Get Creative: Using Art to Destress

I have a talent for creating visual art. I am keen on painting methods, I know my way around oil pastels, and I will throw down some Mod Podge and mixed media type stuff any day of the week. If I were ever to find myself with a pottery kiln, I would be overjoyed. Overall, I love art and the creative process.

I know I’m not alone in this, and often hear from others they would love to be creative but fear they are not good at it. My response to that? Talent or skill has nothing to do with it – it’s all about how being creative makes you feel. 

Beyond Technical Skill: Art That Is Intriguing

Think of one of the most recognizable paintings in the world, Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. Is Mona Lisa beautiful? To some, yes. She is not what most people would deem to be so aesthetically pleasing that anyone would immediately see this woman and think, “MY GOD she’s breathtaking, I must capture her image immediately!” 

There is no degree of technical skill that could have captured what da Vinci captured in her smile. In that smile, which has captivated people since at least the year 1506, there are endless possibilities. Is she bashful? Is she hiding a gorgeous secret; is she in love? It is mysterious and mesmerizing.

And that smile is exactly what he was hoping to capture in that painting. 

While I am no expert, I can say with a high degree of confidence that this was a painting that he enjoyed creating. You can almost see how he was feeling while painting Mona Lisa. It is distinctly captured in that piece of art.

And that’s what art is truly about: capturing a feeling.  

Whether it’s pottery, acrylic, watercolor, or sculpture – what creates beautiful art is how you feel when you create it. 

Many artists that we now consider “masters” were highly scrutinized in their time and, subsequently, not very popular. Artists who were once penniless now have paintings that hang in the Guggenheim and Louvre. There are pieces of art that have had countless opportunities to be pitched into the garbage. Yet there were people who felt happiness, anger, or other emotion when seeing that work, and  knew it was something too important  to be tossed out as rubbish. 

What matters more than the quality of the paintbrushes used or the level of skill is heart. Without it, there is no point.

I was fortunate to have an amazing art teacher for most of my years in high school. She was the quintessential art teacher. She played Bob Marley on the radio during class and never once gave a student a bad grade based on lack of talent or skill. If a student had put their heart into what they were working on, it was top notch work to her.

One of my more notable creations was a ceramic bowl once that had clawed feet and a tail with a spike on the end of it, but no head. My teacher thought it was incredible.

The idea came from when I asked my Grandma Edith what I should make that would be ‘different’ than usual pottery. She suggested something like the dishes from Beauty and the Beast. And although the dishes in that movie are elegant and delicate like Belle, this bowl was meant to be more like the Beast. My Grandma had it in her china hutch for years.

I can assure you that this thing does not look any more impressive than one would expect from any high school student in art class. It is lumpy and I had to reattach the tail a few times. But, I will never throw it out because it is hands down one of my most favorite things that I have ever made.

It has heart. 

Creativity and Its Benefits

Why so pushy with the encouragement to create art? Because it is so good for us emotionally to utilize creative expression, whether it be through visual art, dance, music or theatre. It decreases our level of stress and anxiety. Interacting with subjects outside gets us out into the fresh air with a purpose.

It is a fantastic way to bond and spend time with your kiddos, too. Children are naturally drawn to creative expression. And I believe that they engage in that more freely than adults because they have not yet developed that idea that they must be skilled in order to deserve creative expression. 

A wonderful example of this is “Big Chungus.”

Big Chungus himself

My son drew this bird and declared his name was “Big Chungus.” He modeled this bird after the chunky robins that we had cruising around the yard. Big Chungus was perfection.

But then he had some water spilled on him. We decoupaged him onto a canvas that my daughter had painted. Then we perched him on a tiny branch. We read some quotes about nature and he settled on, “Nature is not a place to visit, it is home,” which I wrote onto the canvas.

Voila! It was ready to be displayed prominently in my office.

Despite the other “true” artwork in my office, I have received more admiration for Big Chungus than anything else. Overwhelmingly, people comment that it makes them smile and think of chubby birds in the springtime. It takes them back to moments where they felt very much at home out in nature and even to wonder whether they had ever seen an orange bird before. My kids revel in hearing about how much people enjoy their art.

Art work like Big Chungus is not likely to find its way into the Smithsonian, like all the art we create. But it has a more important gallery to hang in.

In our hearts.   

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Whitney is a Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner, wife, mother of twins and Indigenous woman. She has lived in the FM metro for the last 15 years but is originally from the Pine Ridge Reservation in SD. Whitney is active in community efforts that promote advocacy for equity, social justice, destigmatization of mental health/substance use and establishing an inclusive community. Whitney enjoys gardening, reading, spending time outdoors and creating visual art in her spare time.

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