If you were an artist
how would you paint me?
With deep solid strokes
or your brush sweeping softly?
Would you paint me by number,
quickly fill in the lines
or sketch me first, taking your time?
Would you use vibrant colors
or plain shades of gray?
Would you change me in any way?
Would you hang me proudly
and gaze at me often
or tuck me away
until I’m forgotten?
(“How would you paint me?”- Christy Ann Martine)
Art is a powerful visual medium and since ages, it has been used as a form of expression- from cave drawings and the first sculptures to statues, monuments and beautiful paintings that exist today.
Art is present in your daily life. Everyday, you use shape, colour, form to understand and relate to your world, whether you recognize it or not. The tall or short structures of buildings, the winding paths and roads that go to your place of work, the smiles and frowns painted on the faces of people you meet, maybe in the colours of your wardrobe and in the sunset sky, or in the familiar shape of a loved one. It only makes sense then that art is another doorway to understanding yourself, understanding your thoughts, beliefs and emotions. Today, with years of research into therapy and art, professionals have come to understand the therapeutic nature of art and its link to our subconscious mind.
What is Art Therapy?
Art therapy is a form of therapy that uses art to encourage free self-expression. It is aimed at enhancing and restoring an individual’s emotional well-being. Art therapy involves 3 important aspects that help a person work towards his or her goals:
- The creative process of art that is non-judgmental and allows for freedom.
- Guidance and facilitation by an experienced therapist.
- The use of different mediums such as painting, drawing, sculpting and materials such as watercolours, crayons, oil paints, etc.
What are the Benefits of Art Therapy?
If you were asked to pick up a crayon of your choice and draw whatever you felt like; you probably cannot imagine how many processes in your mind would be simultaneously activated. You would intuitively pick a colour, you would feel the texture of the crayon and the paper as you started to colour, you would have reflected on whether you wanted to add some more shapes or lines to your drawing and most likely, by the end, you would start relating to your small work of art. Amazing, yes? Art activates various areas of the brain and can foster integration of emotional, cognitive, and sensory processes. The benefits of art therapy are far-reaching:
It is Cathartic:
Art is emotionally cathartic- that it relieves or purges certain uncomfortable emotions, especially fear and anxiety. The release of such emotions can be liberating. There is a sense of relief and wellbeing through the recognition and acknowledgement of subconscious feelings.
Mindfulness is about staying rooted to the present, tuning out the intellectual, judgmental side of us. Through the process of drawing, painting, etc, we stay connected to the present- being mindful of the way our hand moves, the way the colours look, the emotions we are feeling in that moment. Being in touch with our inner self while doing an art activity can actually open us to the myriad emotional experiences and insights that art and mindfulness have in store for us. It is like exploring a lesser walked path, realizing new things and assimilating them into our understanding of who we are.
Read more about : Art and Mindfulness
Helps to Cope with Difficult emotions:
Sometimes, emotions can be overwhelming and difficult to express verbally. Emotions can also be suppressed or repressed and thus, not even available to your conscious mind. Being able to visually express can help to identify what these emotions are and what you are really feeling. Uncomfortable emotions such as guilt, sadness, anxiety, anger can play out in your art however you want it to. In your art, there is no right or wrong emotion or technique; it is a space for you to be who you are. It thus becomes another healthy coping strategy for when you want to work with your emotions. It also eventually facilitates empathy and acceptance of life’s challenges, over continued sessions.
Helps in Problem Solving:
Art therapy can help individuals visually express emotions and fears that they were never able to articulate through conventional means, and give them some sense of control over these feelings. Putting a problem on paper can make it seem more external, rendering it easier to deal with. It also gives the conscious mind a break from the constant worrying or anxiety about the problem, helping the mind incubate the problem. Moreover, the creative process of art making leads to divergent thinking and can thus, provide new perspectives on issues.
Creating and producing something also gives people a sense of fulfilment and enhances self-esteem. In a safe, non-judgmental environment, you feel encouraged to communicate your emotions freely- verbally or non-verbally- and that in itself can be a empowering experience for many people.
