Why art-making is the cheapest therapy ever
When I started making abstract art a few years ago, I noticed a profound effect on my level of happiness and well-being. I always joked to my friends that making art was ‘the cheapest therapy ever’—but honestly, I meant it. I am not talking about ‘art therapy,’ with a therapist by your side who gives you assignments and who helps you to find meaning in your work. No, the simple act of putting paint on the paper or scratching marks on canvas gives a basic kind of joy.
In this ‘cheapest therapy ever’ you don’t talk about your problems, your fears, and your pain, you don’t work through them on a psychological level, but, miraculously, painting is healing. It gives quality to your life.
In this post, I will explore four reasons why this is true, at least for me, and I hear from other artists that it is true for them also. It might be true for you, too.
Out of your head and into your body
First of all, making art gets you out of your head and into your body. When you first start painting it is not always so easy. You might stare at the white paper or canvas and think, think, think. What should I do? Where to start? What color to use? What mark to make?
You can feel insecure, and maybe your mind starts racing around and around. When you keep painting, though, your mind slows down. Especially in abstract art, as opposed to realistic art, there is not so much to think about. Reasonable or logical abstract art-making may not even exist.
Of course, there is color theory, and there are theories about composition and so on, but my experience is that relying on that kind of art theory does not make practicing art more enjoyable, nor your art better.
Personally, I like art the best that comes straight from the heart and the gut, so to speak, and not so much from the head. And more important: the painting experience is so much more fun this way!
Using your senses
Second, art-making makes you use your bodily senses instead of your thinking. You dive into the feeling of paint on your hand, the scratching of your ink pen on the paper, the smoothness of crayon on canvas, the bright and inviting colors on your palette. You experience the world directly instead of from the head.
Of course, thinking plays its role in painting. At a certain moment you get to know your materials, and you know how to mix colors and how to reach an effect that you like. You learn how certain compositions make you happy, and what you have to do to make them happen. It can be beneficial to learn something about techniques, but the thinking head plays a very natural and helpful role in this—and not the criticizing and even degrading role it can play so often.
Free expression of intuition
Third, art-making gives you the opportunity to explore the inner domain of intuitions and impulses and to express them without the interference of your ever-talking head.
This is a miraculous thing. In our society we have to explain ourselves all the time; we have to have good reasons for everything we do. When we make abstract art, there are no unspoken rules. You are free to express yourself as you like. This leads to a feeling of freedom and endless possibilities.
Of course, this does not always come easily. I get thrown out of this sense of freedom all the time, back into the struggling and the thinking. However, the more I paint, the more natural it becomes to find my way back to this free way of painting and being.
Power & resilience
Fourth, when you are more in your body and less in the criticizing head, you develop strength and resilience, and a profound sense of self-trust and rootedness in life.
Art-making can be frightening—it is easy to get caught up in self-doubt or self-criticizing—but if you keep painting, you get to the other side of this fear. You learn to stay with the uncomfortable feeling of not knowing how to take the next step. When you ‘ruin’ your painting, you learn to just put another layer on it. Sometimes this works out, and sometimes it doesn’t. Both are equally fine. Tomorrow you have another chance. Nothing can ever go wrong.
To sum it up
Let me sum up why in my experience art-making enhances your well-being and happiness:
- it gets you out of your head, and into your body;
- it stimulates you to make good use of your often neglected bodily senses;
- it lets you explore the inner domain of intuitions and impulses, and express them freely; and
- it teaches you to stay with uncomfortable feelings, and this helps to develop self-trust.
Let me know below in the comments if you recognize this!