It is a well known fact that art is a powerful tool that can evoke and influence our moods. I believe abstract painting can also provide significant effects when it comes to stress relief, in particular. There has been much research carried out on the subject, but more information is still required. However, there are several other types of research that associate art with mental health and wellbeing as well as healing. These researches confirm that visual art improves psychological as well as physical wellbeing in many ways.
Currently, there is a large number of people with significant levels of mental health issues worldwide. Stress and anxiety are among the most spread and reported issues. The number has further increased in the past 18 months due to the psychological effects of COVID-19 lockdown and restrictions. There are many causes that can create stress, e.g. facing difficult situations, worrying about things in life, uncertainty about work, poverty, debts, etc.
There is sufficient evidence linking active involvement in creative activities to a wide range of benefits, including a reduced level of stress, the promotion of wellbeing, improving quality of life, health and social capital.
Arts on Prescription is among several current projects already operating in the UK aimed at helping people with mental health issues and social isolation. These projects are not designed to replace conventional therapies but rather to act to further support and assist in helping people in their recovery through creativity and increasing social engagement. Although there is a number of different projects, they all share at least one important element. All related creative activities are carried out by artists, not by medical professionals or therapists.
Furthermore, the actual involvement of activities relating to the creation of art itself has also proven to be beneficial to our health and productivity. Art activities have been practised in medical schools and other institutions, for many years, to promote the benefits of creating art, whether direct or indirect benefits. But more studies are still needed to analyse the activities and the results.
How can art benefit mental health?
- Stress Relief: Any type of art creation, e.g. painting, demands quite a bit of concentration, which really works well to shift our minds and emotion onto the artwork. That shift in itself can be sufficient to lower our level of stress, even though temporarily while being engaged in creating the artwork. The best results and a higher level of stress relief would be achieved with the understanding that creating artwork is all about the process itself rather than the end result. Therefore, there is no right or wrong, good or bad art. I certainly believe this approach has a significant effect on the ability to maximise stress relief. Art as stress relief is probably the most noticeable and obvious benefit that people active in creating art will most definitely experience.
- Improves Creative Growth: Taking part in creative art activities plays a major role in improving and stimulating creative growth and skills. Art activity also helps to make people feel relaxed, which in turn helps to develop our creative skills without being under pressure.
- Improves Memory: Painting, but also other types of art activity, sharpens the mind through conceptual visualisation and implementation, plus, improves memory skills. Being actively engaged in art creation such as painting, drawing and writing reduces the potential development of memory loss illnesses at old age.
- Enhances Problem Solving: Creating art can also create several challenges and problem-solving issues, e.g. colour harmony, balancing textures and lines, etc. These are known elements of creating art and artists are usually aware of these challenges. Artists are constantly solving these problems and overcoming these challenges until the very end of completing the artwork. I experience the same every time I am painting, taking time to view and review the evolving painting or even what could be causing slow progression. And at all times, not just thinking outside the box, but trusting my feelings to find a solution to move to the next step. But always attempting to communicate with the painting to find a solution. (Communication is halfway to identifying the problem as it is also halfway to identifying the solution).
- Stimulates an Optimistic Attitude: This is one of many beautiful things that attracts me to non-representation abstract painting. The whole process, from A to Z, provides an extremely open environment for maximum relaxation and absolute freedom to explore any self-expression. It encourages creativity without any restrictions, which in turn, stimulates a greater optimistic approach to life altogether. It is a fantastic journey of no right or wrong, no good or bad. It is just a happy journey and nothing else matters and it is open for everybody who wants it.
- Develops Emotional Growth: Every true artist has his/her own style that is so unique to them. I, too, have a unique style as I believe I paint my feelings with my feelings. It is hard to describe because many of us may not have experienced the language of feelings. This is not a new discovery, but it is a concept that we are recently beginning to appreciate and realise its meaning. All true artists reflect their emotions in their artwork and many viewers would also feel some or all these reflections. Different viewers may find different feelings or interpretations from the same piece of artwork and this is where the artist’s skills are demonstrated at their best.
“Art is not what you see, but what you make others see“. – Edgar Degas.
For many years, I have been passionate about creating abstract paintings but also intrigued by the potential impact of abstract painting to help people to overcome mental health such as anxiety, depression, stress, grief and loneliness.
I believe abstract painting, particularly non-representational art, can take you on a different journey deep inside the soul or perhaps the subconscious. It is hard to describe in words but I know it’s a fantastic experience full of excitement, total relaxation and ultimate satisfaction. It is all about that journey irrespective of the end result of the painting.
Nothing else could match this experience.
Abstract art can be interpreted differently, but to me, it can be a simple collection of unreal images and scenes that are not depicted from reality (although I still have my views about that possibility).
Can the process of painting absorb some of the tension created by mental health issues?
People with mental health issues are often at a loss to describe how they feel. Art therapy focuses on helping people express themselves without the need for language or logic; their lack of artistic skill or training is no barrier to self-expression. Painting abstract follows a similar approach but it allows the person the ultimate freedom of visual expression.
No rules, no restrictions and no limit.
A few individuals with mental health have produced works that have gained the attention of artists, art dealers, art historians, collectors and curators as they can free exercise self-expression.
It is a well known fact that is also supported by several studies that viewing and creating art can help reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression as well as other mental health issues.
The conclusion in my opinion is that abstract painting can provide a relaxing and enjoyable experience for everyone. Try it, without thinking about the result of the painting.