It can be a Stress-Reliever:
Chronic stress can be harmful to both, your mind and body. It can weaken and sometimes, even damage the immune system, cause insomnia or depression, and trigger circulatory problems (e.g. high blood pressure,cardiac arrhythmia). When used alone or in combination with other relaxation techniques such as guided imagery, art therapy can be a potent stress reliever.
Moreover, art therapy is also lots of fun. Getting messy with arts, using colours, crayons, clay etc, can make you feel like a child again- free and spontaneous. It can be a very relaxing and rejuvenating exercise.
What is the Role of the Art Therapist?
Art therapists are qualified therapists and psychologists who use specific-art based approaches with their clients. They work with individuals of all ages; one-to-one, with couples, families, and groups.
They have been trained to pick up on nonverbal symbols, images and metaphors that are often expressed through art and the creative process, concepts that are usually difficult to express with words. The art therapist helps in various ways throughout the process:
- Helping you to understand what art therapy involves.
- Providing a safe, non-judgmental environment, where you feel free to discuss any questions or hesitations you might have.
- You will generally have the freedom to create and use whatever art materials/medium you want, with guidance and assistance of the therapist. Sometimes, the art therapist helps you pick an art medium that will help you express better or might facilitate certain art activities that would be insightful for you.
- You can share your artwork with the therapist and he/she will discuss and work with the thoughts, sensations, emotions that have come up through the art.
The art therapist will not comment on the quality of your art or critique it. An art therapist will encourage you to create more art, to push boundaries, to look at more ways of exploring and discovering the realm of art. Many times, the creative process of art making is in itself very relaxing, thought-provoking and cathartic in nature.
Who can opt for Art Therapy?
No prior experience of art is required for art therapy– you do not need to be an artist, have some training or even like art for that matter. It has been used across various settings- hospitals, rehabilitation centers for trauma or drug abuse, support groups, educational institutions, private practice and in self-help workshops. Art in its many forms and techniques is employed for individuals or groups, for all ages: for very young children, art is great for nonverbal expression and it is something they feel comfortable with; whereas for couples, art becomes something they create together, it might help them connect and communicate with each other.
Hence, it can be used to achieve different things for different people. For people who are facing psychological difficulties or are in therapy- it can be used to work with interpersonal issues, with unresolved emotions, improve social skills, and provide a healthy outlet for coping with stress. Whereas for those not undergoing therapy, it can help you to gain personal insight and experience the art inside you, in a safe, encouraging space.
A DIY Art Therapy Activity: Art in the Dark
This is a relaxing, insightful activity you can do by yourself at home or even with a family member. You will need a sheet of card paper and different art materials that you might have at home- some crayons, paints, brushes, pencils, pens etc.
The first part of this activity you can do either in the dark, with dim light or you can even shut your eyes. Since, you will not be able to see exactly what you are drawing initially, you will be less likely to judge it, try to erase or change it. The purpose of this is to help you stay rooted to the present and create a non-judgmental atmosphere for yourself. So, close your eyes and let your intuition guide you. Make sure the paper is either taped or firmly placed in front of you. Pick any crayon or pen and start doing whatever you feel like doing on the paper. Try and feel the texture of the paper or the sounds the crayon or pen makes on it. Be mindful of any thoughts or emotions that come up. You can open your eyes within 5-10 minutes.
Now, look at the paper and see if any part of it comes into focus? is there anything you want to add or highlight? Try not to judge it as a “good” or “bad” piece of art. Use your art material to fill in or highlight till you feel satisfied. Once you are done, you can reflect on whether the image means anything to you, do not reject or push away any insights that come up. Check in to see how you are feeling. Images and symbols can sometimes represent and encompass feelings better than words do. You are likely to feel more connected to your emotions after this activity, since art can be such an honest communication with the self. Throughout the activity, remember to let go, it can be fun as well!
At Inner Space, we believe in the therapeutic power of the arts and we now conduct group art therapy sessions regularly. These sessions help provide a great, encouraging space to make, express and share your art.
Do write to us and share your perspectives and experiences with art. Feel free to send in queries or feedback about art therapy or any of our activities.
Image Credit: hyacinth50