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By: Lynn LeCorre
“Go into the arts. I’m not kidding. The arts are not a way to make a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable. Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven’s sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possibly can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something.” –Kurt Vonnegut
Remember, when you were a child, colouring and painting and singing and dancing? You didn’t care if you were good at it. You enjoyed it and that was all that mattered! As an adult, do you still express yourself through art? Creating art has real benefits for wellness, no matter what your age. It relieves stress, encourages mindfulness, provides a venue for self-expression and teaches us to let go of perfectionism and self-criticism. Art is wellness!
As a child, I created art because it was fun; I thrived at it and eventually pursued it as a career. But I didn’t realize how much it would contribute to my own wellness. Creating art has helped me out of depression from loss, offered respite from boredom and provided extra income when I was poor. It has been my primary means of self-care, allowing me to refill my cup and handle the everyday stress of motherhood, work and other life challenges. Art has added joy, wonder, focus, discipline, growth and purpose to my life. I consider my art practice like an old friend or a comforting blanket—a place to escape when I need solitude and peace.
I offered an art workshop to a group of adults recovering from addictions. I wanted to provide them with an opportunity to learn simple drawing skills and to open the doors of possibility for a more positive lifestyle. One participant couldn’t believe how successful he was at drawing in such a short time. I asked him, “Can you image where you’d be today if these skills were offered to you when you were young?”
Creative hobbies offer so much more than the distraction we get from watching TV or browsing the Internet. They provide interest, leisure, focus, practice, confidence, growth and a respite from our daily grind. But for many people, the doors of art and creativity are closed at a young age, due to self-criticism, lack of opportunities or lack of understanding about the benefits art provides. The good news is that anyone can learn, at any age—it’s never too late. No experience required!
Health and wellness experts constantly reminded us that we need to slow down, be present and let go of stress. Mindfulness is the key to living in the moment, taking a break from our to-do lists and dropping our emotional baggage. All forms of art—drawing, painting, crafts, photography, sculpting, knitting, sewing, woodworking, music, digital media or whatever creative activity you like to do—are a source of mindfulness, offering a meditative space to escape to. As Betty Edwards explains in Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, art taps into our right-brain mode, allowing us to think holistically, intuitively and concretely. This counters our left-brain mode, which likes activities that are linear, rational and analytic. Right-brain functions encourage being present, focusing on the task at hand and losing all sense of time. Artists call this “being in the zone.”
How do you get into the zone when you can’t get started? Fear and self-criticism often block us from moving forward. We are our own worse critics because our expectations are too high. This leads to self-doubt or criticism, which leads to fear, and fear stops us dead in our tracks. How many times have you told yourself you’re not good at this or don’t have a talent for that?
First, change your expectations. We don’t have to be masters at an activity to receive its benefits. I have never been an athlete, yet I enjoy being physically active.
Second, try to approach the arts like a child would. Let go of your inner critic and learn to play with art simply for fun and self-expression. Take a class, learn some skills, and with some guidance and practice you will grow. If you find the activity fun, you will want to continue to practice.
The arts are not a frill, something to be dabbled in only when we are children or after we retire. Self-expression is as necessary for our soul as food is for our body. We are creative beings—it’s what drives us and makes us thrive. Creativity is in all of us, waiting to be woken up to the excitement of discovery and exploration.
Art is for everyone, no matter what your age or skill level. Think beyond art as a calling or a career and use it as an expressive outlet or meditative practice. Go inwards to find wellness, and open your mind to the possibilities art has to offer!
Lynn LeCorre-Dallaire is an artist, art educator and holistic health coach at Drawing on Wellness