Healing through Creative Expression

A few weeks ago, I was asked to be part of a panel discussion for artist Rick Bartow’s exhibit The Things You Know but Cannot Explain. During his lifetime, Mr. Bartow often referred to his art as “affordable therapy.” During the panel discussion, I was asked to comment on the role of creativity as a mechanism for healing. I found the question to be an interesting one, as I myself have used art as part of my therapeutic healing process on more than one occasion. For example, after finalizing my divorce, moving, breaking my heel for a second time in a year and turning 40 – all in less than a month’s time – I found myself picking up a canvas and a paintbrush for the first time in over two decades. I painted my divorce – literally. I painted my pain, my sadness, my sense of loss, my sense of hopelessness. I painted with a vengeance – not because I had any aspirations of being a great painter, but because the more I painted, the more I noticed the colors that I was using started to brighten. I felt more hopeful, less defeated. With each stroke of the brush, it’s as though a little part of me moved forward, moved on.
I painted consistently for about six months after my divorce. Then life happened, and other things took priority. Since then, I have painted off and on.

But this past year, I have found myself drawn more and more to the paints. I’ve come to think of painting as a tool – not just for healing, but for processing – akin to my love of journaling for the same reason – and as an important part of my self-care.

Sometimes I have no idea what I’m going to paint when I sit down at the kitchen table. Quite often, I have more than one painting going at one time. As I wait for the paint to dry on one canvas, I’m starting another. Or as I’m waiting for inspiration to hit, I’ve moved on to another canvas with a different inspiration, knowing in time I will come back to the first. Or not. That’s the beauty of painting for me – there’s always a do over button (thank you gesso!) and there’s no real deadline.

There’s no stress, no rush, no “I must get this done” feeling about it. Sometimes I finish painting in a few days; sometimes it takes me months. I find it very soothing and peaceful, almost like a moving meditation.

But here’s the truth: I don’t consider myself a painter or even an artist. Why? Because I’ve never had formal lessons outside of grade school, and I wouldn’t call a mandatory grade school art class a formal lesson. I was actually talking with my artist/art teacher friend Tahirih about this a few weeks ago. First, she assured me that yes, I am an artist and I could tell my inner critic to keep her opinions to herself (you can see why I love Tahirih so much!). She said she read somewhere that our opinions about our talent and even our skill set as an artist can get “frozen in time” when we first receive criticism about our artwork. Neither one of us has actually looked at the research to back that up, but it makes sense to me. I don’t feel like my art has progressed since early junior high when: a) art classes got replaced by science classes, and b) I was told I wasn’t good enough to be in the school art show.

Yet, this conversation was the fuel I needed to make some changes. You see, the more I paint, the more I wish I knew more about painting – about how to get the image I see in my mind onto the canvas and have it look like how it looks in my mind. Thus, I’ve wanted to take art classes since I started painting again a few years ago, but I’ve never been able to work them into my schedule. So during that same conversation when Tahirih and I were talking about my art getting “frozen” in early junior high, I asked her if she would be willing to take her art classes online so I could fit them around my schedule and develop a more consistent practice around my painting. She agreed to do it – to teach art in an online class format. (I think I might’ve done a happy dance in her living room when she told me that!)

I spent my weekend buying painting supplies and am looking forward to diving into my first lesson. If you also want to learn more about painting and painting technique, check out Art Party Online.

In the meantime, keep working on whatever process you use for healing. I’d love to here where creativity fits into your healing and self-care in the comments below.

4 Comments

  • Peggy says:

    I love to knit and do other crafts. I have only done craft type painting but it still allowed me healing. I am going to check out the painting classes tho.

  • Acacia Weber says:

    I think this is how I feel about drawing. When I was in middle school and early high school I really enjoyed drawing and was able to create powerful stuff, but I have a bit of a comparison complex and when I had friends younger than me that could draw so much better (among other things they were better at) I started drawing less and less and I hardly draw anymore. This is pretty inspiring, I’ll have to try to draw again and see where it takes me.

  • Sanchi says:

    I’m an artist and teacher and people come to me to learn skills and techniques but I find many of my students find much more from creating art and taking that time for self care. It helps to heal, process and awaken their souls. I love being witness to the amazing magical process that art making gives.

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