Throughout history, we humans have used art to express ourselves. We create art not only to represent and beautify our world, but also as a means of understanding and sharing who we are in our world. Through creative self-expression, we grow in self-awareness, generate insights, resolve problems, and enhance our overall well-being.
However, if you're like many adults, somewhere along the way you may have decided, perhaps without even realizing it, that art-making is not for grown-ups, or at least not for grown-ups like you. As much as you may like art on the walls and (especially if you share your home with children) the refrigerator, it seems the art-making is best left to artists and children. After all, when it comes to art, isn't patronage the appropriate role for productive members of society?
You know that you are one such adult if, when invited to draw, doodle, or otherwise engage in some creative activity, you find yourself feeling uncomfortable, perhaps even anxious or mildly panicked. This discomfort is usually accompanied by thoughts that sound something like, "This is a waste of time," "please, tell me you're kidding," and often culminate in a final protest "But I can't draw."
Yup, that's when you know that a whole lot of your brain is just withering away from the lack of intentional use. However, thanks to neuroplasticity—our brains' ability to change its structure and functioning in response to experience--this condition(ing:) is easily treated. The good news is that with just a little conscious creativity, you can become a smarter, happier, healthier human being.
Here are five good reasons why engaging in artistic self-expression may be just the thing for you.
1. Expressive Art encourages whole-brain learning.
Our brains are curiously divided, two halves connected by a fibrous band of tissue that mediates the two. As healthy human beings, we use our whole-brains all the time, but most of us have genetic and learned predispositions that limit how we use our whole-brains. In many American educational and workplace settings, there is not only a strong preference for linear, verbal, logical, and analytical capacities typically associated with left-brain functioning, but often a strong bias against intuitive, imaginal, holistic, synthesizing capacities typically associated with right-brain functioning.
Unless you happen to work in a creative field, if you are like many working adults, it may be difficult to recall a time when you were encouraged to use your imagination at work, or when the colors and images on the page were valued as much as the words and facts. In Expressive Art, clear instructions and inquiry engage the linear, verbal, logical, analytical capacities while free expression and exploration (through colors, shapes, and images) engage intuitive, imaginal, synthesizing, holistic capacities.
2. Expressive Art exercises MULTIPLE INTELLIGENCES.
We humans are gifted with myriad ways of being intelligent. As psychologists and authors, Howard Gardner, John Mayer, Daniel Goleman, and others have so diligently articulated, we have the capacity for multiple intelligences. Depending on the directives, Expressive Art can help us develop, refine, and exercise these various intelligences.
And who doesn't want to be more intelligent?
3. Expressive Art acts as a gateway to pre-verbal and trans-verbal modes of being, offering a way to mediate unconscious experience and generate insight.
Expressive Art can be viewed as a representation or manifestation of our inner states. Deep within our unconscious, we all have experiences yet to be voiced—memories and dreams that can teach us something when we choose to explore these. Likewise, in the conscious realm, we all encounter times in our lives when we are simply at a loss for words or words fail to adequately express our experience. And yet, verbalizing our experience helps us understand ourselves, each other, and our world.
One way to help translate experience into words is to first translate experience into images. This repeats the natural sequence of how we develop as human beings, first visual representation, then verbal representation—seeing before speaking, images before labels. When we explore our subjective experience through art-making, we produce visible forms—colors, shapes, and images that we can interact with more directly, often prompting meaningful insights and words that more accurately reflect our inner experience.
4. Expressive Art subverts defensive routines to generate unprecedented learning.
As you may know, defensive routines or defense mechanisms are those unconscious, habitual ways of being and doing that we use to protect ourselves from threats to our status quo. We human beings have developed all sorts of ingenious ways to prevent ourselves from experiencing discomfort, conflict, embarrassment, ignorance and the like. Unfortunately, the same things we do to protect ourselves from all things potentially or actually uncomfortable often prevent us from realizing our full potential.
Most defensive routines are provoked and engaged in conversation, either internal conversations within ourselves or conversations with each other—prompting most of us to become quite adept at editing ourselves in ways that don't always serve us. When it comes to the world of words, most of us have figured out how to communicate in a way that preserves our comfort.
However, because most of us don't express ourselves through art everyday, the process of art-making usually triggers fewer defensive routines, permitting access and expression to unknown and/or habitually denied aspects of our experience, thus offering an opportunity for unprecedented learning.
5. Expressive Art is FUN, which means more laughter and joy, more endorphins (our natural pain-killers), more energy, more relaxation, more camaraderie, clarity and peace of mind.
Need I say more?