As an artist, I have had the privilege to create art collaboratively with various community groups through workshops, and projects to create murals and books. Through this work, I have witnessed the creative process having different effects on the mind and think it is important to share these observations to illustrate some connections between the creative process and the mind in terms of mental well-being.
I should stress that these are anecdotal observations from my work as a community artist and whilst related, I will leave all the science relating to the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala action for the experts to explain better than I could.
Time and again, people engaged in the community projects are often expressing that the process of creating art “should be available on the NHS”. This is often said jokingly and dismissively, however, I believe as humans we have a primal need to create and explore, so there is a deep relationship with our mind and artistic endeavours which should not be dismissed so lightly. To engage in the visual arts, is to slow down physically and focus on the task, and this is when the mind is afforded a ‘holiday’ from the stresses and pressures of everyday life. As the mind relaxes I find different things can start to happen.
The conversation changes and quite quickly becomes more thoughtful, reflective and even philosophical, which can have therapeutic benefits to the participant. For example, one project participant was surprised by the types of conversations she had been having during a mural project, and explained it as being ‘deeper and more meaningful’ because she found herself ‘talking on a less conscious level’, when her focus was directed to the art. I have been witness to many such conversations and find that people often talk more freely once they are focused on the creative process. This is the basis of art therapy, but is beneficial outside of those parameters as a social activity, conversing and creating connections, which could be more widely accessible on a daily basis.
During another mural project I was introduced to a participant who was living with dementia and schizophrenia, so found it very hard to settle in her everyday life, often displaying signs of irritation and discomfort and feeling that people were grabbing her and pulling her. The centre had found it difficult to engage this woman in any activities or help her settle, however, during the mural project she fully engaged, which served as a focus away from the irritations and distractions which usually bothered her. Again, this seems to be a direct effect of producing art, giving access to a settled and focused mind by using it in a creative way.
The action of painting and rolling inks is somewhat repetitive and I’d liken this to the physical keys to meditation. For example, in a printing workshop I had a participant who was a doctor and rather sceptical that she was now able to prescribe art colouring books to patients. However, further through the workshop, she discovered a real connection with the process of rolling the ink, stating “I could do this all afternoon” and proceeded to do just that. As we try to multi task and vary our everyday lives, this act of repetition seemed to be the connection for this participant as the physical repetition allowed the mind to freely rest.
Thinking through doing is often referred to as the growth mindset or creative thinking and considered as ways of developing the mind ‘muscle’ to allow us to learn and grow. Creating art is intrinsically a reflective process and trains the mind to observe closely, reflect and change. Once we are comfortable with this process we can remove fear of taking risks which can be inhibitive and destructive, as we possibly start to see danger where it doesn’t exist. Using art to take risks in a safe environment develops a mindset that can be transferred to other subjects, and in fact all areas of our lives to improve living and development.
These are just some examples to illustrate how I find the relationship between the mind and the process of creating art. I have found the link is inherently meditative and the therapeutic benefits to still the mind, opens up opportunities to express oneself more deeply either through the art itself, or through the thoughts and conversations taking place whilst engaged in the art. I am a firm believer that access to the arts should be available on NHS to help with mental health issues as the science evidence is there to support this view, and hopefully the future holds a much more creative society.
Jane Hudspith | Founder of Arts Clubhouse
Find Jane here: www.artsclubhouse.com