Using Mixed Media Art to Cope: My Story
The day after Christmas 2009 was not a moment in my life I remember fondly. It’s the day my ex-husband walked out on me and my then 3-year-old daughter.
Needless to say, 2010 ended up being a rough year full of changes and sad realizations. The first four months of the year, it was all I could do to work and parent. After that, my reserves were basically maxxed out. Gradually, little bits of life started to feel okay here and there. I adjusted to a new normal and started feeling that familiar creative drive. Now more than ever, I wanted to make art.
The very first painting I created after my separation and eventual divorce was an accurate representation of both my mental state and my art skill level. I was determined to move forward – even if it hurt – but I had to be realistic about where I was art-skill wise. For the painting, I cut up two photos of myself and placed them back together over a painted canvas. I glued the words “I am not broken without you” below the photo.
Even now – 10 years later – I can look at that painting and understand what I was feeling when I created it. I felt broken – but I was also determined to put my pieces back together, even if they didn’t fit quite like they had before.
It got me thinking about how art can help us with so many of life’s curveballs. I am an INFJ personality type and also a shy introvert – talking about my feelings is not my forte. But what I can’t put into words, I can often put on the canvas. Sometimes, it’s not even about the subject of the painting. Just the act of doing art can get me out of a mood.
There’s a wide range of ways art can help us cope with life: from being a stress reliever all the way to formal art therapy that deals with trauma and emotional healing.
Art on the Brain
Doing art when life is metaphorically shooting tennis balls at your head can actually have many positive effects on your mind and body. In fact, one study showed that creating art can actually improve psychological resilience. In a 2014 study done by the non-profit organization Plos, researchers set up an experiment to asses the effect of art on the brain. People were split into two groups: those who looked at and discussed art and those who actually created art, all done over a 10 week period.
The results showed the group who actually did art had:
- Better ability to resist stress
- Increased brain activity
- Improved motor skills
- Strengthened brain connections leading to enhanced memory and ability to connect known information with new information.
Paint Your Feelings
Creating art will also help us cope with feelings, stress and mental health. In addition to art therapy, many people take art classes that are aimed at healing with art or pairing art with faith. No matter which way people choose to approach their art making, the benefits are pretty clear. In 2010, the American Journal of Public Health reviewed 100+ studies that looked at the connection between art and health/healing. Most of the studies showed art could:
- Reduce bad emotions
- Increase good emotions
- Reduce stress and anxiety
- Improve flow
The review even stated that studies show art helps improve depression.
As someone who has battled anxiety, depression, and a tendency to run on stress, that information has a huge impact on me.
I’ve often wondered, why do I love art so much? If I stop to think about it too long, it feels like there’s no good explanation for it! When I do art or at least attempt it, I usually feel better. If I can’t do art or feel blocked, I am miserable.
Most of the time, I don’t need a reason. Art is just a part of who I am, and the more art I do, the more I understand that it’s just like a personality trait or a food preference. It’s individual and mysterious and necessary, and also feels like I wouldn’t be “me” without art.
Be Warned: The Muse Can Be Elusive
As great as art and creating is, I do feel the need to be real here, too.
Sometimes art doesn’t flow.
Especially if you’re going through tough times or dealing with a major life setback, it can seem hard, and even frustrating to do art.
I think this is normal and totally okay. I didn’t force myself to do art after my husband left, desperately trying to work through those feelings of despair and sadness. On the contrary, I didn’t turn to art until several months had gone by. Honestly, I was dealing with grief and trauma at first and had little desire to create art.
(If you do find yourself struggling with a creative block, I’ve got you covered! Head on over to my article 52 Ways to Unlock YOUR Creativity for a ton of ideas to get you going).
Your situation might be different than mine. We are all individuals and handle things differently. You might turn to art right away during hard times, or you might be in crisis mode (like I was) and can only return to art when life feels somewhat stable again.
The good news is – there are no wrong answers.
The better news is – when we do start creating, we’re not only producing great art, we’re potentially making ourselves better people!
What’s not to love about that?
2014 Plos Study: https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0101035
2010 Am J Public Health study: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2804629/