To discuss the importance of art is like attempting to limit the thoughts a person has, it’s impossible to list all the things that it has influence over as it’s subject field is ever growing and expanding. Art is a subject that all people, whether talented or untalented, can take an interest in and can enjoy viewing or creating. It has the ability to relate to everyone and everything and to make a person more comfortable in any situation.
The fact that it cannot be limited in its influence is the very things that sets it apart from any other recreational activity or simple time filler that people turn to inorder to entertain themselves. Because of its range of simplicity, many people turn to it as a coping skill in times of duress. The colors soothe the mind, and just having the simple feeling of accomplishment is encouraging and comforting. This makes the fact that art therapy is widely unheard of and unpopular such a shock to the common community.
This paper was written in the hopes of better educating the general public of the deep connections between art and the functions of the mind. The two subjects seem like polar opposites, and when exploring art therapy, many tend to relate the more formal art therapy to a simple art class. While the two do have a similar appearance, they serve two different purposes. Art therapy is meant to act as a coping skill, provide comfort to the restless, and to be observed for the therapist to learn about a patient in efforts to treat them effectively.
While this seems like such a simple task, the amount of training required for a therapist to observe the patient through their art is considerable.
Assessments of the patient are made through observing behavior, association, subject matter, and many other aspects. Becoming an art therapist requires many skills that can be developed through extensive training and practice. Some therapists are blessed with the inherent ability to understand that a picture is more than just color, but a choice as an expression of self is priceless. Although having a natural ability is extremely beneficial, it still takes a thorough two year master’s program beyond a bachelor’s degree. The American Art Therapy Information pulls the strings of information together to inform the general public about the importance of this education process. Some therapists, who have a conviction to better themselves for the community receive a Ph.D, in the program. A master’s degree in counseling with a concentration in art therapy, a Ph.D, and other graduate programs are only a couple more paths that can be taken to become an art therapist. These highly skilled professionals often take classes related to psychotherapy, psychology, human development, ethics, patient assessment and other subjects related to the art therapy field as a part of their college education (American Art Therapy Association Becoming An Art Therapist, Pars. 1-3).
Art in general is proven to be soothing; it is widely used as a coping skill. People tend to draw what matters most to them, what their mind allows to enter into, or what stays with the person. With many different personalities, and conditions, changing mediums, color, and so much more, it gives the art therapy patients more freedom to speak in more than one form. It is because art has no bounds that so much good can come from it. There are no restrictions to imagination adds positive self-esteem and a sense of accomplishment that is cherished by all who encounter it. Art therapy is usually targeted at individuals who are more conservitive, but it is not limited to people of such personalities.
The very definition of an introvert is a person who is limited in their speech and is emotionally and physically drained when placed in a social or public setting. It can be painful to talk to a random stranger about the things on a person’s mind, and that has been the most painful for the patient to endure. It takes some time of peace and relaxation outside of the reach of others to repair the damage that fellowship can bring. Introverts have learned the importance of being able to fellowship with others in complete silence. Some introverts have found that type of relationship can be very healing to the soul. “Silence speaks louder than words.” Cristiane Serruya said in 2017, but that statement has been known long before it was said. Being able to take a break from the drama that surrounds everyday life and do something soothing and beneficial can go a long way. Rather than stressing out about saying the wrong thing (and be recommended back to a mental hospital), being able to focus on enjoyment and peace is far healthier for both body and mind. Learning to take a break from the social stressors of public life is something that all people can learn from, but where introverts struggle with this skill is learning to take solitude in moderation.
The extreme reliance we have on the brain is not the only reason that we are reminded to value balancing a healthy body and healthy mind, but a more religious take on the subject also brings more attention to the subject. Christians, in particular, affirm the connection of the body and the soul as it relates to Jesus’ act of taking on the flesh to pay for the sins of mankind. It is this act that encourages the belief of the deep and incomprehensible connection between the physical form and the soul of mankind, as well as the link between the supernatural and the humanistic.
“The creation of visual art was an essential element throughout this explorative process and is discussed in the methods; some of the writer’s artwork is intermixed throughout this presentation along with personal reflections,” says Kendal Hansen, of Lesley University in her Capstone Thesis; The Parallels Between Art Therapy and Christianity: Integrating Identities as a Christian and an Art Therapist (Page 2). She reminds us that spiritual icons were brought about in order to praise our Heavenly Father through the many great works that He has done for His children. It is a well known fact that one of the most powerful reasons people have used to object the christian belief is their lack of faith in something that they cannot see.
Art was not only used to depict such things, but also a strong component to teach those who are illiterate. Even during the creation of these first few works of art, the artists learned to pour out their hearts and souls on the canvas, intermixing their thoughts and feelings about their subject matter. As these works became more of a “personal reflection” as Kendal Hansen said, on the artist’s deep and undeniable love for God, we learned to draw connections between the principles of art therapy and the principles of Christianity.
