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detail from the artlink cover, showing prisoners benefiting from art, art for the elderly and art in mental institutions

225 The Art of Mental Health

The Blog today is written by freelance contributing writer; Helen Farnes and I hope that you find the article both interesting and useful.

The Art of Mental Health

When you get into the flow of doing something that holds your whole attention, the experience can become almost like meditation. We can immerse ourselves into this relaxed state when reading, painting, gardening, even for a few moments while ironing or washing the dishes, but when it is a creative activity that catches us up, the benefits can be even greater. Art can be wonderful for your mental health.

front cover of Artlink magazine full of artists doing different types of art

Art may heal you!

The Creative Mind

Creativity doesn’t always have the best press when it comes to mental health, although we are increasingly keen to encourage people to be more creative. There are still many articles suggesting that the examples of great artists affected by mental illness show that being creative makes us much more susceptible to conditions such as depression. There is even some scientific evidence to back up claims that those of us who are more creative may also have a slightly increased chance of developing certain mental health problems, such as bipolar disorder, and that there may be a higher incidence of mental illness in the families of creative people. Some of the characteristics that we prize in a healthy creative mind, such as openness to experience and the ability to make unusual connections between apparently unrelated ideas, can also be seen in certain kinds of mental illness, combined with symptoms that can make these characteristics very problematic. However, this does not mean that creativity and mental illness must go together. There are plenty of creative people who have great mental health, and many people who are affected by mental illness who have never been particularly imaginative or artistic.

The Science of Creativity

Scientists have been working on understanding exactly what the apparent connection between creativity and mental illness means, where ideas come from, and how the creative process itself actually works, but figuring out how our minds work when we create might be even harder than creating a work of art. It is not as simple as the traditional idea of left-brain logic and right-brain creativity. The process of creation seems to involve a complex series of conscious and unconscious processes that take place in networks of neurons spread across the entire brain. These networks work to keep us focused, to reconfigure what we know and remember into newly imagined combinations, and to pinpoint the best and most important thoughts. Exactly how this results in a new poem or piece of art is still something of a mystery, but while we might not understand exactly what creativity does to our brains, we do know that art can help us to heal.

Art as Therapy

The link between mental health and art can actually be a very positive one. While some people fear that creativity can spark mental illness, the truth is that art can actually play an important part in helping people to manage these kinds of conditions. Art therapy is increasingly being used to help people who are affected by mental illness or who are recovering from issues such as drug and alcohol addiction or trauma. Art therapists encourage their patients to express themselves through a variety of forms, from visual art and writing to drama, dance and music. While these types of creative processes can often feel very cathartic and may act as excellent stress-relievers by themselves, under the guidance of a trained therapist or art psychotherapist, they can also be used as diagnostic and therapeutic tools.

detail from the artlink cover, showing prisoners benefiting from art, art for the elderly and art in mental institutions

Art heals!

How Art Can Help Your Mental Health

Why is this sort of therapy so successful? It turns out that producing art can help to shape our sense of self, a sense that therapists are often working with their patients to change and strengthen. It can help us to express our feelings and to process our experiences, even when we have suffered extreme trauma. Art can also provide a different way for us to communicate with other people, which can be particularly important when there are subjects that we find difficult to talk about. When we create, we can gain insight into ourselves, increase our self-esteem, and develop a greater sense of empathy for ourselves, and for those around us. We learn to see the world from other perspectives.

Artists Healing Themselves through Creativity

Although these benefits of creativity have only been recognized by therapists relatively recently, many artists have been aware of them for years, and there are some interesting examples of people, like Agnes Richter, whose embroidered jacket is preserved by the Prinzhorn Collection in Germany, who expressed themselves creatively while experiencing mental illness. Now that the value of art for mental health has been recognized, these types of creative works are no longer shut away of ignored. Instead, they can form part of therapy, and be celebrated in exhibitions like the annual MIFQ show in Brisbane.

Links on Art and Mental Health:
1. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s TED talk on Flow, the secret to happiness
2. The Scientific American explores The Real Link Between Creativity and Mental Illness and the Real Neuroscience of Creativity
3. Everyday Creativity in Psychology Today
4. The Australian and New Zealand Arts Therapy Association explains What is art therapy?
5. Agnes Richter’s jacket at the Prinzhorn Collection
6. The Queensland Mental Health Commission reports on how Creativity Shines at Iconic Brisbane Art Exhibition

So on the theme of health at the end of Helen’s article I thought I would add just a little humor to the blog with this great quote from James H. Boren;

” I got the bill for my surgery. Now I know what those doctors were wearing masks for.”

Till next time happy painting and sculpting and enjoying life.

Love Marie xxx

Why not come and have a look at Marie Jonsson-Harrison’s PAINTINGS FOR SALEGICLEE PRINTS FOR SALE and SCULPTURES for sale or WALLBASED SCULPTURES.  Enjoy an original artwork on your walls or perhaps one on your bed ARTnBED.

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