healthy outlet for expressing and letting go of all your feelings and fears. Complex emotions such as sadness or anger sometimes cannot be expressed with words. When you are unable to express yourself, but you desire emotional release, making art may help you to do it.

  4. Stress relief: Fighting anxiety, depression or emotional trauma can be very stressful for you both mentally and physically. Creating art can be used to relieve stress and relax your mind and body.

 

Amidst a pandemic, when we are all stuck at our home and the situation around us is so grim and glib, art can provide us with some respite. We can start small and take our own pace and time to do it. It will help us to maintain our sanity in these otherwise unprecedented times. So for all you out there, go add some colour in your otherwise mundane routines. 

Artists and creative blocks

Creative block – happens to the best of us.

Creative blocks are our inability to access that very inner creative streak which makes us unique individuals. It is most commonly observed in those circles who are engaged in creative professions – musicians, artists, writers, choreographers etc. But that does not mean others involved in different professions are absolutely untouched by it. (We all do remember the ‘slump’ of the famous fictional character  detective Jake Peralta in Brooklyn 99, where he was unable to make breakthroughs on several unsolved cases.)

Not happy with the type of work you are doing recently? Feeling that your works aren’t articulate enough? Lack of innovative ideas? Maybe, you are facing a block or are in a ‘slump’. There are several reasons as to why such blocks occur. It may be because of a lack of enthusiasm, self-worth – not believing in one’s own capability or talent, fear of rejection, treading on uncharted aspects or delving into unexplored arenas which gives rise to a fear of failure. However, there might be several others such as the death of a loved one, lack of financial and emotional support from family and friends, chronic illness or the loss of meaning or purpose to one’s life. Acknowledging or addressing such underlying problems is the only way to overcome such a hurdle.

Albeit, there are many who do consider that creative block is a myth, and are often used by people in creative circles as an excuse. But what is pertinent here is to understand that it is a very natural part of any creative process. It is not an anomaly. Famous artists in the field have talked about how there are times when one is bursting with ideas and inspiration and all the necessary components—time, focus, etc.—are in place. On the other hand, there are other times when one or more of those elements is missing and thereby it becomes difficult to work. One inadvertently has to accept this pattern and understand that blocks are temporary and that this too shall pass. 

The way forward out of it is to face your fears. If necessary take some time off and do something that inspires you. For instance, after the death of his wife, Monet was at a hiatus for almost two years. He broke it by painting the rose-covered trellises at the entrance to his water garden at his home in northern France. The resulting artwork was the famous 22 panels of the Grandes Decorations.

Artists across the globe, have now addressed this problem and have put forward their own set of solutions for upcoming or fellow artists. Painter Lisa Golightly has said “ I give myself permission to just make for the sake of making without any thought to the outcome, which can be surprisingly hard. … What I would tell my younger self is this: There is no “right” way to make art. The only wrong is in not trying, not doing. Don’t put barriers up that aren’t there — just get to work and make something. Mixed-media artist Trey Speegle puts it perfectly saying that “You have to set up the narrow parameters that you work in, and then within those, give yourself just enough room to be free and play.”

So for all of you out there struggling with blocks at the moment just remember you are not alone. There’s no going back but just a small hiccup in your way forward.