Can’t Meditate? Here’s Why You Should Try Art!

Photo by Namita Azad
Photo by Namita Azad
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The Challenge: We all have moments when we feel overwhelmed by our emotions.
The Science: Creating art leads to surprising benefits for body and mind.
The Solution: Make time for creativity to significantly improve your life!

Why Art is a Guarantee to Sanity

Many of us have heard about the benefits of meditation, but sometimes find it hard to do so! Fewer of us know about the profound benefits of artistic expression. Creating art, however, is another way to access a meditative state of mind and the profound healing it brings. 

Art is a guarantee to sanity,” said Louise Bourgeois, a French-American artist who died in 2010 at the age of 98. She even went on to add, “(…) this is the most important thing I have said.” For Bourgeois, Art — making Art — was a tool for coping with overwhelming emotion. She says she remembers making small sculptures out of bread crumbs at the dinner table when she was a little girl – as a way of dealing with her dominating father. Art was more than an escape – it kept her sane.

Art therapy has a healing effect for a variety of ailments (depression, trauma, illness, etc.) and is effective across age, gender or ethnicity. In a recent study performed on cancer patients, an art therapy intervention — in conjunction with conventional treatments —(chemotherapy, radiation, surgery etc.) not only diminished symptoms typically associated with cancer such as pain, fatigue, anxiety, but also enhanced life expectancy. The study was based on the belief that “the creative process involved in the making of art is healing and life enhancing. It is used to help patients, or their families, increase awareness of self, cope with symptoms, and adapt to stressful and traumatic experiences.” 

Art is not only healing for individuals suffering from severe illness. Here are 3 reasons why creative activity is such a potent recipe for psychological well-being:

1. Art is a vehicle for meditation and self-connection

Most of us can understand that art provides an escape to a sometimes harsh reality, but where does art’s healing potential come from? It impacts the state of our mind: enjoying emotional stability is largely about taking responsibility for how we feel.

Research has shown the power of meditation and the science behind it. One of the reasons it is so powerful is that it fosters acceptance: “meditation is an active training of the mind to increase awareness (…) it emphasizes acceptance of feelings and thoughts without judgment and relaxation of body and mind”. Creating art is a type of meditation. It allows you to free yourself from daily worries and tensions and connect with deeper parts of yourself.

Moreover, art, like meditation, allows you to create space between ‘the thoughts’ and allows us to connect with our true selves – as opposed to with the fleeting/or false sense of identity we can get when we are caught up thoughts and emotions. Eckhart Tolle, spiritual teacher, writes; “Identification with thoughts and the emotions that go with those thoughts creates a false mind-made sense of self, conditioned by the past… This false self is never happy or fulfilled for long. Its normal state is one of unease, fear, insufficiency, and nonfulfillment”. Creating art is about reaching a state of consciousness and breaking free from the constant debilitating chatter of the mind.

2. Art provides a feeling of flow & freedom

Similarly to meditation, art can help us tap into a deeper and more quiet part of ourselves and we enter into a state of flow and present-moment awareness. “All true artists, whether they know it or not, create from a place of no-mind, from inner stillness”. Artists experience that creative activity has the potential to tap into a space of true consciousness of being, void of interpretation. In this space, there can be a sense of having no physical parameters; no body, or form to separate one from the other. 

3. Art allows for true self-expression

The process of making art, overrides the need for verbal communication; creativity is its own language and enables humans to connect with one another — and themselves — on a parallel level than that occupied by the mind, the intellect and words. In therapy it can be an effective way of saying the unspeakable as is shown through the use of creative therapies with children. This also explains how we can be moved to the core when looking at a work of art, or even listening to music, without necessarily knowing specifics about its origin. Art exists within its own non-verbal parameter and thus frees us up for unadultered self-expression.

4. Art helps us become steady & centered

As a plus, it is interesting to note that Bourgeois, when asked to comment on her extensive body of work spanning her entire lifetime, says what impresses her most  “is how constant [I] have been.” Perhaps we need to redefine what we consider to be a storybook happy ending. Happiness may be less a matter of experiencing sharp highs (often followed by deep lows), and more a matter of nurturing a space that provides a constant connection to our true selves. An article published this year by the University of Hertfordshire finds a direct link between self-acceptance and a happier life. It quotes Dr. Mark Williamson — Director of Action for Happiness — who reminds us how, “our society puts huge pressure on us to be successful and to constantly compare ourselves with others [and how] this causes a great deal of unhappiness and anxiety.” Why not use Art, and art-making, as a way to “spend some quiet time by yourself. Tune in to how you’re feeling inside and try to be at peace with who you are”. It’s about instilling good habits in our day to day!

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Maia Gambis

Maia Gambis

Maia Gambis is a clinical psychologist with a Masters in psychopathology and a pre-doctoral degree in psychoanalysis and medicine from Université Paris VII, Denis Diderot in Paris, France. She holds a private practice and works primarily with children and families. She is also a psychology professor at La Católica University in Quito, Ecuador. Parallel to her work in psychology, Maia is a working artist with a BA in Photography from Bard College. Joining her two interests, psychology and art, she co-founded MNNA (Museo del Niño... y del Niño en el Adulto), a sociocultural entity aimed at strengthening the bond between children and adults through the arts (www.mnna.org). She is currently working on her PhD in Psychology, which focuses on trauma and creation.
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7 Comments

  • Amy Maricle says:

    Hi Maia:

    As an art therapist and an artist working to empower my clients to use art for mindfulness practice and healing, I so appreciate this article. You do such a great job of explaining how art making and the experience of flow can parallel mindfulness and meditative practice.

    I spend a lot of time doing tutorials and trying to inspire people to give creative play and expression a chance. Your post will do much to further that cause. Thank you also for the good work you are doing in Ecuador.

    Cheers,
    Amy

  • Kim says:

    What a beautiful article! The quote by Dr. Mark Williamson, “our society puts huge pressure on us to be successful and to constantly compare ourselves with others [and how] this causes a great deal of unhappiness and anxiety.”… so true! And many of us believe that we are not artists, or that we aren’t good at art – yet another form of comparison! That’s just not true. Maybe taking the pressure off by removing the word “artist” could help; instead, we can consider ourselves “creatives” or “creators.” Humans are creative. Being creative is in our nature; creativity brings us back to our true nature – whatever form our creations take!

  • Thank you for the information you give hopefully in the future could be great again

  • This article is very nice and Helpful .. Update continued and success is always yes Gan

  • Thank you for the information you give hopefully in the future could be great again

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