So many hobbies can help you manage your mental health: meditation, fitness, hiking, and maybe even bird watching. For me, it’s always been running marathons and exercising. However, I’ve learned that art can also have a significant impact on managing mental health.
We’ve seen art as a form of healing and coming to terms with oneself. Think about the greatest artists of the world: Vincent Van Gogh, Claude Monet, Leonardo DaVinci, Maya Angelou. They used art to express their trials so the world could benefit from them.
Why does art affect us so much? Here are four ways art can positively affect our mental health, whether we’re making it or experiencing it.
Arts as Expression
When you have a mental illness like depression, you may often feel like other people don’t understand what you’re feeling. They don’t understand your point of view. I know this is something I’ve experienced as a survivor of my trauma. However, art gives us the unique ability to express that worldview literally or in an abstract form. Whether painting or dancing, art can give you an outlet to express what words can’t. Art allows us to tell who we indeed are or how we feel so other people can learn to see the world through our eyes.
Art as Movement
Many people wouldn’t immediately associate art with a form of movement, but you find it more than you think. Of course, you have dancing, literal art in motion. However, sculpting and painting can incorporate movement too. Movement allows you to get out of your head, away from the dark thoughts, and into something constructive.
Art as Therapy
Art is a form of release. It frees a person, allowing them to let go and laugh or cry about their experiences. By creating art, we allow ourselves to release the emotions we may have bottled up for years. Over the past several years, art therapy has become a popular and effective way for patients to come to terms with what they’ve experienced. By creating art from their pain, they can turn a negative into something beautiful.
Art as Connection
Above all else, art is a form of connection. Art allows us to see the world differently, connect with artists and other art lovers, and connect through shared experiences. It’s what makes the world beautiful. If you struggle connecting with others or yourself, take a step out of your comfort zone. Try a painting or pottery class. Have a photoshoot with your friend. Even something as mundane as sitting on the couch and watching your favorite TV show will connect you with the rest of the world.
Art with Pets
As a part of my art therapy my service dog, Rosie, watched me carefully and decided to try and paint on her own. She mimicked what I did and essentially just gave her a brush and canvas and she started to paint on her own. I never tell her what to paint she just does what she feels like it. It was incredible and fascinating to watch her think and create art that feels good to her! Since she started, Rosie has painted almost 200 original paintings. Perhaps your pet won't start painting on their own, but consider doing something fun with them. It may provide wonderful enrichment activity for them, and special bonding time for you both.
I have been incredibly fortunate to see the art of so many people and cultures over my lifetime and know it’s barely a drop of what’s out there. For a moment today, look at the art in your life and learn to understand how it could affect your mental health.
My most recent visit to MOMA in NYC.
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