The Healing Arts
Sometimes people aren’t okay. In fact, it is very hard for people to maintain what is considered the ideal mental health one hundred per cent of the time. This is a normal thing among humans. As homo sapiens, we have developed several ways of dealing with our not so positive emotions. One of these many possible outlets is through the medium of art.
The term ‘Art therapy’ was first coined in 1942 by a man named Adrian Hill, who discovered the benefits of art for mental health whilst he was recovering from tuberculosis in a sanatarium. Although he didn’t realise the benefits of art for mental health while it was him just drawing amongst all the other soldiers, he did eventually realise that this could help people. After teaching a small group of the other patients how to draw, he saw the effects. In his book, published in 1945 by the name of ‘Art versus Illness’, he said that art was a form of escape. This encouraged him to try and start an art therapy programme at the sanitarium to help those who came into its care. He believed that art could heal, and that is the basic principle on which modern art therapy is based. Hill worked differently with each individual soldier, helping them to gain confidence in their own skills and the art that they were creating. Though the skill level of the artists varied, this did not deter Hill from helping them.
Art therapy is not limited to just drawing however, it can be any form of art from sculpting all the way to creating collages. Art therapy is often used on children, those with behavioural issues, traumatic memories or even learning disabilities. It isn’t exclusive to children, however, as it is often used with adults too. Anyone under severe stress, with poor mental health or suffering from a brain injury, may also benefit from this form of help. The art created by these patients acts as a form of expression, to externalise the negative feelings that perhaps they feel that they cannot talk about. It is not about technique or making perfect art, but instead, simply expressing one’s self, whether that be with clay or paint. It isn’t perfect, however. Despite all of the evidence that art therapy is a useful tool, there are also studies that suggest that it could actually have an adverse effect instead. Either way, the groups that are looked at within these studies are usually far too small to gain conclusive results.
Art is not something that is meant to be perfect. There is no such thing. Instead, the best forms of art often expressive and filled with an emotion that perhaps, we did not even know was capable within ourselves. Expressing ourselves is an important thing in regards to our mental health. Perhaps the next time that you feel something that you cannot explain, we should all try and take pencil to paper and explain the emotion using a completely different medium.