Art is now regularly touted as a vehicle to relieve stress. It’s also seen as a healthy coping mechanism for navigating hard times in our lives. But when the going gets tough, how can we really make art work for us and not be another item on a self-care to do list that never gets done?
Time is repeatedly mentioned as the largest obstacle for people to make art. (Sometimes money is too). I get it. And then again, I don’t. I listened to an AMAZING interview with Elizabeth Gilbert by Krista Tippett on On Being and she noted something I hadn’t really thought about, but has been in front of me all along. Before we had belongings, excluding a few items we might carry on our backs, our ancestors MADE ART. They had real concerns in their lives: wild animals, shelter, food… and despite this, THEY STILL MADE ART. Art is so important it was one of the first things we did. Art is some of our earliest archaeological evidence of being human. I’ve talked about this before.
So, now, let’s come back to present day. Bills, house payments, kids classes, dinner… How to find time for art? Especially when things are tough? It can be grief over loss, frustration and sense of helpless as I feel in the US over the loss of innocent lives. It could be having a really crappy day at work. These are the times to make art. So again, how can we make time?
Make art easy and fun.
Do you have a coloring book you can keep at hand? What about preparing an altered book that you can carry with you and a small colored pencil set? Make your art small, portable, easy to put away, set up and store. If you get ambitious when times are tough you won’t create. And then you might even feel guilty for it.
When we are angry, when we seek change in the community and world around us, when we feel inexplicable grief…we need to not only act, but we need to take care of ourselves. Gilbert talks about self-love being hard for people, why not befriend yourself? If you had a friend in a bad place, what would you offer to them for support, advice and care? That’s the kind of thing you need to do, for you.
Act now: Stop for a minute and list 3 arts based activities that fulfill the above criteria for you.
Pick art that feels fun, playful and quiets your inner critic.
When I returned to Muscat after saying goodbye to my father I thought I’d jump right back into my women strong series. My art has always been an outlet for me in times of grief and difficulty. But each time I tried to start my inner critic came out screaming. I couldn’t see my work nor connect with it. But while I was away Mom gave me a great idea: “you should embroider your mandalas.” Ding ding ding! I thought awesome, what a great idea.
I dug out my supplies and jumped in. This has been a PERFECT way for me to enjoy creative time, work on something meditative and take care of me. I haven’t heard my inner critic speak very loudly and it’s because I’m creating without worry about something like capturing portrait likeness. It’s also giving me time and space to think through the things going on around me and process how I want to act, how I can choose to be an agent of change.
Mixed media can free you from concerns of right or wrong because you get to mix and match media and techniques as YOU see fit. In times of great stress, your LAST concern should be about skill. Art is a vehicle to move through and explore your suffering, because it can be transformative. It can move you to a space of gratitude and connection. It’s a healthy outlet for your grief, pain and stress. It’s a tool to reconnect with a sense of fun, discovery and the play you experienced as a child.
Act now: What feels good? What excites you? That’s the kind of art you investigate right now.
It’s lip service to say you should create when times are tough. I did little art while I visited my dying father. Sometimes, our actions of self-care can’t include art. And that’s okay. While I visited I made some art, but it would be a random moment of quiet, meditative sketching or I’d draw a mandala. Even in those few and far moments I could take a moment to catch my breath and enjoy a minute with me.
Be Creatively Courageous: Better to plan ahead and have a creativity care package on hand than to wait for bad times, what art activities can meet the above criteria for you?