Rhapsody in Blue, Detail, 30 x 43" / 76.2 x 109.22 cm, Watercolour on Paper, 2006
I’m sure you’ve heard people talk about this ~ about how art isn’t just something they might do for fun, or as a hobby, but something they sort of have to do because, well, it makes them feel better.
I’m no psychology major or anything like that, and I’m not even going to pretend I’m any sort of qualified to talk about trauma or therapy and stuff.
I guess what I’d like to go into in this jillablog post is how art has helped me to, you know. ‘Feel better’ or just get through, I suppose, whatever I needed to get through ~ some, unpleasantness or painful thing.
I’m not sharing any secrets or sordid specifics or anything ~ just sharing some ways my ‘scribbling and bibbling’ has helped me, personally.
Because you see at the outset I actually also had this idea of sharing a few suggestions for how you might do art as therapy, but you have to be certified and stuff to do that and I don’t want to do anything illegal or something.
But maybe my own experiences might give you a glimpse of how it might be helpful in case you or someone you know is looking for something to, you know. Help you feel better ^_^
But before anything else, a bit of background.
SFF, 13.75 x 21" / 34.925 x 53.34 cm, Watercolour on Paper, 2015
I suppose it was inevitable for me (or other artists or pretty much anybody involved in art) to hear about art therapy. Upon hearing about it, I guess you could say I got, on the spot, intuitively how that worked. Maybe because art was something I did myself and I could relate to how or the potential it had to help people deal with stuff and understand themselves better.
But I had never actually felt like Googling it before or looking it up, seriously ~ maybe because I didn’t think I had to (because it was *obvious* to me), or maybe because, well there was this one time.
I remember I had been at a gallery where they had invited a psychologist or two to talk about art and, well, psychology, and, I guess I wasn’t, smart enough to get the point (let’s put it like that) XD
But I think I can say that I do, subscribe to how art can be helpful to people who need that kind of help. And I think that it can be better let’s say, than some things people do to help them deal like I don’t know. Getting drunk or high or beating people up or crashing into things, that kind of thing.
That art can help people understand themselves or other people better, I can readily understand ~ and it’s not just a surface, first-glance assessment of what (or what isn’t) being represented in the work, either. By ‘representation’ I mean, say, a painting of a dead cat in some back alley ~ and non-rep might be a bunch of bright pastels dancing free and easy across a canvas.
I’m talking about things like brushwork or the level of detail and process. To me it’s like handwriting ~ if you’re into graphology, anyway (Sherlock sure was ^_^).
For me those things say a lot more about a person (artists are people, after all LOL) than the theme or subject matter of the work. And, if you’re willing to take the time and make the effort, I think you might learn a pretty good deal about somebody when you take a good, long look at what they’ve made.
Anyway, here’s some hastily search-engined science.
The Seer, 9 x 12" / 22.86 x 30.48 cm, Watercolour on Paper, 2009
I found these two good reads by Verywell Mind and GoodTherapy that talk about how art therapy began to be *officially recognised* as a form of, well, therapy. You’ll also find some information about the conditions and illnesses (which aren’t all psychological) art therapy can help with.
Speaking of which, this short and sweet read from Michigan State University lists how art therapy benefits your mental and physical health. One of these is to help ‘reduce pain, decrease symptoms of stress and improve quality of life in adult cancer patients’.
This stood out to me because it reminded me of these art classes a friend of mine and I used to give at a cancer foundation called Carewell way back when. They weren’t meant to be art therapy, really, but, I hope the painting and arts and crafts workshops we held for the patients there were able to help them out.
The MSU article also stood out to me because I admit it never occurred to me how art could benefit your physical health ~ mainly because of all the unhealthy things I, also admit I do which enable me *to art* ^_^; Things which can ultimately lead to burnout (or worse).
For actual use cases, check out The Use of Art Therapy in Addiction Treatment where you'll find a great educational guide on the benefits of art therapy for people recovering from addiction.
Here’s how art has been therapy for me.
1. It’s a way to express feelings. Some people sing when they’re happy. Some people cry when they’re sad. Some people yell when they’re angry. And some people paint pictures of happy, crying, yelling people ^_^;
I really hate to bring this up again (but I will anyway cos again, I’m not very smart), but I knew somebody once who um, encouraged me to do non-rep so I could ‘just let my feelings out’. I get that. I really do.
It’s just 1. It’s not me x not how I roll; and 2. Non-rep isn’t the only way to express how you feel in art ~ just because some people express themselves that way, doesn’t make it the only way. Just sayin’.
2. It’s a way to record (and process) events. Some things you want to remember; other things, not so much. I’m not sure x I guess this might be a sweeping statement, but when you use art as a means of recording an event there’s some editing that goes on. Sometimes, there’s maybe even, some, ‘creative licence’ (let’s put it like that). That might help with the processing bit.
