Can Art as Self-Care Work for Anyone?

Can Art as Self-Care Work for Anyone?

I have been going to therapy for the better part of seven years, but it wasn’t until last year that my therapist asked me to draw. On the table when I arrived for our session were a few leaves of copy paper and a used pack of oil pastels. I bypassed the presentation. I hadn’t thought of art as self-care. I was used to diving right into conversation, usually talking very quickly about points I had gone over with myself in the car. I always jumped straight into analyzing the previous week. But this time, my therapist told me not to do that. Instead, she asked me to make use of the supplies in front of me and said, “Draw how you feel.”

I didn’t know how I felt. Half of the reason I even attended therapy sessions was to put words to how I felt, and we hadn’t begun to talk yet. I stared at the colors available to me, and noticed how the popular choices were worn to nubs with the papers ripped off. As a child, I always chose the most pristine crayons in the box. I found myself repeating that reflex, selecting a light blue with enough pastel poking from the wrapping to scribble all over the page. If I was going to draw how I felt, I thought, confusion probably looked something like that.

The unexpected benefits of art as self-care

Art as self-care

“Sirius” by Leah Thompson. Art therapy helps calm the amygdala, reducing stress and contributing to well-being.

Later I would wonder why my muscles relaxed as I continued drawing. Later is when I would learn that with each color selection and mark on the page, I was stimulating my vagus nerve. Each creative choice I made was regulating my parasympathetic nervous system. I was no longer stuck in my thoughts; in fact, I was no longer in my head at all — I was in my subconscious, a place that is much smarter than any part of my brain and the part of me that knows me best.

The emerging field of neuroaesthetics

One can reference the study of neuroaesthetics to understand the positive effects of my experience and of art as self-care. Susan Magasmen, founder and executive director of the International Arts + Mind Lab at Johns Hopkins, writes,

“The field of neuroaesthetics offers research-based evidence that a variety of arts-based approaches may work to improve quality of life, mobility, mental health, speech, memory, pain, learning, and more. Such interventions could potentially lower the cost and burden of chronic disease, neurological disorders, and mental health issues for millions of people.”

That art can beget wellness is a relatively new idea, and it is being explored more widely in these times of rapidly declining mental and physical health. 

In 2011, a University of London study revealed that looking at art directs blood flow to the pleasure center of the brain — the same area that lights up when you’re looking at the person you’re in love with. Scientists from UC Berkeley published a study in 2015 in the journal “Emotion” that stated any activities which inspire a sense of awe have “a direct influence upon health and life expectancy.” This could go from experiencing a wondrous moment in nature to engaging with a work of art. 

New research from the University of Pennsylvania’s Positive Psychology Center points to how the arts positively influence well-being to the extent of increasing a person’s lifespan. Even simply viewing art has the potential for health benefits, such as reducing blood pressure, chronic pain, and anxiety. With the natural spike in serotonin and dip in cortisol levels provided by aesthetic experience, these results are as inevitable as they are accessible. 

Putting creative self-care into practice

Art as elf-Care

“Orchid Flow” by Mitch Eckert. Creating art helps shift your focus from anxious thoughts to something outside of yourself.

You don’t need to go to therapy to reap the benefits of art as self-care. You don’t even need to draw your feelings with oil pastels (though I highly recommend it). The only requirement is to engage with your innermost self, who you have likely been avoiding, and see what they have to say. The medium is entirely up to you. 

Drawing with reckless abandon is a great place to start, especially if you struggle with control in your daily life. If you are burdened with perfectionism, make something bad on purpose. Choose the instrument with the experience that feels best in your hand, whether that be the smearing black dust of a charcoal stick, a solid paintbrush smothered in acrylic or a wet hunk of clay on a potter’s wheel. 

Then, observe what comes up. Are you choosing more colors that are bright or ones that are muted? Are your shapes more flowy and organic or sharp and geometric? As I drew with my therapist, I noticed that I was imposing order on the original chaos I created: Within the blue scribbles, I put down a balanced number of circles, and rounded triangles and filled them all in with the same pink color. It appeared to be a pattern, revealing that my subconscious was seeking familiarity in a turbulent time of my life. 

For a more directed practice, you may consider some prompts. Create the likeness of a familiar object entirely from memory. Cut images from magazines and collage your emotions. If you’re feeling more observant, you may choose to look at art instead of making it. Visit a museum. View pieces in digital galleries. Ask pointed questions: What is the piece saying to you? How do you think the artist felt when they made the work? Notice what you respond to and name your emotions.

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Beyond traditional self-care, getting creative with your practice can provide new avenues for self-connection and self-expression. You don’t have to be an artist for your inner child to be engaged by paints and markers. Wake up that part of you, create without judgment, and see how much calmer you feel afterward. 

Let us know in the comments which methods you try when it comes to art as self-care, or share your own ideas you’d like to explore. Tell us how you take care of yourself in an artful way.

Art Guide by Artrepreneur Author

Kendall McKinnon is a freelance writer based in Savannah, GA. Her work has been featured in Savannah Magazine, France Today, District, and more.

Five Fundamental Art Styles to Know

Five Fundamental Art Styles to Know

Why does that piece of art you love look the way it looks? One key to understanding and interpreting art is a basic understanding of art styles. From figurative to abstract, there are many art styles to choose from, each of which offers a unique avenue for artists to express their vision, capture a subject or evoke an emotion. Below, we’ve rounded up five major art styles and explored their origins. Whether you are brand new to the art world or need a refresher on the basics, you’ll find a starting point here for refining your personal aesthetic and taste.

