When talking about their creative process, many artists mention that they find their work therapeutic in one way or another – that it calms them when they are angry, enables them to relax, and generally helps them to feel secure and centered in their life. Although it can be a very passionate activity, and certainly specific paintings may be associated with particular strong emotions, there is often a sense in which the act of creation helps to work through those feelings, leaving the artist clear-headed and satisfied at the end.
The use of art as therapy – that is, as treatment in cases of mental and sometimes physical distress – is based on the idea that there is something special about art, that creating something with pens or paints allows individuals to gain perspective on what they are experiencing, and achieve a greater level of understanding and perhaps control. Agora Gallery is proud to represent a number of artists who also have a background in art therapy, including Helene Leane, Renate Thalhammer and Carlos CabĂˇn.
Of course, people have been aware of art’s ability in this area for centuries. Art has always been closely tied to the emotions and to expression of one kind or another. Yet art therapy as a distinct profession and practice only came to be recognized as recently as the 1940s. Since then, it has grown, developed and increased in terms of its theory and methods, allowing it to be of help to large numbers of people in many different situations and walks of life, in settings ranging from the private and intimate to public ones such as hospitals and group gatherings in schools.
Art therapy is, naturally, not just for artists. In fact, art therapists stress that no particular skill or artistic ability is necessary; many of those who benefit from it are children, sometimes too young to even know how to color inside the lines. The point is not to produce something of aesthetic value, or that has a place in art history, but rather to use art and the creative process involved as a channel for expression.
This has significant impact in terms of communication. Some people cannot explain an experience, others have trouble putting emotions into words. It may be something too personal, or the individual simply may not have the knack of explaining what they mean in the way that they would like. Through the symbolic nature of creation, however, they can show their story or their feelings without having to first shape words around it.
All artists will understand the expressive power of art. The work of talented fine artists, such as those whose work Agora Gallery is proud to show on online gallery Art-Mine, often breathes the energy and raw emotional power which the artist has transferred to the painting. Whilst it provides a deeply memorable experience for the viewer, it is also evidence of the expressive power of the act of creation itself. It is this which art therapists use to enable others to express and come to terms with their feelings and themselves.
Although art therapists are qualified professionals, and often have a broader background in wider psychological areas, not everyone needs to go to an art therapist to undergo a form of art therapy. Artists sometimes use their skill to help themselves through difficult times and experiences. Of course, it is not precisely the same, in that it will not be a guided process informed by research and study. Yet many artists find art to be vital in their search for personal peace and contentment.
Some find that their work can help them through difficult illnesses, or those of loved ones. Others turn to it after an accident that perhaps prevented them from pursuing other pastimes. The very flexibility of art makes it an ideal mechanism for exploring one’s inner world and dealing with what’s there. Colors, textures and techniques can all vary according to what the artist needs at that time. If one lacks energy for large pieces, small ones can be worked on, if necessary over a period of time. If usual subjects feel in appropriate, any other topic can act as inspiration.
There are even artists who have found their whole way of working changed by the things they experimented with and learned during their time using art as therapy. Some actually came to art in the beginning through the need to express themselves on paint and canvas. Of course, for those who are not artists, yet use art therapy, the benefit is no less, though it may have less direct professional impact.
Art therapy is a valuable and fascinating field, and one which has brought benefits to many. Do you have any experience of art therapy? Or are you an artist who has found your work therapeutic in the past? Let us know in the comments!