When the subject matter strikes a personal passion into the hearts of the artist, the result of their work is that much more exquisite. This only proves that when a creator is faced with the construction of something that they root their identity in, whether it be religion any other topic in which the artist has a strong conviction about, it becomes a personal mission to depict that thing in its best form, to the best of their ability. That is the very argument used to support the importance of art therapy (Kendal Hansen, Pages 1-7).
We have learned through the National Institute for Learning Disabilities, or NILD, that in cases of individuals with certain learning disabilities, the overlapping connections between the right-left sides of the brain are exercised far more. People with learning disabilities have average to superior intelligence as well as unique abilities or sharp memories. Often, those who suffer from autism have a unique talent for math, science, fine arts, journalism, and other creative fields. Some of the world’s most renowned thinkers and artists suffered from autism, people such as Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, Leonardo da Vinci, Winston Churchill, and many others who have changed the course of our world. Allowing the disease to take control of a person’s life is discouraged in art therapy, but the exercise encourages the patient to push through the issues they are forced to face each day. “It’s not about helping someone with autism of Down’s syndrome play Hamlet, although if they want to that’s fantastic – it’s about finding their own voice and to have that heard. People do need support to navigate the industry, but as this research shows, the creativity is there to be enabled.” Patrick Collier in the article People with autism and learning disabilities excel in creative thinking, study shows, posted by The Guardian.
Unfortunately, artistic talent and psychiatric disorders are often linked. Accomplished artists with psychiatric disorders express themselves and their emotional distress through their works, making use of their skills as a coping skill for their own duress. Patients who undergo psychotherapy are often at a loss when attempting to describe how they feel. When such an issue occurs, therapists make use of art therapy that helps individuals express themselves without the need for words. Another therapy used to help this situation goes by the name of, “Outsider Art.” in this case, the therapist depicts the feelings that their clients become victims to, hoping to be able to provide some closure or any sort of comfort to the individual. “For the last two years, I have been making paintings depicting the depression, mania, psychosis, and compulsions of my clients.
The paintings have become part of the bond between us and are integrated into our psychotherapy.” Stated Terry A. Rustin, Terry A. Rustin, who published his work through the School of Nursing University of Texas at Houston Health Science Center. He himself worked with patients making good use of this form of art therapy. It is through visually picturing the patient’s trauma that sets this form of therapy apart. Not only does art create an outlet that the sufferer can express themselves through, as it also provides an instrument for the counselor to better understand the patient and helps the therapist understand how best to approach the treatment necessary and the damage done to their patient.
These paintings have helped them to better understand the feelings of isolation, rejection, loss, and alienation that many clients experience every day. Art has the ability to engage all the senses of the onlooker; to make for a more impactful and deeper understanding of not only the artist but of life. The intensity of the connection between art and mental health is one that has been studied for over 200 years will little revealing factors. Benjamin Rush (1745-1813), the ‘Father of American Psychiatry,” thought a connection between mental illness and artistic creativity was likely. The Italian criminologist and renowned psychiatrist, Cesare Lombroso (1836-1909), was one of the first to believe the connection between artistic ability and mental illness, saying that all artistic talent was also a form of mental illness. He was so confident in this hypnosis that in 1894 he published these ideas in his book ‘Genioe Follia’ (Genius and Madness).
One such medium, clay, enables the patient to form what they feel; and is known to help to cope with anger. “Clay is a familiar material in art therapy and in psychotherapy. Many advocate the therapeutic potential of clay as a tool for advancing therapeutic processes in individual and group therapies.” (Therapeutic Qualities of Clay-work in Art Therapy and Psychotherapy: A Review Michal Sholt, and Tami Gavron, Haifa, Israel, page 66). The review performed by Michal Sholt, and Tami Gavron, shares the importance of clay working, attributing one of its familial qualities to the fact that it has been used since prehistoric times in order to make tools, pots, and other supplies. There is a deep familiarity with the mashing and squishing effort clay requires making it very soothing. “Accordingly, clay figures, which are made of earth, may reflect the connection between the human mental world and the material world. This connection is central in art therapy, an activity that uses art materials to represent the inner, spiritual world.” (Therapeutic Qualities of Clay-work in Art Therapy and Psychotherapy: A Review Michal Sholt, and Tami Gavron, Haifa, Israel, page 66).
This form of art is one of the finer forms used with anger because the patient can manipulate it in many ways, such as stabbing, or beating. We can all agree that stabbing clay is better than stabbing oneself or other people. Clay also has the ability to be morphed into a thing that is lost or recreating people that have passed on. Harmful emotions are encouraged to be brought to the surface and dealt with before more damage occurs when a person contains such extreme pain and emotion. Talking about such struggles can be beneficial to many people, however, talking is not for everyone. This form of expression can reach the depth that is necessary for the patient, even if no words are used.
