Art and Healing: A Personal Story by Shanon Cox

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My story of healing through artistic expression

In essence, all forms of art are expressions of emotions and as a result, the creative process is a deeply healing endeavor. If you or your loved ones are going through a period of “distractions” in life, then perhaps art can be that peaceful oasis which where the mind can settle down and rest for a time.

I want to share with you a a true story of the beauty and power of creative process.

Art is not a bitter pill: Initially my friend thought of art as a therapy, but soon she was having so much fun

Creativity in any form brings me extraordinary happiness. Like all artists, I love to simply pick up my pochade box and start painting without much analyzing the “meaning” of art. Style, fashion design, wood carving, sewing, technology innovations and painting are all so many different facets of “creativity”; though we do not always label them as art.

Recently, I had a very personal experience of a journey into tranquility with art. One of my childhood friends who went through a difficult period of life was able to find moments of escape into a joyful world when I introduced her to painting watercolors – and this gave her a way to cope with her everyday problems so much more easily. I want to share with you here a few reflections and tools from our sweet and sour experience.

My friend Maria was going through a difficult phase in her life and her negative attitude was proving to be self-fulfilling. I offered her the only way I knew of coping with life’s problems – creating peaceful moments with art.

I persuaded her to sit with me for watercolor lessons so painting could take her mind off her sadness, even if just for a few minutes at a time. She agreed, mainly to please me and stop my nagging, but then I started to sense a transformation – little by little she started talking about her paintings with interest and asking me questions about art. Soon we were having conversations – not about people or about the unfairness of life – but about the artists and their stories, the trends in art and the about the different art galleries that we visited. We would spend hours talking about color harmony and unity in a painting instead of about Maria ending her life. Walking through the sunset we would wonder about the colors in the sky, the formation of clouds and the patterns in nature.

While art isn’t a magic solution to life’s problems – I see that art has been playing a role in making my friend less depressed, less stressful and more relaxed. The deep concentration that the creative process requires induces stillness of distracting thoughts – and helps my friend Maria to draw the same benefits as those from meditation practices like Zazen or Tai Chi.

How does art work its magic: A few thoughts about why painting and drawing is so relaxing

In addition to the relaxation which flows in from complete absorption in your creative process; the pleasure of exploration and discovery also engenders mental rejuvenation.

The many stimulating challenges of art – how to paint luminous water drops, choosing the right values for depicting aerial perspective, how to create transparent color washes in watercolor – induce a sense of accomplishment and happiness .

For Maria, the childlike positive excitement which comes from mastering new skills; and having an outlet for her emotions through painting have proved to be a refreshing distraction from her traumatic memories.

Art is for everyone: Like most people, Maria thought you had to have a ‘creative streak’ in order to be able to paint or draw

Like any budding artist, Maria was initially intimidated by the rich heritage of art which makes it seem mysterious; and the many different confusing art style.

However, I believe that creativity has very little to do with intellectual concepts – art is an expression of emotion and feelings; it’s a reflection of our everyday life.

As Maria and I walked in the art galleries, I encouraged her to enjoy the paintings for their intrinsic beauty and derive pleasure from their form, color and composition; instead of seeking edification about their historical context or their stories and what they represent. The simple rule we follow in our gallery walks is that “an art work which moves you aesthetically cannot be wrong”.

The creative process can be a source of happiness for both the creator and the beholder; unfortunately many wrong notions prevent an artist from taking the first steps to painting or drawing. Many of us seem to believe that creative attributes like imagination, originality and vision are rare gifts in nature.

I have found that creativity can be cultivated.

However, studies and real life examples have proven that our creations stem from the knowledge that we acquire. The information we have in our brain guides our hands in the creation of works of art.

Da Vinci spent countless hours understanding the construction of human body so he could paint breathtaking portraits. A writer who is well traveled and well read forms a perspective from which his writing flows – an illiterate villager philosopher who has never moved from his home may offer rare words of wisdom, but even they are shaped by the stories he has absorbed from his forefathers.

I believe thus, that art can be learned; you can develop an eye for aesthetics and color harmony as well as an ability to create original artworks based on your knowledge. Each of us without exception has the spark which can be kindled into a creative flame.

A few secrets: How I seek new ideas and what works for me

While knowledge provides the foundation for an artist, how does he or she use that knowledge to ignite new, original ideas?

For myself – I love activities like visiting art supply stores, scouring Goodwill and antique stores for still life artifacts, walking in my neighborhood with my Nikon – all these inspire my mind with new ideas for my paintings. Whenever I come home from my walk with a beautiful photograph or an idea, I can barely restrain myself from putting aside all my work and bring that idea to life on my canvas.

But new ideas can fly by so fast – I have learned to make notes when I come across something really interesting; an ancient Chinese proverb teaches us – “A drop of ink is better than the best memory”.

The process of creativity can be fun as well – and working on a challenge can be very satisfying and refreshing for an artist. Many artists today participate in fun painting challenges like painting one miniature watercolor every day or painting together with other artists on the same reference composition.

Teacher and student both benefit from art therapy: Helping Maria was an enriching experience for me

In art, my friend Maria found solace and freedom from everyday conflicts. For me too, working with my friend Maria was an educational experience and I discovered many elements of the creative process which enrich my art today. Art continues to be a source of joy for me in my life.

Not only artists, but everyone who has a brush with art – art collectors, art gallery owners and art agents – can attest to the healing power of art. We feel renewed and revived and our mood changes when we lose ourselves in a beautiful painting. Visual arts – especially those with images of nature and light – lessen anxiety and contribute to a restorative and calming ambiance.

There is an innate connection between art and the healing process; I invite you to explore the rich world of creativity and discover for yourself the many benefits art has to offer.

I invite you to share your own stories of healing, of creativity and of life and work on this blog and elsewhere as it would inspire others. Your stories would bring your works greater visibility, but more importantly, they will also inspire many others to experiment with art and creativity. Your stories may help someone find serenity and happiness.