Art for Self-Expression and Healing

Art, in all its forms has always been my ‘go to person’, my non-judgemental confidante. Curious and wanting to know more about what art does to help people live better, I reached out to a few people. A few friends who create art passionately feel the same way, saying that art aids them too, being like that one friend we all need, to open up to and be ourselves with. Following are my conversations with them, and two experts in the field who vouch for arts based therapy for wellness and healing.

Name: Jillian Thottan

Art Style: Visual Artist/ Illustrator

1. Can you tell us about your style of art in detail?

I won’t say I follow a particular art style but most of my art is a mixture of watercolor, acrylic work, illustrations, doodles, digital art and pencil portraits. I think an art style restricts you from exploring different aspects of art which is why I avoid sticking to anything particular. Details are an integral part of what I’m trying to put across to my audience, be it handmade artworks or digital illustrations.

However, one of my most favorite mediums is watercolor. I love building up my artwork layer by layer and watercolor does it just right for me. My main motive is to bring across various experiences and emotions on a personal level through my work whilst also allowing people to interpret it the way they’d like to. Coming to that, most of my artworks are open to interpretation. I let the viewer decide how he/she would like to look at or relate to my work.

Art by Jillian Thottan

2. Since when have you started practising this art? How has it helped you personally?

I was always inclined towards art as a kid and I knew from the very beginning that this was a part of who I was and who I would be. Gradually, as the years went by, I gained courage to put out my work for the world to see. And that led to the beginning of my journey as an Artist. I started off as a Doodle Artist in 2014. Since I am self-taught and always curious to learn and grow, I moved on to watercolors through self experimentation. In no time, I realized that I was growing an audience who was fond of my work and wanted to see what I could create. Through trials and errors, I’d slowly seen myself working with Digital Art/Illustrations in the year 2018.

On a personal level, I’d say I was always this shy and introverted kid who’d keep the stuff she created to herself. Certainly, art has taught me how to express myself even if it meant putting myself out there for the world to see. I was hesitant but it definitely changed my life. Like most people, it is my escape. Being through some of the toughest times of my life, I found solace in what I created and still do till date.

3. What is it that art does to you that makes you feel better?

Painting is like being completely transparent and devoted to your canvas. Nobody judges you and neither are you afraid to be your most vulnerable self. While I’m painting, I’m constantly altering, assessing and adding on to the artwork. Art makes me feel safe. It’s almost like pouring your heart on to a canvas colour by colour, until you’re content.

Art by Jillian Thottan

4. Is there any particular difficult phase in your life where your art helped you deal with situations or get over it? Do you mind sharing it with us?

2016 and 2017 were the years when some of my most crucial and life changing experiences took place. Those two years were transformational, in a way. I met a lot of people and lost some, too. During this period, I was at my best, constantly creating. I realized how easily I could put forth my thoughts, feelings and emotions into art. It almost came naturally, you could say.

Over time I’ve realized how easy it is for me to turn towards art and express myself. But there are also times where I don’t feel like creating. I know for a fact that I’m not creating something good if I’m not being real towards what I’m doing or how I’m feeling in that particular moment.

5. How would you recommend practising art as a form of therapy to others your age? Could you suggest a few simple tips for the same?

There are plenty of ways in which art can be therapeutic. Personally, I like sketching random things or drawing mandalas when I’m stressed. I wouldn’t suggest a particular method but what I’d suggest is just holding a pencil/pen and scribbling whatever comes to mind. Often random scribbles turn into detailed artworks for the future. Also, if your mind is not at ease, creating something would be rather difficult. Personally, I feel persistence, experimentation and focus is what is needed while working with art.

Name: Mr. Toncy Xavier

Art Style: Watercolor Artist

1. Can you tell us about your style of art in detail?

I have a contemporary art style. I draw a lot of my inspirations from nature and elements of nature with a strong mixture of human emotions and feelings. My color style generally involves shades from the cooler side of the spectrum and uses a darker tone of the shades. Serenity is a feeling that I try to maintain throughout all my artworks.

