“Art is the only way to run away without leaving home.”
— Twyla Tharp
In this era likes, tweets and Whatsapp messages, the human mind has lost its natural state. Expression, for example, is a basic human instinct. But due to the nature of corporate hierarchies, social conditioning and sometimes even governments, people are forced to curb these instincts, resulting in harmful consequences. For instance, you return home after a hectic day at work, eat a heavy dinner and fall asleep, without doing anything to alleviate the stress that you have accumulated during the day. This cycle continues for weeks, months and years—you keep feelings of guilt, anger and revenge pent up for an extended period of time. These bottled up emotions eventually become toxic and give rise to disease—both physical and mental.
But don’t get disheartened. Art can help you prevent and even reverse the harmful effects caused by your suppressed emotions.
The therapeutic power of art
I once asked a distinguished art therapist in Japan, “What is it about art that gives it its therapeutic quality?” She said, “It silences your mind and, if required, empties it and brings it back to its truest and most natural state of being.” She went on to tell me how she had used art to relieve people of challenges like stress, body aches, worry, as well as cure people of cancer, heart ailments, depression, strokes and bipolar disorder.
Even for those of you who aren’t directly involved in the creation of art, merely visiting a good art gallery to watch an art exhibition or display of paintings helps. The silence of the art gallery, the beauty of the pieces displayed and the stillness and serene energy slows the mind from its usual breakneck pace.
Here are a few ways to help you embark on the journey of discovering the therapeutic value of art.
Being here and now
One of the qualities of creating a piece of art is that it forces you to step into the present. Since most of our mental fog is either about the future or the past, merely being in the present for an extended period of time helps in creating the mental space required to gain clarity and process other information later. While several other activities could also offer the same benefit, art does so in a cajoling and non-threatening way, especially if approached in the right manner. The best way to start painting is to not keep any specific deadline or visual outcome in mind; simply go with the flow. Even if you have no clue about what you are going to paint, allow the blankness of the page to guide you. Let your intuition and instincts guide your hand and keep following it. If you are used to starting with a definite image or goal in mind, try one of the following if you like:
- Try to get that image completely wrong in all possible ways and enjoy the process of doing it
- Try to create that entire image with scribbles and splashes of colour rather than with well defined lines. This will help you loosen up
- Try the minimalist approach: reduce the image to its bare essence by stripping off anything unnecessary. Ask yourself what would be the simplest form of the image; then only paint that.
This can teach you valuable lessons about going downstream and not being an obsessed perfectionist. And just for the record, an hour spent in creating a painting is equivalent to an hour of mindfulness meditation.
Colour has a direct effect on the emotional part of your brain. The amygdala, responsible for emotions and motivations—especially the more rudimentary ones—is the seat of several intense emotions like fear, anger and pleasure. Also, the right side of the brain is more intuitive, imaginative and creative than the left. Art greatly stimulates the amygdala and the right side of the brain. With the use of different colours, creation of vivid images and exercising of intuition, a lot of the suppressed emotions are released. This gives us a renewed sense of ability to deal with life’s challenges.
If you’re suffering from mild headaches or even severe migraines, take up some form of art immediately. Emotional de-cluttering is seen to be very beneficial in these conditions.
With the constant struggle to meet strict deadlines, following rigid processes and doing routine work, many of us have lost the sense of how it feels to create something new. Painting or sketching puts us back in touch with our ability to create. It clears the mind of repetition and ushers new energy like a whiff of fresh air. The feeling of having created something beautiful brings in a sense of accomplishment, the gains of which we carry to other areas of our lives as well.
Back to basics
Art creates a clear outlet for expression in a fundamental and intrinsic manner. Drawing, painting, sketching, scribbling, splashing colours, etc. are modes of expression. It is normal for people involved in any form of art to feel light and rejuvenated after completing a piece. Those involved in art long enough, develop a deep appreciation of doing art for art’s sake. A painting is created purely to express oneself in a manner that is most real and natural. The process of expression is embraced for the sake of experience rather than for social approval or to impress the world. People who have understood this also carry this mindset to other areas of life. They become more interested in experiencing life rather than clicking pictures of experiences to share on social media.
While most of what is discussed above is in reference to the fine art of painting or sketching, the same applies to any other form of art. Music, dance, any of the martial arts, writing and photography are good examples. In short, it applies to methods and techniques of art and any product of human creativity.
There are umpteen ways to boost your creativity…
- Join your kids in their school art project and create something along with them
- Do you have a friend or colleague whose birthday is near? Create a greeting card, photo frame or bookmark for her
- Art does not have to be done on paper always. You can even paint on vases, pots, fabric or mugs
- Ditch the brushes and try painting with fruits, vegetables or your fingers
- Try your hand at some DIY décor artefacts to style
- You don’t have to always wait for an occasion! Take out your box of coloured powders [gulal] and draw a rangoli just for the fun of it
- Even if you’re not good at dancing, put on some music and dance with your kids; it will not only make you feel relaxed, but young as well
- Download a few karaoke tracks and put your singing skills to test
- Take out some lovely pictures from your albums, prepare a collage and frame it in your room.
This was first published in the September 2014 issue of Complete Wellbeing.
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