In this detail of Last Trip, I included this little incident: My brothers and I were catching a train to go see a movie ~ that's me waving from the train, and four of my brothers catching up (that's the orange gryphon hanging on the tail of the train, the blue-green bear, the blue dragon, and the green hawk (there's a red lion on top meant to be my other brother (no. 3 (I have five brothers all told), but he wasn't there (he wouldn't be caught dead on a train XD) ~ Anyways all of us except my green brother made it; he had to take the next one to catch up (and actually I don't even remember what movie it was we went to see ^o^; )
Sometimes it’s not even events ~ it can be people, or things, and I think sometimes, you might do this like, subconsciously or without meaning to, really. There are times when I think you really can’t help that, and that things ‘really come out in your work’ whether you want them to or not. Not sure if that’s a good or a bad thing. But it’s definitely a thing.
3. It’s soothing and meditative, something you can lose yourself in or that grounds you, calms you down or helps you steady yourself ~ for me, anyway. I imagine some people might find it rather tedious, instead. In my case, I think that might be why I’m heavily into certain patterns like stars (or stripes ^_^) ~ or when I paint hair, or scales or feathers.
A piece I was working on for my upcoming show ~ as abstracted and simplistic as it is, it was highly therapeutic for me and something I did (as Mr V put it), 'absolutely for my pleasure' ^_^;
I was told once (by I forget who, another artist or illustrator, I think) that there was a decorative element in the way I do hair ~ I think that might have been because of the pattern or the rhythm in it. And speaking of ‘rhythm’, I tend to associate that more with my knifework, which in turn, I feel, is one of my more, um. Expressive techniques?
But then everything I do, I think, is pretty much ‘expressive’ XD
One thing I’ve always found particularly soothing is to paint taka ~ literal, actual taka, I mean (just the horses, anyway, I’m aware other forms exist). I really can’t say why that is, though.
Gave this taka to someone who'd done so much for me ~
I don't give taka lightly; the last one I'd painted before this blue one I'd given to a godchild ^^;
4. It’s a way to express goals or aspirations. You know how business coaches (or most any coach, I guess) tell you to articulate your goals or objectives because, when you write them down, that makes them more, ‘official’, somehow? I’m a fan of SMART goals myself. (Wow, I never thought I’d ever refer to something like this in my art writing ^O^; )
Millennium Moccoletti, 28.3465 x 20.4724 / 72 x 52 cm, Acrylic on Paper, 2014
I hope to see an actual one of these in Rome someday (and to be actually this happy)
I remember saying once (back when I did Jig, I think) that my painting all those happy things didn’t necessarily mean I was (happy) ~ I painted those things because I wanted to be ^o^; I don’t know; it’s like articulating a goal or a wish for me to work towards, I guess.
5. It’s a way to dream. In relation to No. 4, I think this might also be one reason why I often paint things I can’t do, e.g. fly, ride a bike ~ or for that matter, why I paint people or creatures who *don’t exist* ^_~ I also think this might be why I’m painting my daydreams for my next show ~ makes them *a bit more real* somehow.
Another 'daydream' in progress featuring stuff I can't do XD
Although I admit I’m not sure this has anything to do with therapy, really ^^;
6. It’s a way to just have some good ol’ fashioned fun ~ I mean isn’t fun therapeutic, too?
I’ve written before about how it can be easy to forget sometimes how painting is a happy thing when one is in *painting factory mode*, so for those of us who do this for a living or on a regular basis, it can be a good thing to remember this once in a while.
Personally I think this particularly holds true when I literally just paint or draw for fun (versus doing it for a show or a commission or a project or something). I’m glad I’ve been able to do this quite a few times in the past couple of years or so (usually on a Sunday afternoon) and I think I can say I’ve always felt better for it afterwards ^_^
One of the 'Sunday afternoon' things I've made recently just for fun involving an Instagram challenge
In summation, while x because I am not a licensed, certified art therapist or anything like that, I just wanted to be able to say that art has helped me in that way. And I hope, if you’re willing to give it a go, it’ll be able to help you that way, too, if you need it.
One thing I read in my hastily Googled “research” was how you don’t have to be an artist or know how to paint or draw or anything to do art as therapy.
And one or two things I didn’t have to read about this: 1. You don’t have to worry about it turning out nicely, and 2. Painting or drawing aren’t the only art forms you can explore for therapy.
Music, Professor!, 43 x 30.75" / 109.22 x 78.105 cm, Acrylic and Oil Pastel on Canvas, 2007
You can also do sculpture or pottery or photography or poetry or piano, piccolo, Piguaquan ~ you get the idea. Just pick something that appeals to you, something you think you can enjoy.
In any case, while I’ve all but retired from teaching and group things now, I’m not averse to just hanging out over an easel or piece’a plywood and just chewing the fat with a friend. If you’d like to indulge in a little ‘art therapy’ (onsite if you’re in my neck of the woods or online works about as well), drop me a line and let me know ^_~
Updated October 2023
* Interested in any of my pieces in this post? ^_^;
Drop me a line to let me know
and I'll let you know if it's still available,
or how soon I can make something similar just for you.