2. Since when have you started practising this art? How has it helped you personally?

I have been experimenting with a lot of mediums since about 2 years back and switched completely to watercolours about 7–8 months back. On a personal level, painting has helped me in a lot of ways. Firstly, I was in a very low phase of my life when I started painting and it helped me come out of that phase in many ways. I tend to put across my emotions in my artworks.

Art by Toncy Xavier

My art helps channel a lot of thoughts into my works rather than letting them go astray to grow and them affect me negatively. Sitting somewhere patiently and painting helps me realise that the problems that are affecting me then are mostly created in my head and how the solutions to them exist in my head itself. It shows me that how a little patience can drastically affect whatever you feel and how it could drive you in a completely different space.

4. Is there any particular difficult phase in your life where your art helped you deal with situations or get over it? Do you mind sharing it with us?

So as mentioned earlier, I started painting in a particularly low phase of my life. Loneliness is one of the most negative feelings that I had felt during that phase, mostly created in my head due to petty momentary thoughts that I let grow. Art helped me channel these feelings into my paintings and think freely and openly. It was the source of positivity that I needed at that moment and continues to be.

Art by Toncy Xavier

5. How would you recommend practising art as a form of therapy to others your age? Could you suggest a few simple tips for the same?

I think the most important thing to do would be associating a lot of positivity to the kind of art you’re trying to do in order for it to be effective as therapy. A simple doodle or writing down a simple poem could be massively helpful or absolutely useless depending on how much positivity you associate with it. I believe that painting helped me get through the difficult phase because it brought into my life the amount of positivity that I needed to balance out the strong amount of negative emotions that I was grappling with then.

Name: Ameya Dabholkar

Art Style: Sketch Artist- Hyperrealism

1. Can you tell us about your style of art in detail?

Sketching is not really regarded as an art style due to its extremely crude form, but for me, I believe that anything that helps me express myself is an art form. Being a designer, I have been honing my skills in sketching for quite some time. What I believe makes sketching so important to me, is the ability that it gives me to express anything I have in my mind, my thoughts, ideas, and what not in a way that it is successfully communicates with whoever I want to share it with. As a child, I was and still am intrigued by the general idea behind arts and crafts. I have tried my hand at a lot of things ranging from painting to origami to paper cutting. For me, each one of these exercises or activities helps me shut down all the noise from the outside world and concentrate all of my senses and energy to creating something. It is a way with which I can visualise my thoughts and ideas and give them a physical existence on a piece of paper and record them. It’s like taking a picture of my mind but in a way that can’t be done by technology. Sketching is as much science as it is an art. It involves developing a deep understanding of the form, structure and the very reason of existence for everything around you. It is not abstract and is deeply rooted into the real world.

2. Since when have you started practising this art? How has it helped you personally?

I have been drawing since I was 7 years old. I began with copying photographs of movie posters, cartoons and landscapes that I could see in magazines and newspapers. My parents and friends encouraged me to develop this skill so I practised and practised. At the age of 11 however, I realised that my skill was only limited to copying. I was really good at drawing, but it was not an expression for anything. So, with a lot of help from my art teachers at school, I began sketching objects and scenes that I saw around me, trying to understand their character, structure and analyse their form in a way that I could recreate them later from this knowledge and then gradually began sketching images from my dreams and thoughts. For the sake of sketching, I began to observe things from perspectives I never did before, and this helped me understand the beauty of things around me and appreciate the very fabric or design of things: manmade or natural. Sketching helped me a lot in becoming a more sociable, outgoing person as opposed to the previously shy me. I could then better express myself not only through sketches, but also in words unlike previously.

Art by Ameya Dabholkar

3. What is it that art does to you that makes you feel better?

Any art form is a tool for showcasing the artist’s emotions and ideas to the world. For most people like me who find it difficult to express themselves verbally, an art form is a great way for expression. Also, it helped me in communicating with people more openly and growing as a person. When I’m sketching, it feels like the entire world around me goes on mute and all of my energy and senses are focussed on my artwork. When I’m sketching, I feel like everything around me stops and I cease to exist in this reality which makes me feel free and calm. And also, there is this added bonus of being famous if you’re good at it!

4. Is there any particular difficult phase in your life where your art helped you deal with situations or get over it? Do you mind sharing it with us?

