The Benefits of Art as Therapy – Part One

Posted on May 22, 2012

I will start this post with a simple explanation about art therapy.

Soo…What is Art Therapy? Tell me more about this animal!

“Art Therapy” is the name given to a type of therapeutic practice that uses art (such as painting, drawing, dance or music) to help deal with emotions, work through personal issues or relieve stress. By using art and creativity as a form of therapy, the user is empowered.

This form of therapy is gaining popularity amongst medical clinicians due to its overwhelming success; however you don’t need to have any specific reason to reap the benefits of art therapy.

So how can I benefit from art therapy?

In case you need further convincing, allow me to list a few reasons of how making art can benefit you.

WORKING THROUGH EMOTIONS

Artists are widely known for being more in touch with their emotions than most. They are often highly passionate people who speak regularly about how a mood can affect their art. One might reason that practising art would enable you to also overflow with creativity and productivity too.

When you tap into your inner self through creative art making, it can help you process emotions and feelings that you might not be otherwise able to express. You might even choose to paint the emotion you are feeling if you are having trouble with bottling things up.

Jackson Pollock was an abstract artist known for his unique technique of what could believably be interpreted as ‘an angry monkey randomly throwing lots of paint at huge canvases’ (though in fact it was intuitive and often carefully planned dripping of paint). In 1956 Time magazine named him “Jack the Dripper” for good reason.

Jackson Pollock in action by H. Namuth

Anyhoo, back to the point… Pollock, for all his genius and tempers, lead a troubled life and spent most of it as an alcoholic. He was married to another artist, and several of his doctors tried to engage him in art as part of his psychotherapy; before his untimely death at 44.

COPING WITH GRIEF OR MENTAL ILLNESS

Looking back at history, there are many examples of how art has helped people cope with grief and inner turmoil. Some of the more famous people with mental illness were brilliant creatives. Beethoven suffered from bipolar disorder; his ‘manic’ episodes were apparently like a huge burst of ‘creativity on steroids’ where he wrote some of his finest emotionally charged pieces.

Pablo Picasso‘s “Blue Period” was a phase lasting from 1901 – 1904, where all his paintings featured a heavy blue tint and a sombre feel to them. It was spurred on by the loss of his friend who committed suicide not long before, and Picasso sank into a severe depression.
[I’m almost certain the reason he painted in blue was not from having the same paint supplier as Yves Klein, but history could be wrong ;) ]

Vincent van Gogh (the deceased Dutch Post-Impressionist artist who famously cut off his own ear), reportedly had both clinical depression and bipolar disorder. One of his most famous paintings “Starry Night” 1889, was inspired by the view from the window of his mental hospital in Saint-Rémy, France. Many art critics believe the sky is a reflection of his inner turmoil. (Otherwise he was painting this on a rollercoaster?)

“Starry Night” by Vincent van Gogh

STRESS RELIEF

Physiological changes occur when one is being creative, allowing stress to melt into deep relaxation. The effect of art and music can change a person’s brain wave pattern. You may recall being excited by a movie or feeling relaxed and enthused by a particular song, and how it made you feel.

Obviously the effects will be different if you listen to too much ‘angry music’ and watch too many horror films (unless you find being scared witless kind of relaxing). But hearing something soothing, or painting an image that has personal significance can actually put you into an almost meditative state. This in turn lessens anxiety, reduces your heart rate, and normalises your blood pressure.

It doesn’t mean you can throw away your gym membership or eBay the Stair-master just yet. However when the body is in this state, immune function improves, your mind clears and this increases your creativity. This frame of mind can be almost hypnotic.*

* [In which case you should watch this hypnotic spiral, get sleepy and be compelled to send us money + chocolate, or to cluck like a chicken]

PS: Remember to keep an eye out for our next post where we continue this exploration of awesomeness…

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