To engage in art is to engage in self-therapy.
When utilized without the fear of others’ opinions, it has the potential to enhance one’s physical and mental well-being as suppressed and surfacing emotions are given an outlet to be expressed by lines, strokes, dabs, splashes – whatever feels right and natural to the artist.
As a second year grad student currently achieving my masters in social work, I have learned about the profound benefits that art can have on the human mind and soul. Just the act of engaging in the activity can take you to a place far from the stresses in your life and instead allow you to embrace the creative ideas and thoughts that spark from your emotions and imagination.
Looking back, I can see the important role that art has played in every chapter of my life and continues to do so.
In the social work profession, art therapy is considered as an effective intervention when working with all age groups due to its ability to make individuals feel unique and positive while at the same time allowing them to represent their dreams, fears, and joys in visual form.
When facilitated in a therapeutic environment, art therapy has been found to bring about such positive outcomes as a decrease in negative emotions such as anxiety, decreased blood pressure, and an increase in feel-good hormones. From my personal experience as having interned as a school-based counselor working with underserved and underprivileged children, art therapy is an intervention I have utilized many times to help them feel more at ease while at the same time encourage visual expression of thoughts and feelings they did not know they were experiencing or know how to verbalize.
I have found that when individuals worry less about being judged, the more they feel empowered to freely express themselves.
As a child, art is something I remember engaging in during most of my free time. I took pride in creating my perception of human beings by taking a pen and drawing out large oval-shaped bodies, slashing in some limbs, scribbling in eyeballs and shoes, and finishing them off with nice big moon crescent smiles. I would draw dozens of these floating “creatures” on the front and back of one sheet of paper and proudly show it off to all the adults in the house. Today I can still recall how good the “ooh’s,” “aah’s,” and the “very good!” comments made me feel and fed my self-esteem.
However, what I am now able to really appreciate is how calm engaging in such art activities made me feel at the time. When I had a blank sheet of paper and some kind of drawing tool in front of me, I could zone out the loud and obnoxious cartoons playing on the television, ignore all food offerings, and tune out all or any arguments or discussions that occurred around the house. Boredom was far from my mind as I unknowingly allowed myself to swim in my pool of imagination and creativity.
When I was in middle school and high school, art was something I regularly engaged in to spill out my emotions involving the frustrations of being a teenager – boys whom I had crushes on and who didn’t even know I existed due to my shy nature and tomboy characteristics, house rules and curfews, homework, and other thwarts such as having failed my driver’s license test…three times in a row.
Art was my savior. It was my outlet-my “me time.” When I was angry or sad, I would shut my door, turn up the volume on my CD player blasting Linkin Park, take out my coloring pencils, and draw out whatever shapes, images, dreams, and/or memories that came to my mind. I would ignore all knocks and calls from the outside world. The end results of such activities left me feeling real and satisfied-almost as though I had just smashed my face into a pillow and screamed.
During my early years of college, my engagement in art activities declined as I became more and more concerned about other people’s opinions regarding my art. I had known that my drawings were not always perfect when compared to reality. Sometimes the shading on my illustrations just didn’t make sense or other times it was just physically impossible for some of my depictions of human beings to realistically and comfortably hold a stance involving a twisted elbow or neck. After receiving a few critical remarks, fear of more had, for a short period of time, caused me to refrain from engaging in art as much as I used to. I just didn’t think I was good at it anymore and didn’t see the point in engaging in it anymore.
It was not until I was given an opportunity by Sikh Film Festival to design the 2010 T-shirt that I realized what I had given up. A close friend had recalled my art work from earlier years and convinced me to give it a shot. I really was not sure what I had gotten myself into but I could not even make a mark on the paper without my hand shaking. I felt that I had made a huge mistake and that the organization would regret having asked me to design the T-shirt.
The pressure was too much for me to take and I had to walk away.
It was not until two weeks later that I sat down and made a second attempt. Before my hand could start shaking again, I took a deep breath, turned on some music, and did not let myself even touch the thought of anything involving criticism. And that was when I felt it – my head nodding to the beat of the song Grace by Jeff Buckley and my eyes closely focused on the movement of my pencil. Nothing mattered at that point – only that I stay with this nostalgic feeling and continue embracing every creative idea that flowed out of my brain. The end result of the T-shirt project was a success.
Although the feeling of seeing my artwork being worn by the festival volunteers was indescribable, it was the process of the creation that made me wonder why I had ever stopped engaging in art. Even if the project had been turned down due to my art not having met up to their expectations, I believe that I still would have gained happiness out of the experience because it reminded me of the tranquility it had brought about for me throughout my adolescent years. I am thankful to my friend for having convinced me and believing in me.
Today art is something I engage in quite often. I even consider some of my best work to have been doodles created during class in the margins of my notes. Whether my artwork turns out to be liked by other people or verbally abused by critics, the therapeutic process of creating my piece and its positive emotional outcomes is all that really matters to me.
The concept of “self-care” is often emphasized in the social work profession due to high burnout rates and involvement in highly emotional subject matters. Self-care is the act of engaging in some kind of activity that will take one’s mind off the stress and allow for recuperation. For me, art is that activity. Self-care is something that should be stressed to individuals, if it is not already, working within all fields.
So make some time for yourself, grab a brush or some type of drawing instrument, practice some deep-breathing exercises, and give the creative side of your brain a chance to pour its gravy of ideas and expressions onto your choice of a simple piece of paper or a canvas. Let yourself be taken away from wherever you are.
Remember to take care of yourself; your soul will thank you for it.