Today is another Why do the Arts Matter post here at Artist Strong. There is so much talk right now in the Education world about the importance of the arts. But where is the practice? We can talk all we want, but if we don’t put money where our mouths are, we are still saying the arts are unimportant. This series of articles, called Why Do the Arts Matter? are meant to be a tool you can share with others to promote and argue why it is so important to support and celebrate our arts programs and culture.

Art is an emotional outlet for the artist.


The Tears of a Health Festival MinJi Chung, 5th grade, Irvine, CA, "The Tears of a Health Festival" from Korean Health Center

The Tears of a Health Festival
MinJi Chung, 5th grade, Irvine, CA, “The Tears of a Health Festival” from Korean Health Center

There are SO many reasons why the arts are important. Today, let’s talk about art as emotional outlet.

This is perhaps the most widely accepted and understood use of the arts. When people talk about art, often the notion of emotion or message is discussed. Often the lives of the artists are also discussed as context for emotional artworks.

Artists that immediately come to mind include Frida Kahlo and Vincent van Gogh. In fact, the tie between emotion and the arts is so strong that people often jump to the conclusion that artists are emotionally unstable!

This article also resonates personally because I know many a time in my life where I have accessed my artist skills to channel and digest emotional events or moments in my life. When there has been a loss in my life, art has been a way to reflect and say goodbye to someone I love. When I faced major illness, art was a way to take a break from the fears of surgery and its possible complications.

Let’s look at Frida Kahlo. She was a passionate, determined and sickly artist. At one point in her young life Frida was involved in a cable car accident where a pole pierced through her uterus and body nearly killing her. For the rest of her life she was in constant pain and discomfort and had dozens of surgeries to try to alleviate her discomfort.

Her health was so poor she often spent her days laying on a bed. And it was here, laying down, that she would paint. If you take any time looking at her journal you can see how art was a means for her to channel her frustrations, fears and hopes. And taking a look at any of her paintings, people often describe her work as violent, intense, emotional.

Look at this unfinished work entitled Frida and the Cesarean. What kind of choices did Frida Kahlo make to enhance the emotion expressed in her work? Her work was largely autobiography, yet it resonates with others enough that her journals are published, she is in art history texts and her artwork are in museums across the world.

Or consider Vincent van Gogh. The man was poor and mentally ill, but entirely driven by his art. Letters to his brother always talked about his drive to succeed as an artist, but also his need to make art. When he was committed to an asylum, he would spend hours and days painting to channel his anxiety and depression.

The connection between emotion and the arts is strong enough a branch of psychology now deals with using the arts to help people through treatment of Post Traumatic Stress or for empowerment and communication after cases of abuse.

While some in psychology question the validity of art therapy, institutions are growing in their respect and use of the discipline to help people of all ages. For example, the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia uses art and music therapy with its patients. And here is an article by the National Institute of Health about using art therapy to work with adolescents.

Image by micdsphotos via Creative Commons/Flickr

Image by micdsphotos via Creative Commons/Flickr

Today I’ve only really addressed how art is an emotional outlet for the individual. What are the implications for our community and society for having this outlet for the individual?

If we celebrated the use of art to help those with mental illness or emotional struggle, would we better protect and support the individual and their families?

We have a mental health crisis in the United States that we are ignoring. Could we sooner identify people with emotional need? Could the art people make channeling their emotions help others connect and relate to be a more open and accepting society?

Why Do the Arts Matter? Because the arts are a means of emotional expression for people in an increasingly stressful, busy, and confusing world. The arts allow people to channel their emotions to the benefit of themselves and others to live more fulfilled lives. It makes our world a better place to live.

ARTIST STRONG reflection: What other artists do you know that use art as means of emotional channel? What institutions help us harness the arts for those going through emotional struggle?