“All children are born artists. The problem is to remain an artist as we grow up.” ~Pablo Picasso
There was a period in my life, some time ago, when I was utterly unhappy. I was feeling a burden deep within me that did not allow me to enjoy myself. I had become too much of an introvert, my relationships with other people were falling apart, and I didn’t enjoy doing anything–except for writing.
Nowadays people will say that being an artist should be a temporary dream, something only a select few can do. Some would say there is no money in art until after the artist is dead. That art is hard to make a living off. In today’s society that may be true, but it’s also important to think about what art means. It isn’t just a painting or a song, or a piece of literature, it is an expression of emotion that cannot be felt through just words themselves. Without artistic creations of others, how would we get new ideas, or figure out different ways to do the same task?
Some feelings are hard to verbalize. Some thoughts we don’t want to say out loud. So what do we do with them? My thoughts and feelings used to drive me to open a bottle of scotch. I had learned that alcohol and drugs could change how I felt, whether it was dampening my anger or invigorating my boredom. But, that change was always only temporary.
I still deal with impulsive thoughts and overwhelming feelings, but I find a way to manage them by expressing them. Self-expression sounded like a lot of “Dear Diary” nonsense to me, but the creative writing as an arts is an amazing outlet for my recovery.
We can write our thoughts down privately into journals, stories and poems. But, we can go beyond words and express through paintings and photographs. We can express through music, dance, and song. Self-expression involves any activity where we can transfer the energy from our thoughts and feelings into another form. And, usually, this makes us feel better.
When we express our feelings honestly, we are better equipped to deal with them because we actually know what we are feeling instead of denying it. By virtue of being human, we are full of thoughts and ideas that inhabit us with energy. And if the creative energy in our mind sits untouched, it can turn on itself and we feel all sorts of anxiety and restlessness. To maintain our emotional well-being, we need to exercise our creativity.
I like to think that the therapeutic benefits of artistic activities come in many forms: hands-on tasks can soothe our minds, they offer a healthy form of escape, and such tasks can free up our unconscious minds. Photographing, as is this new case with me thanks to the love of my life, has gained some popularity recently, and it is marketed as a therapeutic tool. When we get into a state of creative “flow” our minds enter an optimal state of consciousness where we feel and perform our best. Our concentration is so focused that everything else falls away, and we lose our sense of time and self.
When the intent behind our art is self-expression, the value in the art becomes the emotional benefits. The process we go through to create our art, to transform a mental image into something physical, is a reflection of our thought processes. How many times in a day do you stop to consider what or how you are feeling? Much like paying attention to how we feel physically, the creative arts allow us to check in with our mental well-being and emotional state.
The creative and artistic processes allow us to merge our emotional and our logical parts into one identity. This is a key step in our healing—to learn that what we think logically may not match how we feel, and that’s okay. It is a part of our process. Having a creative outlet where we can express ourselves means we can better manage those shitty thoughts and feelings.
Most of us during our day-to-day lives are not fully expressing ourselves. In fact, we tend to suppress ourselves so much that we always carry within us an emotional burden so heavy that does not allow us to be spontaneous, let go, or even enjoy ourselves. This happens mostly because we have crafted our lifestyles in such a way that does not allow us to do what we like doing.
For example, the majority of people are spending at least 8 hours for 5 days every week doing a job they don’t enjoy. They are working just because they “have to,” not because they are passionate for it. This is enough reason by itself to cause emotional suppression. But there are other things that add up to it.
Imagine an employee whose boss is a very insensitive, ego-ridden prick, and is behaving in a very rude way towards him. The employee, in most cases, will be quite angry at his boss, although he will not dare even once to express his emotion of anger to him, out of fear that he might lose his job. In other words, he will suppress himself.
Emotional suppression doesn’t take place only in the work space. It can happen anywhere and to people of all ages. A little boy suppresses himself when he is told to behave according to his father’s orders, out of fear his father might punish him. A shy woman suppresses herself by not speaking out her true thoughts when she is in the company of a beautiful man she is in love with, out of fear he might reject her for her way of thinking. Almost everyone suppresses himself or herself, in one way or another.
Let’s agree that the accumulation of suppressed emotions can cause a lot of tension. Again, by being creative, whether that is creating a photograph, a musical or literature composition, shit, or even a flower garden, we are expressing ourselves and in this way we release from our psyche much of the accumulated negative emotional energy. Hence art can be a powerful tool for helping us not only to express ourselves, but also to heal ourselves.
I come baring good news, though. One needn’t be a professional or talented artist in order to create. All people deep down are creative and enjoy some kind of an art, but most of us don’t give ourselves the time to express and heal ourselves through the arts, mainly because we haven’t yet realized the power of this art therapy. What is it that you enjoy creating? Do you enjoy painting? Then take a brush and a paper and paint with the colors of your heart. Perhaps you love writing? Then take a paper and a pen and write down your deepest thoughts and feelings. Whatever you enjoy creating, create.
What you create doesn’t have to be an aesthetically perfect art masterpiece–it just needs to spontaneously spring out of the bottom of your heart. And once you do so, you will come to experience an emotional unburdening as well as a physical relief, and the side-effect of a calm, peaceful state of mind. The power of art is tremendous, and if we learn how to use it for our own benefit, it can transform us, in a way so positive that we could never have imagined.
Our current times, one with a bigot and racist figure at the helm, doesn’t seem so promising. (I miss the Obama’s) But our future is bright. Students, young adults, or just people in general need different ways to express themselves. How can a person learn about various mediums within the arts if the program is taken out of school? A student will spend seven hours a day, five days a week, ten months of the year, and for at least twelve years of their life in a classroom. If art is taken out of the lives of younger people, then how will creative ideas be born? Many people think that creative ideas cannot be in crafts of knowledge or discovery. Let’s be honest, when a person mentions mathematics or science, creativity isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. Yet it is creativity, or a person having an unique side, that helps people connect the knowledge and creativity to find a new idea or solution. Let us all contribute to a society where our kids are talking about arts and mental health in school. Not one where we are arming our teachers and pushing those very same kids in the opposite direction.