I haven’t really been through a lot of hardships in life and being the analytical person that I am, I generally tend to calmly analyse the situation and adapt to it which often presents me as being emotionless or cold hearted. However, my art carries all of these emotions if I’m in a state of emotional instability. However, there have been several times when I’ve turned towards sketching to get rid of the stress of projects, studies and so on. It helps me calm down and focus on the situation at hand and get back to work with a fresh new mindset.

Art by Ameya Dabholkar

5. How would you recommend practising art as a form of therapy to others your age? Could you suggest a few simple tips for the same?

I have been staying in a hostel for the past few years and have come across a lot of people who have been through a lot in life and like me, find it very difficult to trust others and confide in them. A general advice that these people get is to write a diary and go back to it whenever they feel low. I personally believe that the basic idea is to find a way with which people could express themselves in any format, be it writing poems, dancing or art. In today’s cutthroat competition, I believe that art can act as their escape route to a much more relaxed and calm, free environment where the aim behind everything they do is not to complete the task at hand but to explore themselves, express themselves and have fun. And all they need is a pen/pencil, a small piece of paper and a whole lot of imagination. The only tip I would like to share is something I was told by a friend of mine- to always carry a small sketchbook and a pencil with you and record every thought, idea and emotion you have in it. At the end of the day, have a look at it and I can guarantee that it would leave a smile on your face!

Name- Aditi Kaul

Affiliation/Designation- Head- Arts Based Therapist, Fortis Healthcare, Department of Mental Health and Behavioral Sciences

1. What is your take on art as assisting therapy/wellness or even as healthy therapy in itself?

Arts Based Therapy is an umbrella term used for a scientific invention that utilises visual Art, expressive writing, movement, theatre etcetera, as therapeutic tools. Visual art therapy includes drawing, coloring sketching, painting and craft work to allow individuals through different techniques to express their struggle, build insight, and work on cognition, mood elevation and identifying coping mechanisms.

However creating art in itself is an extremely powerful healing tool. Taking time out for oneself to color, draw and paint allows individuals to enhance positivity, relaxation, self-reflection and expression.

2. Are you aware of cases where teenagers have successfully resorted to art to deal with and overcome depression?

In most clinical conditions including Major Depressive Disorder, there is a combination of different methods that are utilized for effective treatment, using a combination of approaches including, pharmacotherapy, cognitive therapy, arts based therapy. The approach is tailored to each individual person based on their needs and proves to be effective when a combination of techniques has been utilized.

3. What tips would you give to someone who doesn’t practice art professionally but who might benefit from relying on art as a hobby to help them cope with tough times?

Creating art is a subjective process. One doesn’t need to be a professional artist, dancer or musician to be able to use these media and experiment with them. Most often, those that are not professionals experience the benefits of art based therapeutic interventions as the pressure to perform is not present.

·Learning or experimenting with new forms of expression can be exhilarating and builds a sense of mastery and confidence.

·Coloring, dipping ones hand in paint, listening to a piece of relaxing music or participating in a drum circle all allows aid in enhancing flexibility, freedom and joy.

·The arts help engage creativity, which is the foundation for better problem solving and coping.

·One can also incorporate art into the regular daily routine, which could include painting and sketching, listening to music, dancing or attending a theatre production.

4. What are some of the points to be aware of when it comes to art therapy?

·Expressive Art Therapy or Art Psychotherapy is a psychological tool for therapeutic intervention that is carried out by a licensed Arts Based Therapist.

·Expressive Arts interventions include — visual art, writing, storytelling, theatre, movement, music, sand tray, poetry etcetera.

·One does not need to be a professional in the arts or “good” at the arts to come in for art based therapy.

·Art therapy is not just engaging in artwork, but the combination of using art based techniques to work on psychosocial well being, cognition and emotion.

·Expressive Arts therapies are used along with pharmacotherapy and other treatment processes based on individual clients to achieve the best outcome and growth.

