By: Jaclyn Kotora, Contributing Writer
There are many benefits of creative expression in society and everyday lives. No matter the medium, art is a source of enjoyment and inspiration; however, it works deeper, as it can be a way to treat and heal mental health issues. For one, art is a great way to express complex emotions and thoughts in a visual way that helps bring context and understanding to a subject. Processing struggles and feelings through this expression is a useful way to stop and explore more in-depth what’s behind a problem, stress, or emotion. It is important to note that art doesn’t have to be about making the most visually pleasing, perfect piece of work-- it is about finding comfort, meaning, and connection to life. As the saying goes, it is not about the destination; it is about the journey.
Producing art can be a beneficial source of therapy, as it is a more manageable way to communicate your struggles and feelings to others. Art Therapy Manager Tammy Shella at Cleveland Clinic explains, “People who’ve experienced major traumas can’t explain what they’re going through… We might also mask our emotions to appear strong to those around us. But through art therapy, patients can convey how they really feel on the inside and reveal things that they weren’t comfortable sharing with the world.”
Not only can art help reveal things to others, but it can also be a way for one’s self-discovery and recognition. Often people experience events and emotions that seem incomprehensible and hard to identify. Comparing the feeling or experience to a visual metaphor can help someone better understand the emotion, so they are better equipped to cope with it. For instance, one could use different colors and tones to reflect certain emotions, as well as different shapes and figures. Additionally, many metaphors could be used, like the weather. Rain may suggest isolation and sadness, while clouds could suggest confusion and numbness--- it is really all up to the artist to decide how to express themselves.
Building off the emotional effects of art, this type of expression is a healthy way for emotional release and relief. Mary Ann Cohen, one of the nation’s most successful art dealers, expresses, “The greatest benefit of art therapy is giving you a healthy outlet for expressing and letting go of all your feelings and fears. When you are unable to express yourself, but you desire emotional release, making art may help you to do it.” Cohen goes on to explain how art is also a way of providing stress relief, saying, “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.”
Often, people try to cope in ways that can be harmful to themselves and others, leaving disastrous effects. However, art is a way to release emotional tensions in a non-destructive manner, and it provides temporary peace to the mind and body. Kaitlyn Proctor of The Art Center Highland Park, a non-profit visual arts organization, states, “The process of creation, however, is the antithesis to these destructive tendencies, giving the mind something positive to focus on, and rooting someone in the present moment as opposed to being carried away with unhelpful thoughts and troubling emotions.”
I myself create art as a coping mechanism to deal with complex emotions such as anger and sadness. Sometimes when I am in one of those deep moods and headspaces where I feel like there is no way out, I pour my emotions into an art piece, emptying my mind and releasing it onto paper. During these episodes, I’m not paying much attention to the product; I am concentrating more on what I am putting down and how it feels. In the end, I feel lighter as the weight of my emotions has been temporarily released, my mind now clearer to process what is going on.
Art has many benefits for emotional and mental health, as it is a method of discovery, communication, and relief. A person does not have to have special supplies or mediums, nor do they have to be artistically skilled to participate in this form of therapy-- the focus is on the process, not the product. When participating in this exercise, it is not about creating something worthy of a museum; it is about finding understanding, meaning, and connection within life.
Link to cover image: https://www.fluxmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/Art-Web-1.jpg