As I think about how art can help mental health and wellbeing, two distinct ways emerge. One way sees creativity as a positive to focus on, as refuge or haven, space away from the everyday and from specific issues. The other uses creativity directly to address and work through those issues, to express thoughts, feelings, emotions or trauma. Which is more beneficial? Is expressing specific responses more helpful? Or can art as refuge prove equally therapeutic in the long run?
Tool or refuge, art’s impact can be striking, which is why I’ve just set up a new online group, Think Art, where people can experiment with art and craft and explore how it might help mental health. It’s a Facebook group, simply because they are familiar and flexible, and people can join and share. While recognizing that not everyone likes Facebook, I don’t know of any other truly comparable group spaces.
I hope that this new group will attract people totally new to art, as well as those who have drawn or painted for years, or indeed who work in art therapy or arts for wellbeing. With those new to art and craft, it might just open a door to new opportunities and ways of boosting wellbeing.
Within each of the two “pathways”, if you like, there are obviously so many different ideas and possibilities. Using art as refuge, you might enjoy painting or drawing from nature, an opportunity to connect also to the natural world which is known to calm and ground many people. Or you might enjoy creating patterns, crafting, colouring or upcycling, losing yourself in endless possibilities. Using art as tool, you might use colours to express emotions. You might use journaling, like bullet journaling which many now find useful for mental health and which can feature art as people illustrate their journals. Or maybe you have a mental picture of your fears or depression – maybe clear, maybe vague – which it could be helpful to draw out and work with. Art can become a language to express what we might struggle to say in words.
Maybe combining the two is the most helpful. People may find they turn to different ways at different times. When art has such power to help, why limit yourself to one way or the other? See art as experiment.
When I was ill with anxiety some years ago, my concentration and focus just drained away – and this can really hinder people turning to art. If you can’t concentrate on anything other than the issues you’re struggling with, then using art directly to express those issues might be more viale and also more constructive.
Nevertheless, focusing on these issues can be triggering in itself – for example, some people might find that bullet journaling only makes them dwell more on their feelings so that they feel all the more overwhelmed. For others, expressing emotions they may have struggled with or suppressed for years could be liberating, when ignoring them would have left them lingering in the shadows. But it could also require support, maybe through specific art therapy.
So much depends on the causes – a present situation, memories of trauma, or less specific sadness or fear.
It would be great if you’d like to join the new Think Art group – https://www.facebook.com/groups/244072321150998 – and tell others about it, and experiment with creativity to explore these questions and more. Thank you.