Thursday, 15 December 2011

Art as Therapy?

“Art washes from the soul the dust of everyday life.”

So said Picasso. But is that your experience too? Do you find making your art therapeutic? Does it help you to relax, does it energise you? Or do you find it stressful or frustrating? Is it hard work, constantly striving to improve your art or do you look forward the challenges?

For me it can be a bit of both!

I first became aware of the stressful side of making art about twenty years ago when I was doing a lot of silkscreen printing. I would work on the design with enthusiasm until I was satisfied with it, happily prepare the stencil, the screen and the cardstock or fabric I was going to print on – and then I would freeze!

When the time arrived to actually print my design, panic would take over. I have sat in my kitchen at that point, seized by fear, super-glued to my chair! What if, after all this preparatory work, it all comes to nothing? What if I’ve wasted all this time – and materials? What if, what if...

Even all these years later, I sometimes still experience the same slightly queasy, panicky feeling when I’m about to embark on ‘the real thing’ after a period of preparatory work. But I’ve found a solution, a very simple one! All it takes is to say to myself firmly, ‘Just do it!’ – and get on with it and the panic immediately subsides.

“The pursuit of art on a regular basis may be the key to healing our minds and bodies.”  Kim Blair

But by far the greater part of my experience of making art is decidedly therapeutic. I’ve probably mentioned that I’ve had back problems for much of my adult life and there’s no denying that the cause is a physical, disk problem, alleviated but not eliminated by surgery. But our minds and bodies are not easily separated from one another and our minds can play a major role in deciding the amount and severity of the pain we experience.

“Making Art is good for your health,
especially if it is done in fun” 
Orithia Johnston

I first noticed the power of our minds to affect my backpain when I was spending a lot of time painting in pastels. I always stand to paint and each painting takes roughly 45 minutes, or about the length of the CD I play while I paint. Standing has always been the ‘killer’ for my back and yet I suffered no ill-effects from standing at the easel to paint.

Standing in a supermarket queue is a different matter, though! Four or five minutes and I’m shifting from foot to foot, looking for something to lean on, wishing I could jump the queue and wondering whether I’ll last out till it’s my turn to be served.

The difference, if I’m honest, is that waiting in line for my turn frustrates me, particularly as I’m always in a rush! There’s no such frustration involved in my painting, quite the opposite and the combination of the music and doing something that I love to do seems to produce the endorphins that are our body’s natural painkillers.

“Art heals by changing a person’s 
physiology and attitude. It takes you
‘away’ to some other place.” Barbara Timberman

Perhaps even more astonishing is the contrast between when I was teaching and the time since my tutoring business went into decline with the economic downturn. Although I also enjoy teaching and am pretty passionate about ensuring that all children get the chance to become fully literate, at the end of each teaching session, my back was in such a bad way that it was as much as I could do to prepare something to eat – from the freezer to the microwave!  - and I was taking painkillers almost every evening.

“I paint for my mental health.
It is a lot cheaper than seeing 
a therapist and a lot more fun.” 
Jane Conkin

But since I started painting again a couple of years ago, I can’t remember the last time I took a painkiller and there have even  been days when I’ve sat for a full 10 hours at the computer without any pain.

I believe the reason for my pain whilst teaching is that old bugbear of mine – frustration! One hour a week, at a time when the children are tired, is no substitute for a short daily session and this seriously hampered the progress we were able to make – which I found very frustrating. And it was my backpain that shouted at me to stop! Unfortunately I’m quite a persistent person and I took no notice – until the economic downturn took away my choice!

I consider myself fortunate not to be a perfectionist so I rarely put myself under any pressure where my artwork is concerned and I can just enjoy it to the full. It calms me when other stresses arise, it makes me want to get up in the mornings and it feels like what I’m supposed to be doing.

Van Gogh said:  

‘The only time I feel alive is when I’m painting’

And if my grumpiness when other things keep me from painting is anything to go by, I’m beginning to know what he means!



Ulla Hennig said...

My experience is a bit similar. For me art takes place in my free time, after work or at the weekend. The strange thing is that even after a long working day I look forward to sit down in front of my computer, or at the table in my living room where I draw and paint. It is like disappearing into another world, leaving all other things behind.

Judy Adamson said...

Hi Ulla - I think you 'hit the nail on the head' with 'it's like disappearing into another world . . .'!

I, for one, intend to disappear into that world more frequently in 2012!

Donna L "Sunshine" said...

I agree it is a bit of both for me... when I'm doing art in my spare time for just myself, it is very relaxing. I can reflect back on the summer days in my youth escaping into the work of creativity and imagination - either sculpting in children's clay or doodling - as a way of escaping the harsh realities of life after my parents divorced. Today, I use it to escape the stresses of day to day life just trying to make ends meet. So, there it is my therapy. However, it rears an ugly head when I am doing work for sale or under commission - I feel pressured to be perfect - the art sometimes fights me tooth and claw to come out because I'm so worried over meeting the expectations of the purchasing client or the general public where the art will be up for sale. I question my abilities - I question being accepted as an artist - and the work at times seems to be forced instead of free flowing.

My question - how to let the child come out and play so readily when working for someone else - to not feel the pressure for acceptance and need for perfection so the art reflects my best and shines brilliantly?

Judy Adamson said...

Very good question, Donna!

But I'm afraid I don't have a foolproof answer, maybe because I'm not particularly prone to perfectionism.

In theory I'd say, if working for certain people brings on these counterproductive feelings, look elsewhere for outlets for your art, where you won't feel under such pressure. But, having said that, I know that in practice, that's not always so easy, especially if you're needing to make a living from your art.

Anyone else have any suggestions?

Betsy Grant said...

The creative process can be therapeutic and at times frustrating, that's for sure.

Judy Adamson said...

Hi Betsy - thank you for your comment, reminding us that it's more to do with the creative process in general, rather than just art.

Jean said...

Merry Christmas Judy!!!

Carole Barkett said...

I missed this post somehow. I find art wonderful therapy unless I have to do it or have a deadline. I don't know how people who have to be creative for a living, do it.

Judy Adamson said...

Hi Jean - a Merry Christmas to you too!

Hi Carole - thank you for your comment.

Peter Davis said...

Art has been proven to stir the soul so it has to be a given that it benefits your health. Here's a good article on the subject

Judy Adamson said...

Thank you very much for your comments, Peter, and for the link to a very interesting article.