Reach for your sketchbook and keep reading to learn how the visual arts can help knock stress out of your life.
Wondering how to calm down in the midst of overwhelming deadlines? Grab a pencil.
Mindfulness can be achieved by bringing attention to seeing or sensing, hearing or tasting, as is done in meditation, but visual art can offer a further tool by providing a focus for sensory perception. Drawing, for instance, can help us connect with our sense of sight, slowing down our seeing and making it more embodied. Sketching a peach, we can take note of the fuzzy texture of its skin, the subtle shades of pink and orange, and the late afternoon light tinting it. As we do so, we can become more fully present to the moment.
When it comes to releasing emotion, visual art has the advantage of being nonverbal, enabling one to express emotions that may be difficult to put into words. Creating a gestural painting by working with rhythmic brushwork or depicting images that evoke withheld feelings can be used as effective tools to release pent-up emotions.
Translating a problem into visual form or creating a visual analogue is a powerful way to reframe it and to see it in a new light. Creating an analogue can also help us visualize solutions.
We can work with scale, edge, and colour to explore further ways of shifting our visual interpretations. Shrink the large shapes that represent work overload. Lighten up the dark circles showing conflict. Or simply turn the analogue upside down to discover new possibilities and meanings.
Visual expression can help us get past our inner censor, less active in image-making than in language, and connect with parts of ourselves that may have been blocked off. Working visually, we can access our unconscious with greater ease, where we can find out more about our true selves.
Finally, taking time out to enjoy ourselves is crucial as it helps us exit the vicious circle of stress and recharge our batteries. The visual arts can help us regain our sense of play as we delight in colour or experiment with new materials. And when making art, we can bring about the profound satisfaction of activating the creative self, an essential part of our makeup as human beings.
Try these two art exercises to get started.
Access your inner life and enhance your self-knowledge by creating a dream collage.
Materials: magazines, paper, scissors, glue stick
How to: think of a dream. Select images in magazines that evoke it. Cut and paste, experimenting with composition and colour. Let the final image speak to you, writing down thoughts elicited from the work.
Photographic visual diary
Pay attention to the world around you and inhabit the present more fully by keeping a visual diary.
Materials: a camera
How to: photograph what you find intriguing, moving, or beautiful. Play with contrasts such as close/far; empty/full; and light/dark. Title and date your photos, arranging them in an actual or virtual diary.