Many people welcome any new year with euphoria, with high hopes of new opportunities. For others a new year might be a time of fear, anxiety, dread or uncertainty over what is to come. To many people every single day is a hurdle, let alone an entire year. People who care for others, or who have severe or life-limiting illnesses, may struggle to look too far ahead. And as England, like many other countries, is now in national lockdown just a few days into 2021, little seems to have improved. Covid-19, disability, illness or depression do not recognize a new year. Midnight on 31st December was never going to clean the slate.
But maybe the thought that a new year has come could open up some instinct to look at life differently in some small ways. Through successive lockdowns, many people have turned to art, or to nature, or to music. Nature has gone on growing regardless. Still the music plays. And art is there to be created. Yet some people may have far less time for art, nature or music, but need them more than ever. So maybe more than committing to any new year resolution, it’s more a question of how we see art (or music, or nature). Once we grow used to turning to painting or crochet or songs or walking in difficult times or simply in the everyday, it can become an instinct.
One strength of turning to art, music or nature is that they can help us in the here and now, in any odd moments of the day. A major issue for people with caring responsibilities is the loss of freedom and of opportunities for themselves as life comes to revolve around their loved ones’ needs. In small ways, art could open up a glimmer of opportunity to go on experiencing life for themselves. People might be so weighed down by what could seem the drudgery of caring that thinking to draw or paint could seem pointless. But it could slowly become second nature, and it could help.
What is particularly liberating about art is the way it frees us from language. So many experiences, so many of the thoughts which might overwhelm us, express themselves through language. Drawing, painting or modelling allow us to turn away from language to focus on colour, line and form. So art might become a refuge, an escape, a balance or even a different perspective. Art also helps us interact with the world. As I’ve written before, painting and drawing make me more observant, helping me to focus on what I see and experience, making me more aware of the present moment.
For many people, organized group art might be the most helpful, like Arts for Life’s Create And Chat initiative, which involves parents and carers of young people who have complex mental health needs. Others might find it more practical to experiment with art for themselves on the rare occasions when they have time. Colouring, paper cutting or just scribbling, any art form.
It could be important to recognize that art won’t simply solve the issues people endure – although that depends on the issues. There will still be illness or disability or bereavement. But art might open up important breathing space.
Medley will be running a free online art for wellbeing project throughout the month of February. Taking birds as its theme, the project will provide different art (and craft) activity ideas each week, with step-by-step instructions and examples. There will also be ideas of songs or music to listen to and ways to connect with birds in nature, to add another layer to the project and highlight how art, music and nature are all important. The project will be informal and flexible, and is open to anyone in any circumstances who feels that art might boost their wellbeing https://medley.live/february-project/