While discovering different art styles to focus your art collecting, consider the following broad categories. Each style and its correlating subject matter, intentions, and ideology speak in broad strokes for the work to be found in each category. And, as always, keep exploring Artrepreneur’s Curated Collections page to find out how artists from around the world interpret these art styles and many more to make them their own.

Figurative

art styles

Woman Lying on Her Back by Susana Mata

Perhaps the logical style, to begin with, is the most representational of the styles, by which I mean it contains subject matter clearly derived from the real world. Figurative art is classified by its ability for the subject to be recognized with relative ease. Subjects can range from the human figure to observed landscapes, found objects to animal studies.

While figurative does mean representational, it does not necessarily mean realistic. It is important to note that the figurative form does not limit an artist’s expression of style. The Mona Lisa is figurative just as much as Van Gogh’s self-portraits.

Still life

Art Styles

Untitled by Jon Olson

Another representational style, one could include still life within the figurative art umbrella. This type of work captures one moment in time, typically prearranged, shown on a surface. As the name suggests, there is no movement to be found in a still life. Common motifs include commonplace objects, such as bowls, vases, fruit, pipes, and flowers.

Though artists have often used this style for demonstrating mastery of form and light, still lifes as standalone pieces can speak to the artist’s priorities, and surroundings, or even convey an underlying message. For example, a popular type of still life artwork called vanitas (as in “vanity”) includes symbolic objects that represent the fragility of life alongside the evergreen, lingering presence of death.

Portraits

Five Fundamental Art Styles to Know - Art Guide by Artrepreneur

The Red Robe by Laurence O’Toole

 
Easily recognized, portraits are another figurative style that, at the most basic level, involves the depiction of a face. Portraits can range from the hyper-realistic to the hyper-stylized, depending on the artist’s intention for the piece. These works often speak to the character or personality of the subject, and sometimes even their mood at that particular moment.

Portraits are an especially powerful art style given the immediacy of the subject. The men or women depicted will often meet the gaze of the viewer, creating a moment of eye contact that maybe isn’t as direct in other styles. These works are confrontational and personal; they ask you to get to know the person who has been painted.

Back in the day, portraits were almost exclusively commissioned by the wealthy as commemorative works, often in the form of a memorial. It was most important at the time to immortalize the subject. Though still a priority in portrait painting even now, more modern takes have allowed for greater nuance, such as contributing to a cultural movement or making a political statement. Very rarely is an artist simply asking you to look at a face.

Abstract

Art Styles

Lost History by Doug Gilbert

What could very well be known as the black sheep of art, the abstract style is generally misunderstood. For many, the word conjures images of Jackson Pollock hovering over his floor canvas or Mark Rothko rendering giant painted rectangles. Though accurate, these ideas often bring with them a kind of joking, “Well, I could do that” connotation.

While abstract art does include Pollock’s paint-splattered work and Rothko’s color fields, the style at its core is focused on the non-representational. As opposed to figurative works, abstract ones are more about evoking feelings in the viewer. When coupled with the artist’s process—calculated, physical, on a whim, or otherwise—a distinct message can be revealed.

This departure from representation is, in fact, what the word abstract means: “to withdraw something from something else.” As a sort of dilution of the original subject, it may take longer for the intention to resonate with a viewer. However, given the open-ended nature of the abstract styles, that resonance may have more strength since there is room for a viewer to impose a personal take. You may feel that you “understand” the work on a level deeper than other viewers—abstract art has a way of awakening and nestling into the subconscious mind.

Curious about how to look at contemporary art to discover whether or not it speaks to you? We recommend “Seeing Slowly” by Michael Findlay on our list of Best Art Books for Beginners for a primer on orienting yourself in the modern art landscape as you find your perfect art style.

Geometric

Art Styles

Vida de Cuadritos 3 by Enrique Ortiz

In the geometric style, one can find heavy use of shapes to guide the composition. Geometric art often leans into pattern and symmetry, but it can also cross into the abstract with more loose definitions of balance. It can even become representational—just take a look at Picasso and the other cubists.

The roots of geometric art can be traced back to the vases of ancient Greece, and its design elements heavily influenced the Art Deco movement of the 20s and 30s. With the speedy emergence of new technologies, geometric works took a dynamic turn at the height of Futurism. Since then, with the onset of the Internet, the style now naturally brings to mind images of computer hard drives, binary code, and keyboards. The geometric style can simultaneously represent the language of both order and chaos, thus is the nature of tech.

When you see a piece of art that you love, knowing the art style it belongs to can help you learn more about it. It can also propel you to discover even more like it — and, should you decide to bring it home, allow you to acquire more works on a similar theme for a cohesive collection. Though this is not a comprehensive list of the fundamentals, these five styles will help budding art lovers to plant their roots. If you are interested in exploring more art styles, visit Artrepreneur’s Curated Collections page and glimpse more movements such as maximalism, surrealism, vintage, and botanicals.

What is your favorite art style? Let us know in the comments.

Art Guide by Artrepreneur Author

Kendall McKinnon is a freelance writer based in Savannah, GA. Her work has been featured in Savannah Magazine, France Today, District, and more.

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