Patients often tell me, “you don’t want me to make anything, I’m not artistic.” Familiar with that common rejection, I have learned to skirt around the word “art” in my introductions and invitations. Ironically, it is common to see a person struggling with illness, bed-bound by medical equipment, visibly tense at the mention of creativity. However, once we overcome that barrier, the benefits of creative activity in the medical setting are manifold.
As volunteers with Art from the Heart, a collaborative initiative of Burlington City Arts and the UVM Medical Center, my teammates and I offer a variety of fantastic (FREE!) art materials and ideas for creative expression to hospital patients, staff, and visitors. Our primary goal is to employ various art forms to improve health care experiences. This is consistently a touching and joyous form of service because of art’s tendency to bring out the best in human beings. There are numerous tales of hope, resilience, and human connections our program has helped foster.
Art provides a form of relaxation, a shift in perspective, a safe outlet for frustrations, and a positive distraction from unfortunate circumstances. Research has shown direct involvement in creative processes to reduce stress, anxiety, and perception of pain, regardless of artistic ability.
I believe that many of the health benefits of creative involvement manifest through the process of creating, not necessarily in the artistic splendor of the finished product. If we could broaden our perspective of what counts as “art,” perhaps the thought of participating in creative expression would be less intimidating. Asking ourselves the following questions, we might find that we are more artistic than we tend to proclaim.
- Have you ever sung in the shower or hummed along to music playing on the radio? Is it the lyrics or the melody you like best? You don’t have to be lyrical genius or a musical prodigy to enjoy this art form. Try listening to your favorite tunes and painting simple stripes of colors that you feel relate to the music. More into monochrome? Pick a colored marker or use a pencil to draw various patterns or lines across the page, corresponding to the rhythms as you listen. If you like the result, reform your design to use as postcards or a gift wrap alternative!
- Have you ever stood in awe of a breathtaking landscape? Just imagining the scene probably alters your mindset, right? What colors were present? Could you recreate a version of that scene on paper? It doesn’t have to be exact. The goal is t
o reminisce on the sensations of the place as you recall them. If you took a photo, feel free to use it as reference as you try making a collage to represent the scene.
- Do you have a favorite color or shape? Start with that and try creating a scribble drawing, a line doodle, or a zentangle. No rules, just lines, shapes, patterns. You may be surprised at the result. Art can happen whenever and wherever!
- Do you take photographs? Next time you reach for your camera or smartphone to capture the essence of a moment, try taking a different perspective. Move your lens low or high; notice direction, patterns, and movement of light; play with the boundaries. Turn your subject by 180 degrees and notice the differences in composition and shadows. See? Maybe you are a little bit artistic after all.
Have you ever seen an artifact or piece of abstract art and said, “I could make that!”? Great! Try it then. Art encompasses more than realistic drawings and oil-on-canvas masterpieces. How about trying to make something 3D? Seeing, touching, and manipulating artistic materials can strengthen, soothe, and stimulate our brains. Start with modeling clay, pipe cleaners, or tissue paper and start exploring shapes, textures, and forms. Even if your “masterpiece” does not turn out as masterfully as the masters’, know that your time was not wasted because the process added to your experiences (and possibly expanded your mind)!
What are some ways you have added creativity to your own life? Have you noticed a change in your physical or emotional wellness in relation to creative activity? We would love to hear your stories and ideas!
Buffy Dekmar is a professional photographer and an aspiring physician. She has served as a volunteer with Art from the Heart since July 2015.
- Is there compelling evidence for using the arts in health care?
- Guide to Evidence-based Art
- How Art Changes Your Brain
- Study Says Making Art Reduces Stress