5. When is art therapy “prescribed” as such? When would you not prescribe art therapy?

Art Based Therapy works effectively in conjunction with other psychotherapeutic and psychopharmacological therapies. It is effective in both a group and individual format with a range of clinical disorders, from Depressive Disorders, Anxiety Disorders, Trauma and Other Related Disorders, Disorders of Childhood as well as with older adults. Interventions are individually tailored based on the symptom presentation, individual needs and struggles; this includes a combination of therapeutic techniques and pharmacotherapy as well.

Arts Based Therapy has showed results in working with persons diagnosed with chronic physical illness like in oncology and dialysis as well as in organizational set ups to look at stress management, interpersonal communication, teamwork etcetera.

6. How would you demystify art therapy?

The first and foremost would be to spread accurate knowledge and build awareness and work on de stigmatizing and normalizing taking any form of therapy. To increase outreach work, speaking about art based therapy, allowing people to experience it firsthand and understand the impact of using the arts in therapy for clinical illnesses and wellbeing.

Here at Fortis Healthcare we have a multidisciplinary team of experts working together to focus on effective and holistic treatment and also reaching out to people through school and college workshops, our outreach work with NGO’s and corporate organizations as well as online blogs, articles and videos.

We also run consistent programmes with hospital staff, doctors and caregiver to build awareness as well as a Training course in collaboration with UNESCO-CID “Expressive Art Therapy in Clinical Practice” to create more avenues to train art therapists.

Name-Jayashree K.

Affiliation/Designation- Psychology Educator

1. What is your take on art as assisting therapy/wellness or even as healthy therapy in itself?

Art is a means of self-expression and can help a person convey emotions that are difficult to verbalize. Various forms of expressive arts can tap different sensory modalities, aiding processing of events and relaxing the mind and the body. In general, art can be used by anyone to unwind, de-stress, and to increase self-awareness.

2. Are you aware of cases where teenagers have successfully resorted to art to deal with and overcome depression?

As a teacher, I have come across teens who have used various forms of expressive arts to deal with stress. Students have reported feeling calm when they engage in painting, singing, dancing, or writing poetry.

3. What tips would you give to someone who doesn’t practise art professionally but who might benefit from relying on art as a hobby to help them cope with tough times?

·You don’t have to be artistic to use art as a means of coping. Simple activities such as doodling or coloring can help too.

·If you aren’t keen on using paints, clay or colours, there are other forms of arts that you can try — dance, poetry writing, drama, or storytelling.

4. What are some of the points to be aware of when it comes to art therapy?

·Art therapy is an intervention. It is not to be confused with art classes. The therapist, who is a trained professional, helps you as a sounding board, creates a non-judgmental atmosphere where you can express yourself and reflect on troubling thoughts and emotions. Over time, you can achieve emotional reparation too.

·Your art isn’t being graded. So take that load off your mind. Of course, the therapist will also address this anxiety about not being artistic, if that hinders the process.

· Your therapist is likely to discuss this form of therapy with you. Ask questions and clarify your doubts.

·As mentioned earlier, there are different forms of expressive art therapies that work for different people.

5. When is art therapy “prescribed” as such? When would you not prescribe art therapy?

Art therapy can be used across age groups for various issues — psychological and physical. It is commonly used with children as they have limited vocabulary and may be able to express themselves better through visual arts. It can also be used with adults for therapy, in medical settings as well as in organizations. For instance, art can help individuals diagnosed with terminal illnesses or those living with chronic pain to deal with their emotions. In organizations, expressive arts can be used to improve communication and for team building.

Some individuals, however, may not feel comfortable with this form of self-expression which may be due to their belief that they are not ‘artistic’ enough or simply due to not being used to express oneself through art. Some of them may be too anxious about what they create. The therapist addresses such issues, but it is important that the person is comfortable with the approach as his or her active participation is essential for therapy to be beneficial.

6. How would you demystify art therapy?

All of us have our share of challenges and wounds. Expressing ourselves can help us deal with them. With the guidance of a trained professional, we can convey, explore and gain awareness about ourselves, find support and achieve reparation through various means — drawing, painting, music, dance/movement, psychodrama, storytelling, and poetry writing.

These interviews were taken on behalf of the Health Collective, a safe virtual space for conversations, trusted information and resources on mental health in India.