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An Artist's Take on the Relationship Between Art and Mental Health

All the clues were there. I was intuitively gravitating towards this path and now I understand how important it's all been.

Today I saw an article by the Wall Street Journal HERE titled "Is Looking at Art a Path to Mental Well-Being?" The story describes how the mental health of people experiencing sadness or depression, as well as hospital patients stuck inside, were able to improve their mood – and even recover quicker – just by looking at art. Science is definitely finding more links to art far beyond being a pretty picture on the wall. A few months ago, I shared on Instagram this article “One Type of Art can Help you See the Bigger Picture” from Inverse magazine about how looking at Abstract Art can actually help you think more abstractly in other areas of your life. Yes, you read that right - just by looking.

As a creator of art, I've witnessed firsthand the mental health benefits received directly from the act of making art. I had been trained in and exposed to art my whole life, but it wasn't until I found alcohol inks – an abstract, fluid medium that involves moving ink around with hot air – that I felt a deep therapeutic release. It’s worth mentioning that at that time, I was neither an artist, nor intending to become an artist. I had newly transitioned from a decade-long career as an Advertising Art Director to a full-time stay at home mom with two boys. As grateful as I was for this time with them, I found myself at an imbalance where I was nurturing them and not myself. I needed a creative outlet that was just for me. What started as a hobby 6 years ago grew into a second career that has given me the means to process, express and move through whatever has come my way in the time since. I feel that I am a more centered person, equipped with an outlet and the abstract language to let things out. I paint for the passion of it. I paint in times of bliss, devastation and all the in between. But I can tell you without fail, in those times when I'm painting through tears, be it from processing months of Covid lockdown or a family tragedy, I leave that studio in a better mental space than when I walked into it. 

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These findings are also in alignment with my experience as an artist in the Twist Out Cancer program which pairs artists with cancer patients and survivors to transform their cancer story into an artwork. Cancer patients and artists get to know each other over a period of 5 months. It's a freeing experience for them to share their story with a total stranger who then flips the script by taking something heart breaking and difficult and turning into something beautiful. Patients do not get to see the artworks until the big reveal on the night of the Gala. For the 2 years I participated, that moment of walking my muses through the symbolism of their pieces provided a cathartic relief - for them as well as myself. It was another insight into how art could facilitate meaning, connection and validation.

My next personal brush with art’s power was a 2019 "Please Press Pause" solo exhibition. I had created a body of work which prompted gallery patrons to ask themselves what they wish they could “hit the pause button on” in their current season of life (mind you, this was prior to Covid). Artworks featured pause symbols, some more obvious than others, and on the back of each piece, a gratitude list was to be dated and filled out by the collector, to honor that moment and serve as a time capsule for years to come. To further get people to contemplate and really sink into their gratitude, an interactive component allowed patrons to write anonymous gratitude sentiments on painting strips that hung from the ceiling rafters for all to see. Talk about a mental health boost. Answers ranging from “beer” to “sparkles” to “my grandkids” to “waking up every day” written in all the different handwritings from the community filled the space with an unexpected energy that overwhelmed me. And it wasn’t just me - the spirit of coming together and sharing in the show’s message left all of us on a high. There was even a local art Art Teacher who was so inspired, she asked my permission to do a similar school-wide art project with her elementary school. She reported the same positive effect as hundreds of grateful statements lined the hallways, giving students and staff a glimpse of how expressive art can boost your mood. After the show came down, I ended up turning those painting strips into a Gratitude Mandala that hangs in my entryway.

A few months later, Covid hit.

Looking back on what I know now, I can say without a doubt that my art practice got me through the Covid lockdown and not being able to see my family for 1.5 years. I was never more thankful to have a home studio, and spent long hours finding the right markings and combination of materials to accurately convey what I was feeling. Utilizing tangled thread and cut up paintings to convey the disruption of daily life, the “Quarantine Confessions” Series was born. It had to come out of me. And the more I created, the better I felt.

During lockdown, I also started listening to more inspiring podcasts and audio books (as opposed to music) while I worked. I kept hearing the same messages from different sources - messages of mindfulness, letting go, trusting the universe, manifesting your reality, all backed up by scientific experiments, inexplicable recoveries, success stories against all odds… Like my experience of sharing gratitude in the “Please Press Pause” exhibition, I wanted to share these empowering discoveries through art. In the years since, I’ve encouraged others to listen to their own internal compass to guide them through uncertain times (“Cairns” Collection); emphasized the Law of Attraction (“Like Attracts Like” Collection), emboldened them to take ownership of the energy they are putting out into the world “Own Your Aura” Collection), offered a macro perspective of how we are all interconnected, like threads from the same fabric (“The Fabric of Everything” Collection); and my current body of work, still in progress, is inspiring others to become a more conscious thinker “Thoughts on Thoughts” Collection). More than the sale of any painting, the reward for me has been in the personal expression of making art and the connection through the story it tells.

In my Artist Statement, I say “my art is an empowering tool to elevate interiors while cultivating the personal growth of the people who inhabit them.” When there’s a piece of art that moves you, I truly believe seeing that art daily on your wall can bring about those same emotions again and again. In the mindful messaging of my work, it is my goal that the art serves as a daily reminder to reinforce and encourage ownership towards that more evolved, version of ourselves, and in turn, promote a healthier well-being.

For all the clues presented, it was still as if I was being pulled down a road without seeing the ground I was walking on. It wasn’t until I read that article "Is Looking at Art a Path to Mental Well-Being?” that a through-line cut sharply to unite all the pieces together: The “good feelings” I have experienced as a result of creating art were more than just that - they were my way of supporting my own mental health. And my inclination to spread those good feelings to others? That was me using my skills to reach people as an Ambassador of Mental Health. If my art could be a catalyst of inspiration to get them to think, to know they are understood, that our energies, intentions and thoughts matter – by what fraction might that improve their day/mindset/connection to the human experience? Feeling what I’ve felt, and seeing how art has deeply impacted my life and others, I don’t think that’s an overstatement.