Even the average Joe is somewhat aware about how artistic imagery can affect the mind and influence our thought processes.
Imagine that you are strolling through the halls of a gallery contemplating upon the various exquisite pieces displayed, you are delighted when your gaze alights on the curve of a smiling mouth beset by wrinkles or agitated by the image of a storm ravaging the shores of a distant land or fascinated by the intricate patterns made on canvas. Let us now move away from a gallery and take a walk through a temple district featuring graffiti, we are instantly intrigued by the imagery, awed by the towering temple gopuras, calmed by the sun sinking past the horizon. Everyday we feel a myriad of emotions when we behold works of art.
Art has the inane power to hold sway over our moods, our ideas and has the ability to bring out perceptible change in our thoughts. In fact, in the mid-20th century, doctors noted that mentally ill patients sometimes chose to express themselves visually. Ever since then, art has been an integral part of the therapeutic process of healing.
WHAT EXACTLY IS ART THERAPY?
The American Art Therapy association defines it to be:
“Art Therapy is an integrative mental health and human services profession that enriches the lives of individuals, families, and communities through active art-making, creative process, applied psychological theory, and human experience within a psychotherapeutic relationship.”
For centuries, art has been used as a medium of expression, symbolism has played a major role in great historic movements. This is not an old concept; it is a well-known fact that many great artists like Jean-Michel Basquiat, Edvard Munch, Vincent van Gogh… explored intense psychological themes in some of their greatest works. As children, our hands instinctively gravitated toward colourful crayons to create intricate works of art on the walls of our homes (much to the chagrin and amusement of our parents). Even adults, especially in the past few months, whether it is mindless doodling or extensive oil painting, have found solace in art. Now that it is established that art as a medium for healing has been around for a very long time, what makes modern art therapy different?
Well, for one, it provides a safe place where patients can explore unpleasant feelings such as anger, sadness, or fear, feelings that they are otherwise reluctant to talk about. According to practitioners of this method, the process of creation is more important than the actual creation. There is a direct connection established between the mind and the canvas. In this holistic process, drawings by the patients or their views on specific pieces are psychoanalysed by a skilled practitioner in order to diagnose a multitude of issues like learning disabilities, severe stress, domestic abuse trauma, depression, anxiety, and other psychological issues. It helps battle anxiety and depression by raising the levels of serotonin, while PTSD symptoms can be relieved by visually expressing the traumatic events that caused them. Art can also help improve memory and reasoning in older people. Researches have shown that drawing and painting can stimulate memories in people with dementia and other neurological diseases. Painting, drawing and other art forms can help increase the number of connections in the brain that impact memory, improve moods and expand a person’s vocabulary.
However, this is not to say that employing art as a tool for healing is an automatic ticket to mindfulness, each person has his or her own path to reparation and recovery. Art as a form of healing cannot be quantised definitively. Many artists are also aware that art is not always relaxing, some find that the expectation to create something gives them a crippling sense of anxiety. Be that as it may, art therapy serves as a reminder that apart from aesthetic values art can have a major impact on our mental conditions.
Also, it doesn’t hurt to pick up a paint brush and explore our artistic side!