Art as a meditative state, in its most stripped-down form, is a transfer of energy. We use this expressive vehicle to bring the inner world out. It’s a bridge from the metaphysical world to the physical reality. It is cathartic. And it beautifully zooms us into the moment. This makes art inherently meditative in nature, which also makes it healing.
Many are familiar with the concept of art therapy, in fact, there are even famous artists who used art as therapy. While we might be used to using art in the therapeutic sense, we might be less familiar with using art as a form of meditation. The benefits of both art therapy and mindful art are extensive. Let’s break down the differences.
What is Meditative Art Therapy?
Mental health art, commonly called art therapy, is a hybrid field that blends the disciplines of meditative art and psychology. It is geared towards exploring emotions, emotional conflicts, social skills, and self-esteem by using an expressive process like pieces of art (created by the participant) or third-party artworks, or a combination of both.
Put differently; mental health art is the use of visual, graphic, or other forms of interactive arts, like performing arts, (dance, film, music, etc.) or creative arts for therapeutic, curative, or restorative effects.
The buzzword “art therapy” might have triggered imaginings of a formal setting with a professional art therapist. Well, that is possible; art therapists can design mental health activities to individualistic needs, but mental health art could be as informal and simple as possible. For example, sketching, sculpturing, journaling, painting, etc., without supervision, previous artistic experience, or appraisal of the quality of the art. The goal is to feel comfortable, relaxed, and joyful while doing it.
Who Should Do Art Therapy?
Art therapy is suitable for anyone regardless of age, gender, group, family, artistic experience, or current mental health. It’s a foundation to go within, and therefore is available to all (even those with visual impairments).
What is Art Meditation?
Art meditation is a process of practicing a state of meditative mindful awareness while creating. With this technique, we allow the analytical mind to appear while we create, and then separate from it: this might look like noticing any praise or criticism that arises in the evaluative mind as we make art and then choosing to release it. Instead of following the thoughts down the rabbit hole, we stay anchored in a space of noticing what we are noticing. We try to find the balance of not ignoring our thoughts but not indulging them.
The Art of Kintsugi Art Meditation
Embrace your cracks. Special thanks to Alexa Altman Instagram: @dr.alexa_altman
Credits: BuzzFeed Motion Pictures
As we start to rest in the awareness of our thoughts, we may start to realize that thought energy will inevitably come into the mind. We can’t stop the thinking altogether. But with practice, we can let go of the need to transmute that thought energy into language, and we can, instead, channel that through our meditative art. The art becomes the vehicle for letting energy move through the body.
This process also allows us to keep the hands busy which helps the mind still. It amplifies our inner dialogue too, so we can more easily detach from the thoughts. We might hear the mind say, “this painting is amazing” or “this drawing is terrible” and that meditative awareness allows us to practice letting go of our thoughts. Art gives us something that makes it easier to observe our thinking and naturally lulls us into a space of being with the moment.
Art meditation can work in tandem with art therapy techniques, as practicing mindfulness can really overlay any other activity.
Ways Art Therapy Improves Mental Health
Art and health programs led by artists and musicians can deliver health benefits through participatory arts programs and arts engagement in everyday life. Below are some of these benefits.
Self-care, Self-discovery, and Self-esteem
These days the zeal for self-improvement, getting more, and becoming better gets everyone exposed to complex mixtures of feelings; being happy at an achievement today or taking a hit tomorrow. Yet, we forget that as much as our bodies need rest, our minds also need to relax.
An essential benefit of art therapy and mindful art is in the releasing of emotions inexpressible with words. The process doesn’t require words or logic. It enables participants to discover feelings in their subconscious they didn’t know were there. Even better, it gives a sense of accomplishment; thus, bolstering self-confidence and self-appreciation.
Now, this is the part everyone likes: medical backing and research. Studies published in the US Library of Medicine indicate that art-making reduces cortisol (the body’s stress hormone) levels, allowing participants to relax, free themselves from constraint and learn about new aspects of self. Another meta-analysis shows that creating meditative art promotes the release of dopamine (a hormone released when one engages in something pleasurable); thus, reducing depression and anxiety.
Meditative art therapy is an excellent way to achieve mindfulness – a state of consciousness and awareness of the present moment while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s thoughts, feeling, and bodily sensations. Meditation denotes this state most but the concept of art and meditation overlaps. Anyway, mindfulness via art therapy creates a mind-body connection that links to stress reduction, activation of visual areas (1) of the brain, releasing emotions, and fostering perceptions.
However, you can easily achieve a state of mindfulness when creating art without applying art therapy techniques. The best meditative method is to watch wherever the mind goes. Notice if the mind wants to start evaluating, praising, or criticizing. Don’t attach to the thoughts, let them come and go. Something about creating gets the mind initially active so we can observe, and then we can lull into a state of feeling soothed and at ease with the rhythms of creating.
Improved Cognitive Function
Various publications and evaluations reveal that engaging arts (both visual and creative arts exercises) can elevate innovative thinking (2) and improve academic performance. (3) Art-making also reduces the risk of developing mild cognitive impairment and fosters improvement in spatial reasoning and emotional resilience in older people. (4 5)
Tips for Mental Health Art
Undoubtedly, art therapy works and there are lots of visual, performing, and creative art therapy exercises that will ultimately improve mental health.
Albeit, irrespective of the type of art, here are 3 tips to get the most out of your mindful art or art therapy:
- Always remember that enjoying the activity is the most vital key to stress art success.
- Mindful art isn’t graded; so, don’t be careful to try out the most mind-boggling project and make mistakes while doing so.
- Reduce language; allow your mind to be relaxed and engrossed with the art entirely.
Mindful health art is a proven way to reduce stress, discover self, build confidence and improve cognitive function. Although it is only gaining popularity, the concept isn’t new. Art therapy can be carried out by anyone of any age, gender, or community and its effect isn’t compromised by these factors. Hopefully, this inspires you to go out and get into the meditative and mindful flow through creating art.