Art as therapy – the answer you weren’t looking for?
You are certainly familiar with the concept of catharsis invented by Aristotle. This Greek word means «purification». In the philosopher’s works on poetics it refers to purifying of emotions by tragedy. It is also repeatedly mentioned with regard to the other arts.
People know from the very beginning of times that the magic power of the arts is to remove painful and unpleasant effects and turn them into their opposites. According to an American writer of children’s literature Maurice Sendak, people from their earliest years are in need to achieve catharsis through fantasy because they «live on familiar terms with disrupting emotions, fear and anxiety» as an intrinsic part of their everyday lives.
Have you ever coped with your grief or frustrations by means of reading novels or visiting art galleries? Have you ever felt that a particular artwork (a beautifully written story or a painting) can express your inner life better than you do?
It definitely works, right? Nowadays with all the technological progress we can even witness some curious attempts to algorithmize the whole process. We already have a web application for such purposes. It is claimed to be capable of helping you become happier, less selfish, more content with what you do or even accept the frightening thought about your mortality.
We believe the point of art in general is to offer therapeutic assistance; it should help us to better endure and enjoy our lives. (Alain De Botton)
It gets more interesting when it comes to some studies that show how your personality traits reflect your taste in art. Aesthetic interests were found to be more strongly related to character traits (like openness to new experiences or agreeableness) than to social class, age or gender. If you are a conscientious (a politically correct word for «boring» as we see it) person you are less likely to be creative and also less likely to be interested and competent in artistic appreciation. It’s highly probable that your artistic preferences are more conventional in that case.
If you are still not completely emotionally satisfied with what the humanity’s cultural legacy can offer you can to try to become an artist yourself! Through the creation of art, you can better understand yourself and others, explore your feelings and cope with stress and traumatic experiences like undergoing cancer treatment or other health problems. You are even granted a unique chance to enhance your cognitive abilities.
You should not be bothered with questions like «am I talented or not?». Just try.
As the British association of psychotherapists claims, art therapy is founded on the belief that self-expression through artistic creation has its therapeutic value in case you are working with someone who is trained to understand how color, texture, and various art media can help reveal one’s thoughts and feelings. You can find plenty of stories on how people succeeded to increase self-esteem, get over depression or deal with Alzheimer, and even schizophrenia.
Mentally ill people can also get some relief from such practices. The Perspective Project provides an outlet for those with mental health problems and hosts art, poetry and writing with the aim of ending stigma and giving them an opportunity to find understanding. The website is sharing the works of over 30 artists (there are anonymous among them) from around the UK, US and Canada, all of whom have various mental health issues.
In the months after the recent school shooting in Coral Springs the local Museum of Art established art therapy programmes to help students, teachers and parents cope with trauma. “We know art works,” says Julia Andrews, the executive director of the museum. “We know it helps. As traumatic as it’s been and horrific as it’s been, there’s been growth.”
Art is therapy. Art is a healer. It is capable of transforming your feelings in a way that no other media can.