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Painting Allows Me to Capture My Own Mental Presence

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It’s etched on my memory: my sister’s entire village was burned. Losing your home in a fire involves not only the loss of your residence, but it also destroys your place of security, comfort, safety, as well as your priceless possessions.  

The paintings I made for my sister’s wedding, 15 years ago, were lost together with her home. I don’t know if I can ever understand what that is like.

She told me that she would be so happy if I get back to painting now, as she rebuilds her world. And so, I finally took the time to place my screens aside. To pick up the brush; now realising I may have needed this more than her.

I think it is that when I am painting my entire mind is present in a way that is not there usually. Exchanging the screen with a canvas opens a path and journey, where I am lost somewhere between the future and the now: where I am now, in the painting? And based on that, where would I like my brush to stroke, what direction do I visualise? And the unexpected colour blends a new direction; so where do I want it to go now? A non-ordinary element of self-expression in the form of future creation and visioning.

Creative outlets are more than just that;  they are literally therapy for your mind. Whether it’s painting, writing, baking, gardening, sewing, or playing music, a creative outlet can enhance your sense of being. 

Some artists refer to it as a practice; just like other mindful practices – like yoga and meditation. One of these artists is Will Kemp, who gives helpful advice, alongside how he starts to paint and turns it into practice.

Some people are a bit hesitant to indulge in a creative pursuit because they don’t feel they have the skill to do it. But one thing to realise is that creative processes are not about your skill or talent. Megan Carleton, an MGH/Harvard art therapist, aptly puts it: ‘It’s the process, not the product,’ – where your mind is consumed in time and fun. 

There is also a body of empirical support for the therapeutic value of engaging with creative endeavours. Research points out that creative activities stimulate an optimistic attitude, they can relieve stress, support with communication, and even hold cognitive benefits: seems that elderly people who paint have less cognitive decline than those who read.

If you want to read more about the intersection of art and well-being promotion, I suggest you read this article as a starting point. It is an excellent resource if you are an artist and want to sell your art in the growing healthcare art market.

In my own safe boundaries of the canvas I can dare, and sacrifice; I say when to pause, I follow my heart and mind, as I guide. I get to know myself where I choose.

Shalhavit-Simcha Cohen is doing a PhD in clinical psychology at the University of Edinburgh.


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