“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”
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.”
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!