Art therapy is used to improve cognitive and sensorimotor functions, foster self-esteem and self-awareness, cultivate emotional resilience, promote insight, enhance social skills, reduce and resolve conflicts and distress, and advance societal and ecological change. Positive external change requires the internal development of the patient that is spurred on by art-making. The internal decision to change a behavior is made consciously (American Art Therapy Association, by the Stanford Medicine, par 2). Then from the internal changes that have occurred by purging the mind of the negative images launched into the mind of the patient, then stems the external fruits of the new behavior formed. Making internal decisions leading to external character changes is what makes art therapy so important and impactful. The ability to successfully use art therapy requires much knowledge and understanding to promote appropriate behavior. The new behavior is all dependent upon proper therapy; else the change will be for the worst.
Dance is yet another physical activity that has been used to make positive influences on patients when used in conjunction with other forms of therapy. Most people fall under the assumption that dance is not for them; that because they have no preexisting training or practice. This likely causes enough fear that they simply avoid it altogether. This common conclusion is incorrect; dance can be something as simple as listening to and feeling the melody, then moving to the beat. As with visual forms of art therapy, this form of therapy requires no initial skill or talent; it is simply for those who take an interest in the subject. Dance, being a form of performing art, makes use of the physical exercise of strenuous or even simple movement to improves stress-management.
The Australian Fitness Academy published an article going into depth about how such physical exercise positively reinforces a healthy mental state. In it, they explained that endorphins are the natural ‘feel-good’ chemicals released through exercising. As the body begins to produce serotonin, norepinephrine, BDNF, and dopamine, the mind and the overall attitude of the person is improved. The outcome of all these chemicals, working together, not only boosts a person’s mood but also has been proven to help to relieve both anxiety and depression, and reduces the uncomfortable levels of cortisol and adrenaline in the body (How exercise makes you happy, by The Australian Fitness Academy). These are the chemicals that, in high doses, can cause stress, making exercise that much more important when dealing with difficult situations.
“Exercise also has greater and longer lasting impact on the brain, helping to preserve brain function and prevent cognitive decline. Which will strengthen the brain making it less susceptible to negative chemicals and thus making it easier to maintain a happier outlook on life.” (Par. 9). These mental and emotional benefits are not the only things a person can see improvement in their lives but also the more obvious bodily improvements such as weight loss, and muscle building that improves the mental psyche and pride in their body. Being comfortable in one’s own skin is a value that cannot be overestimated.
Another popular performing art is yoga. Yogascapes is a program dedicated to making use of yoga, art, and other therapeutic activities, takes great pride in their methods of easing stress. Certified Yoga Instructor and Art Therapist, Jessie Groveman, took the time to write out her recommendations and the steps she takes when treating stress with this form of art therapy. She finds that the mixture of practical yoga, art-making, journaling as well as aromatherapy and music has the incredible ability to open your body, mind, and soul for deep relaxation, self-reflection, and self-expression (8 Steps to Creating A Yoga & Art Therapy Practice by Yogascapes Par 1-11).
“Yoga and breath work help to relax and open the physical body and allows the thinking mind to slow down. Art making in this state enables access to a less guarded, less self-conscious part of yourself.” (Par 1). Aromatherapy puts to use the human senses as we take our minds off many other things in order to focus on a sweet smell. Scented oils such as lavender, frankincense, lemon, and grapefruit as the most popular in aromatherapy. One of the great things about this therapy is the simplicity of it. Simply spreading the oil on the body is soothing as the smell soothes and calms the stress as a patient meditation through guided visualization or simply just relax in corpse pose letting gravity place pressure on the body to soothe aching muscles and a stressed mind.
Goat yoga and bunny yoga is becoming very popular as it is new and quite unique to a community. It is a new and exciting activity that takes the simple movements traditionally involved in yoga to a new and more interesting level. This form a therapy may seem unheard of and unique, but it too has been shown to reduce the stress the patients suffer from. Having the comfort of a friend and a loyal companion is important to any person. Temporarily retreating to the soft feeling of the fur and the happy and calm feeling just brings more comfort.
Yoga has also been shown to help other disabled and mentally challenged participants as they learn the movements. Louise Goldberg of Creative Relaxation at the Kripalu Yoga in Schools Symposium reported her findings of over thirty years of practice as beneficial for children with special needs. She stated that her programs offered to the students are meant to not only to calm and energize their bodies, but to help them develop better sensory and body awareness, increase their self-regulation, promote social interaction, enhance speech, language, and motor development, ease transitions, manage anxiety level, and learn independence all in hopes to enhance their self-esteem (Kids Yoga Stories Par 1-4).