Art has long been recognized as a healing force with great benefits for mental health. Four artists share their journeys, how creativity has made a difference in their lives, and what their art offers to others.
When I first began experiencing anxiety and depression, it was the debilitating fear and desire to do absolutely anything that would get me out of the bed that led me to pick up a paintbrush. I had never considered myself an artist, but in that moment when nothing else made sense, art felt familiar. So, art I did. With all of the darkness that I felt within, nothing but color ever showed up on the canvas. It was so incredibly comforting and beautiful to see. I started to witness glimpses of my soul that I never knew existed. I saw playfulness, joy and innocence. It enabled me to start believing in more than what I was experiencing and to see a path forward.
Ten years later, I’m able to look back and see just how much strength art has actually given me, and how many ways it has expanded my life and what I thought was possible – including choosing a creative career. I’m beyond grateful that I allowed God to use my journey through mental health struggles to set my spirit on fire. In surrendering to creativity, today I am the artist and woman I didn’t previously have the faith or imagination to even conceive. When people see, read or wear my work, I want them to feel a sense of freedom; to be reminded of the beauty both in the world and within themselves, and to remember just how truly powerful they really are.
Even though I have struggled with depression and anxiety throughout my life, I don’t use the term mental illness to describe my experience. In the winter of 2021 after a particularly dark episode of depression regarding my work and life path, I turned to psilocybin or “magic mushrooms,” which is becoming legal here in Oregon for therapeutic use. Not only did it help me dig out of my depression, but it expanded my consciousness. I was able to understand that I was an artist and needed to start painting. I was so surprised! As a published writer for more than twenty years, I was used to interviewing others about their art and creative process.
While I always considered myself creative, it wasn’t until I was in the depths of that depressive episode seeking answers that I could see who I truly was and wanted to be. My abstract paintings are all intuitive, drawing together feelings of nostalgia, emotion, movement and transformation. My purpose now is to create beautiful things and put them out into the world to inspire others to do the same – whatever that may mean for them. I hope people see, not just through the art itself but in the act of creating it, that it’s OK to do something different, to experiment and express yourself. I’ve learned we can discover our gifts at any time in this life and it’s up to us whether we act on them.
Growing up, my mind always believed that feelings were an impediment, a weakness. Reason and logic were supposed to dominate and govern our lives. I never learnt to pay attention to how I was feeling. There came a time when anxiety was paralyzing me. Anger and frustration were a big part of each day. Binge watching shows filled a few empty years. I was mad at myself and had no desire to live. And I had no idea why. I first sought help in 2017. With therapy and some medications, I’ve reframed my world view. Photography has helped me slow down and pay attention within and without. It has helped me focus on my feelings and discover a part of me that was hitherto unknown.
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I know where anger comes from and have learnt to diffuse some triggers. Now I’m aware of a void inside. Anxiety is palpable and conscious action to deal with it is possible. I have not fully healed, but I’m on the right path. I’ve seen jaws drop and eyes transfixed when people experience my work. This creates a shared bond and positive energy that adds a sense of purpose to my life. I hope it brings joy, inspiration, and strength to viewers as well. Sometimes the difference between meaningless and magnificence is simply a change in perception. Life is a multifaceted prism. Hold it up to the light, keep changing your point of view, you never know what you’ll find.
My current body of work walks the line of spontaneity and intentionality by portraying the chaos and complexity of life. This work is an interpretation of how I experience the world around me as well as how I explore my own anxious mind. The surfaces build similarly to stream of consciousness writing and a push-pull effect takes place that requires me to act and then react to the painted surface. My inspiration stems from interests in neuroscience, psychology, CT scans and MRIs, and personal life experiences. Artistic expression, abstraction, and exploration provide a means for investigation as well as introspection.
After being diagnosed with anxiety and depression at the age of twenty, I became fascinated by neurological processes and the connection of the mind and body. The study of science, as well as the rendering of science through art, has facilitated a greater understanding of the body as well as the overall environment. As an artist, I utilize my research by generating a conversation about an important topic in today’s culture: mental illness. Intuitively manipulating the surface of my canvas with wet and dry media allows me to understand visually how I am feeling mentally. I intend to make the invisible visible as mental illness does not have a universal symbol or visual representation. My goal is to connect with viewers in a way that spreads awareness, causes reflection, and creates a sense of community.
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