You Don't Need An Excuse To Paint (But Here Are Some Good Ones)
First things first: there’s no question that modern life requires we have some kind of reason to do the things that make us happy, beyond the obvious answer of “it makes me happy”. The internet is full of lists justifying why the best things in life - chocolate, wine, art, and much more - are good for us, but it’s enough to say that it makes our hearts lighter and our lives brighter. That said, making art is good for us. Forget self help books and self-improvement courses; picking up a paint brush (or even just using our hands, little kids understand the important things) is nearly as useful as trundling down to a therapist’s office. The idea of art as therapy is a little cliched at this point, but there are solid reasons behind why that is, and they also provide interesting insights on why the act of creating art feels so good.
Creativity has become a bit of a buzzword. Advertising is creative, athletes are artists, and job ads for banks look for “creative thinkers”. The problem is, throwing the word around so often makes us forget what it means: relying on our imagination to solve our problems, rather than pure experience. Art gives us the chance to practice that skill, which is sorely lacking in most people’s day-to-day lives. We hit an imaginative rut, mostly out of lack of opportunity - each day builds on the last, and it’s difficult to find places where we’re not constrained by everyday life. With paint, it’s possible to actually flex our imagination and bring creativity back into play.
If there’s anyone out there who doubts that painting practice - replicating a photograph or existing painting - engages creativity, it’s worth thinking about poets. There’s a reason why many poets still turn to highly defined poetic structures like haikus and villanelles, and that’s because restraints actually allow us to be more creative. Solving the “problem” of a blank page doesn’t take much creativity if we can do whatever we want, but as the “problems” pile up - it has to be this shape, these colours, this technique - things get more difficult, and we can really feel the achievement of discovering something new in ourselves.
Traumatized children, people with addictions, and those with psychological problems: some of the hardest people to treat are turning to art therapy as a way to feel better about themselves and the world. Take people struggling with addictions, for example. Not only do they have to suffer through the symptoms of getting clean, but they also have to find a way to change their habits, social skills, and often their entire self image. The latter can be the reason why many people go back to their addiction, and art can make a huge difference in this area. When we don’t feel as though we have much worth, the act of creating something - even if it’s not technically perfect - can remind us of what we’re capable of. We can express difficult emotions, communicate without words, and find a moment of peace in-between the brush strokes. All of these effects are available to anyone who creates art, whether or not they’re in an actual art therapy program; after all, who doesn’t struggle with their self image at times?
Here’s another thought: when was the last time you finished something you’re proud of that was purely for yourself? Not a gift, or a project at work, or a dinner to be shared? Many people, particularly women, have a lot of trouble doing things simply for themselves, but painting is inherently selfish in the best of ways. Sure, you may hope that your friends or family might admire the picture later, but the heart of painting, particularly trying to improve yourself, is self-centered. You want to do better than you did before, not to earn a raise or praise, but for the pure sake of the accomplishment. Like many “selfish” choices, this benefits others in the long run - people who can admire your work - but it’s something you can do for yourself with no shame. You matter, you’ve created something, and you’re an artist. It’s important to take care of yourself, and you don’t need a list of reasons why to prove it.