When we were children, all of us experienced the pleasurable feelings of creating expression through visual art. Whether we were drawing, modeling with clay, gluing together collages from magazine pictures, or making papier mache puppets, these creative tasks tended to bring about a sense of concentrated bliss, a state of relaxed but intensely engaged mental activity. Back then, none of us worried whether our work was “artistic”. We simply did it.
Making art is one of those many childhood pursuits–like uninhibited imaginative and physical play–that leads to a total, life-affirming immersion in the “now”. Recently, medical studies have confirmed that creating artwork can indeed be a source of healing and stress reduction, both for children and adults.
According to the faculty of education at the University of Minnesota, “learning to express emotions through creative channels gives the child an outlet for “built-up tension that can be used throughout life…strong feelings can be expressed through art experiences which involve psychomotor activity, such as clay for pounding, paper for tearing and cutting, and nails for hammering. Puppets and dolls provide opportunities to examine reality, rehearse solutions, express emotions, gain control over situations, and encourage discussion”
For children or adults dealing with extreme stress or illness, tapping into the world of the creative imagination can be a source of psychological and even physical healing. The Yale Medical Group (the physicians of Yale University) point out that “creating art, viewing it, and talking about it provides a way for people to cope with emotional conflicts, increase self-awareness, and express unspoken and often unconscious concerns about their illness.” They point out that, for cancer patients for instance, “participating in art therapy or creating art on your own can be an effective form of distraction.” “Many art therapists,” they say, “believe this type of therapy works, in part, because of the act of creating art influences brain wave patterns and the substances released by the brain. It helps people express hidden emotions, reduce stress, fear and anxiety, and provides a sense of freedom” (http://ymghealthinfo.org/content.asp?pageid=P07338).
According to Dr Olga Gregson from Manchester Metropolitan University, even looking at artwork has the power to reduce stress levels and lighten your mood. As reported by the B.B.C., last year the Manchester City Art Gallery “introduced the ‘tranquility tour’ aimed at city-centre office workers, allowing people to spend their lunch hour ‘chilling out’ by looking at hand-picked paintings [that] range from Pre-Raphaelite to modern, abstract works” (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/manchester/3806785).
Most of us, certainly me, will never have our paintings gracing the walls of the National Gallery. We may never see our “macrame wall hangings or Still Life With Poinsettia selling for six figures at any auction. That doesn’t mean, though, that these pieces shouldn’t be adorning our own walls. I believe that every home should have at least one or two works of art prominently displayed (besides the kindergarten pictures attached to the fridge) that have been created by its owners. This is an expression of the personality and creative energies of the people who live there, as well as a path towards living a healthy life. And it sure beats black velvet paintings of dogs playing poker.