2020 has been a real doozy! I say that lightly but in all seriousness it has been one of the weirdest, bumpiest, stress-inducing and even tragic years of our collective lives. I’ve been through some really hard times, and you’ve been through some tough times too, but it’s rare we’re all going through the same crap together! I’m so thankful I discovered art as therapy a year ago so I had that practice and outlet in my self care toolbox.
Benefits of Art Therapy
While I am not a licensed therapist, I can tell you from life experience about the many art therapy benefits I’ve discovered.
- Art for Stress Relief – While my task-oriented brain wants to go into “get $#!& done” mode when I’m stressed and anxious, I’ve learned that if I can take a break in my studio and goof around with paint for even a half hour, my mindset can shift tremendously. Researchers are finding this objectively as well – a Drexel University study showed that visual art making lowered the cortisol (stress hormone) of participants. Art making doesn’t always have to have an end in mind – sometimes it’s simply the art of play that brings the most benefit!
- Meditative Art – Another way I use art as therapy is by using art making as a meditative practice. Standard meditation practices involving quiet, breathwork, and stillness can be intimidating for many people. I’ve done it, and still try it now and then, but meditative art is a more natural way to calm my mind. Art projects provide a level of focus and relaxation, and research shows that both art making1 and standard meditation2 practices both increase Gamma (cognitive function/focus) and Theta brainwaves (deep relaxation).
- Meaningful and Unique Home Decor – I think an undervalued way to use art as therapy is to make intentional choices in our home decor to surround ourselves with beauty and meaningful things. While I love Pinterest and use it a lot, I think it has distorted home decor trends so that many once-unique looks have become generic interior design trends. It has become about having that Pinterest-worthy living room, instead of a place with furniture and art that reflects your personal tastes and feelings. Our homes and workspaces should be a refuge that comforts and encourages our souls, rather than walls and shelves to fill with meaningless chotskies and mass-produced “Live-Laugh-Love” signs.
- Building Personal Connection – One of the most therapeutic benefits of art is it’s ability to connect strangers, and build stronger personal connections with acquaintances and loved ones. In this modern world of technology and even weirder pandemic world with social distancing and quarantine life, human connection is dwindling. I’ve found so much joy and fulfillment when I get to deliver a memorial pet portrait or when one of my abstract pieces resonates with someone and they inquire about or purchase a piece I made. Every piece of art I create has my own personal struggles and triumphs and deep thoughts worked into the paint layers, so sharing that with other people creates a special connection that I cherish.
4 Simple Art Therapy Activities
Now that I’ve shared some of the ways I’ve incorporated art as therapy in my own life, here are some easy ways to start bringing aspects of art therapy into your life. Note: If you are interested in working with a licensed art therapist, check out the Art Therapy Credentials Board to find a practitioner near you.
- Start an art journal with a mixed media sketchbook, and any inexpensive art supplies you can get your hands on. Search for journal prompts on Google or Pinterest, or take a class from Creative Bug if you need a little inspiration to get started. This is just for you, so no worries about your artistic abilities.
- Take an art class: there are thousands of free and paid classes for all skill levels available online from artists on Youtube and local community colleges and centers.
- Visit art galleries locally and when you travel. Galleries offer a peaceful environment to experience art of all kinds, open your mind to new ideas and techniques, and provide thoughtful and visual stimulation to get your brain in a more balanced place.
- Support local artists: It’s not just a shameless plug – find local artists who’s work you love. Follow them on social media, like/comment on and share their work, and of course, buy from them if you see something special! It’s so much more than a business transaction for both of us!
I hope this has been a helpful look into how art can be used as therapy for anyone in these stressful times – I know it’s been an outlet for me. If you enjoyed this and want more content like this and notifications about new art and upcoming events, please signup for my newsletter. Thanks!