What is Art Therapy?

Art therapy is a therapeutic technique which originated in the fields of art and psychotherapy.

Someone does not need artistic talent to benefit from art therapy. The intent is to relax and focus the mind while creating something meaningful. This therapy is expressed differently but the method is always used to produce feelings of well-being in the artist. 

Interesting Facts About Art
  • Art first appeared in human history around forty thousand years ago. When studying genes and mutations, researchers believe that mood disorders also evolved about forty thousand years ago. This indicates a correlation among the two.
  • The first recorded artists in history are shamans who were known for their unusual behavior and creativity. A shaman is a person who interacts with the normal world and the world of spirits, acting as an intermediary between the two. Shamans are common in many tribal cultures, and many exist in today's modern world. Shamans are often responsible for both the physical and spiritual wellbeing of their people, and may be able to invoke spirits for such healing.
  • Art and emotion are linked. Art gives many a means for releasing emotional tension in a positive way that often leads to great insight into feelings and perspective.  One of the best way to express emotions for many is through artistic expression. 
  • Creativity results in artistic expression. What makes art meaningful? Is it subjective? Or can it be defined? While the meaning of art can be personal in defining, science does have some ideas on the topic. Symptoms from mental health disorders involve combining information in new ways but often the result may be inappropriate to society in the given context. The study of cognitive science has deemed that in order for an idea or product to be considered truly creative, it needs to be both appropriate to society given the context and original. 

How to Develop Artistic Ability:

  • Take an art class at a local college
  • Watch YouTube videos from teachers such as Bob Ross
  • Recreate photographs using a variety of media or mixed media
  • Reinterpret your favorite scene through abstract interpretation with use of colors and shapes to symbolize emotions
  • Developing your artistic ability takes patience and time. When starting as an artist, it is a good idea to practice with a variety of media, such as pencils, markers, or paint, and to study many examples from other artists. Perhaps study those who have struggled with mental illness themselves. 

The benefits of art include:

  • Increases connections and plasticity in the brain
  • Reduces stress
  • Opens the mind to creative thinking
Who Are These Tortured Artists?

Throughout history, we have witnessed time and again the image of the tortured artist, and the spiral of creativity and destruction that often go hand-in-hand. The tortured artist is often mocked in popular culture for over-thinking everything and rarely understood in his or her own time. In addition, the personality is often expressive and can be anything, from narcissistic and extraverted, to self-loathing and introverted. Tortured artists are often ahead of their time because of the insights and perspective born from experiencing mental anguish associated with many mental health disorders.  

Famous artists who faced mental challenges are listed below as Richard Dadd, Vincent Van Gogh, Louis Wain, Edvard Munch, Georgia O'Keeffe, and Nicolas de Stael. This is just a short list of many people with mental challenges who have contributed artistically since history began. 

Richard Dadd

Richard Dadd (August 1, 1817 – January 7, 1886) is an English artist from the Victorian period famous for his paintings of paranormal scenes of angels and fairies. Dadd suffered from schizophrenia and during an episode, Dadd believed he was taken hostage by an Egyptian goddess. Under this deep paranoia, Dadd killed his parents and attempted to kill a tourist. While in the hospital, Dadd painted his masterpieces. Dadd's medical records reveal a troubled soul: "...for some years after his admission, he was considered a violent and dangerous patient, for he would jump up and strike a violent blow without any aggravation, and then beg pardon for the deed." He was sentenced to prison for life.

Vincent Van Gogh

Vincent Van Gogh (March 30, 1853 Ė July 29, 1890) a Dutch painter, is one of the most well-known post-impressionist artists. Van Gogh's artwork is dramatic, imaginative and emotional. It is speculated that he suffered from epilepsy, depression, psychosis, and bipolar disorder. He painted "Starry Night"  while experiencing an episode  during his stay at an institution.   Van Gogh said, "For my part I know nothing with any certainty, but the sight of the stars makes me dream." And  encouraged others to quiet their inner critic: "If you hear a voice within you say 'you cannot paint,' then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced."

Louis Wain

Louis Wain (August 5, 1860 Ė July 4, 1939), an English artist, is famous for his paintings of cats. It is speculated that Wain suffered from schizophrenia. When studying Wain's work, many believe that one can see Wain's symptoms progressing in his projection of cats in human parody. "Intelligence of the cat is underrated," Wain said of his work.

Edvard Munch

Edvard Munch (December 12, 1863 Ė January 23, 1944) is an expressionist and symbolist artist from Adalsbruk, Norway. He experienced mental disorders which caused anxiety and hallucinations. He painted "the Scream" during one of his episodes. Munch's artwork is expressed with intense color and emotion, and the artist is quoted as saying: "My fear of life is necessary to me, as is my illness. Without anxiety and illness, I am a ship without a rudder ... my sufferings are part of myself and my art. They are indistinguishable from me, and their destruction would destroy my art." 

Georgia O'Keeffe

Georgia O'Keeffe (November 15, 1887 Ė March 6, 1986), an American painter, is famous for her paintings of enlarged flowers, skyscrapers, and New Mexico landscapes. She experienced severe anxiety and depression and often had weeping spells. However, O'Keeffe found artistic expression to express how she felt when there were no words: "I found I could say things with color and shapes that I couldn't say any other way - things I had no words for."

Nicolas de Staël

Nicolas de StaŽl (January 5, 1914 Ė March 16, 1955) is a French artist who redesigned the landscape painting with his abstract interpretation. StaŽl  also worked with collage, illustration, and textiles. He suffered from depression, exhaustion, and insomnia. After StaŽl met with a disapproving art critic, he committed suicide by jumping from his eleventh story apartment building.  StaŽl said of life and art, "We must cling only to drawing." 

Have You Tried Art Therapy?
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