How Art Is Linked to Wellness

By: Adia Nesbeth

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One of Adornment Stories’ main goals is to explore the intersection of art, storytelling and wellness. There is more of a connection between art and healing than most may realize. It is difficult to have a conversation about one without the other because both involve an understanding of human emotion and how we express them. When we discuss art, we think about how it makes us feel. We often determine the value of something based on its ability to evoke emotion from us, which is why we remember the lyrics to our favourite song from ten years ago, but we can’t recall what we ate for dinner two weeks ago. It is also why Art Therapy exists as a practice, particularly through the expression of music, visual arts, dance, and writing. Art is simply a creative method of filling in the blanks of a conversation that we struggle to put into words.

There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.

-Maya Angelou

Art has always been my voice when speech has failed. I think most people with a creative spirit feel this. Art and creativity is human nature, but just as anything else, being able to effectively translate feelings or words into images or linguistic structures is a talent that takes practice. So what do we do with this drive to create, to tell stories and why is mental health a part of that journey? I think it’s especially important for marginalized people to find ways to express themselves. A lot of times when dealing with the trauma of racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, financial inequality and many other oppressive constructs we can’t see the ways trauma has impacted our mental, physical, and spiritual wellbeing.

Expressive writing has healing benefits because it increases self-understanding and insight.
-S. L. Beaumont

Here are some benefits of combining art with healing:

DISCOVERING YOUR WHY. As a young artist, often times I created work by either focusing on the structural elements or principles or just purely based on emotion. But the greatest demonstration of my understanding as an artist has been the times when I’ve been told to dig deeper and figure out what the story I am telling is and why it’s important to tell this story. Why is it so important that it is coming from me? Why now? Why this particular medium? Part of answering those questions is understanding my emotional state. The self-awareness gives me insight on what colours to use in a painting, what filter to add to a photograph and whether I can effectively convey my message to others.

BALANCING ENERGY AND EMOTIONS. As an artist, I often create from emotion. I write to work through my anxiety, I paint to tame my restlessness, etc. We all know the trope of artists being emotionally unstable or restless people. But relying on extreme emotion or distress for inspiration can become an unhealthy crutch. Beginning a creative session with an activity like meditation, writing a list of small wins or saging the space can help ensure you pull from positive emotions and don’t work from a place of emotional distress, even when tackling difficult subjects through your art.

CREATING COMMUNITY. Part of the creative process is collaborating with others in order to exchange ideas, translate and edit work and learn new creative skills. Although this doesn’t always have to be a group activity for art to be healing, finding safe spaces and working with other artists art can be a positive collaborative environment. When like minded people share energy, space and support, it can give you the courage to share your story.

At some point in your creative process, it will lead you to insight into wellness and vice versa. Finding the middle ground is the success of balancing both acts efficiently and fulfilling multiple aspects of your life at once. Creativity leads to healing and through healing we develop inspiration to share stories. Sharing stories is how others find healing. And so the cycle continues.

...Not honoring that need [to express oneself] can be as detrimental to our well-being as suppressing our emotions.
-S. L. Beaumont
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Beaumont, S. L. (2018). The art of words: Expressive writing as reflective practice in art therapy. Canadian Art Therapy Association Journal, 31(2), 55. doi:10.1080/08322473.2018.1527610