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Healing Through Art

By: Clarisse VirginoHealing Through Art

For many years, people have tried to find new ways to overcome stress and anxiety. Some of us have tried traveling and found that having a change of scenery once in a while is a good way to distress. Some diverted their dilemmas to retail therapy. Others mustered their courage and picked up some paints and brushes.

According to analytical psychologist Carl Jung, “Often it is necessary to clarify a vague content by giving it a visible form. This can be done by drawing, painting, or modeling. Often the hands will solve a mystery that the intellect has struggled with in vain.” We have always known that art helps in expressing our thoughts, deepest desires, as well as our sentiments. It also helps us with our most intimate and ordinary dilemmas. Is it possible that art can heal us?

Art to the Forefront

Artistic and creative outlets contribute positively to people’s well-being. However, it has been historically difficult to put ‘unbiased’ hard statistics to this hypothesis. It is very easy to say that art can help people get through their problems; however, this remains subjective.

Thanks to research and advances in medical technology, scientists can now study the precise physical effects of stimuli on the brain. While some would not opt for art as a way of therapy and healing, mainly because people doubt their artistic capabilities, art seems to find its way to people’s hearts and minds.

Some people remain skeptic about this concept, but in the United States, a non-profit organization called Art & Creativity for Healing or Art4Healing supports the concept of emotional healing through art and creative expression for those living with pain, grief, fear or stress.

In the Philippines, while we do not have organizations advocating such, there are a lot of artists and schools offering art workshops. Galleries also extend their services to people who would like to exhibit their works. Of course, the approach may be a bit technical and theoretical, but learning a thing or two about art can help boost one’s knowledge and confidence, leading that person to express through art.

Art and the Brain

While most people associate art with a person’s sentiments, we have to remember that our brain is composed of two hemispheres: the left side of the brain is responsible for controlling the right side of the body and performs tasks that have to do with logic, such as science and mathematics. The right side of the brain, on the other hand, coordinates the left side of the body and performs tasks that have to do with creativity and the arts.

Stress and anxiety heavily affect the brain’s function—having difficulty focusing and being perpetually on your toes could be really exhausting. Both hemispheres of the brain suffer in moments like this. While we can never fully eradicate stress out of our lives, we can cope in different ways, such as painting or even just by taking photos.

Deep activation of brain systems through art reduces stress and creates happiness. Being preoccupied with something that requires a lot of focus on detail may sound a bit boring to some but is actually therapeutic. It also helps lower your blood pressure and stabilizes your heartbeat.

Creating Art

Some people are often hesitant to express their thoughts and sentiments through words and confrontation because of the fear of being judged. Even in creating art, the fear of being labeled and criticized is still present. However, art, as a way of healing, doesn’t even need to consider what other people say. Its focus is on you—being able to express yourself and releasing all that is bugging you. What others would say should not and should never be a problem.

Choosing your medium could be a bit tricky. A majority would want to start with sketching and eventually using paints. Others would like to dig in and create sculptures and even pottery! Art is a very wide concept—free, subjective, and welcoming in its own ways.

As a law student, I find solace in sketching random objects such as fruits and flowers. Taking photographs of the everyday sunset is also one thing I seem to enjoy. Seeing my works hanging in our house or in my room brings me to a certain level of happiness. Studying law is never going to be easy and it really is stressful. The amount of anxiety it can cause is probably beyond comprehension sometimes. The nerve-racking recitations will definitely strip off the trust you have in yourself. Having an outlet, like art, not only calms the nerves but also helps one to focus more.

I started painting when I was still little. I used to join painting competitions and eventually considered taking fine arts in college. However, I was led to another path which is law. Nevertheless, my love for the arts did not stop. I took workshops from the Father of the Philippine Art Workshop, Mr. Fernando ‘Nanding’ Sena, in UP Diliman. He is greatly acknowledged for his untiring efforts in sharing his knowledge and talent with those who wish to learn. He was the mentor of another renowned artist, Elmer Borlongan.

Mr. Sena’s approach to teaching his students (of all ages, by the way) is a mix of both technical and therapeutic. Though it seems that it isn’t really his intention to make it therapeutic, it still ends up as one. His students are from all walks of life—doctors, lawyers, journalists, teenagers—you name it, he has it. I can only assume that these professionals were there not just to learn how to paint, but also somehow, to destress.

All these emotions we are experiencing, struggles we are hurdling: these make us what we really are—human. We may think that expressing ourselves could be frightening at times, especially when we are feeling lost, but there are ways to heal not only the mind, not only the heart, but also the soul. According to Prof. Felipe M. De Leon, Jr. in his article In Focus: Life as Art – The Creative, Healing Power in Philippine Culture, “To be human is to be creative, to grow and transcend limits.”

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