These are tremendously beneficial approaches.
Recently, however, I was asked a question about art and healing that required me to think in a different way about the benefits of practicing art. When invited to hang a couple of paintings in a hospital last month, the question I was asked was, "How did being an artist affect your healing?" That question invited me to explore the usefulness of practicing art before we are injured or ill as a preparation for facing adversity.
To be clear, all of us are artists in one way or another, creatively responding to life's demands. Some of us practice making art with traditional materials, like paint or clay. Consciously and regularly practicing our art is really the fundamental distinction, not what methods or materials we use. We can rebuild cars, make a beautiful home, teach children - the list is infinite. Like any other activity or skill, though, the more we acknowledge our art and intentionally practice it, with whatever materials we choose, the more the practice becomes a part of us. When I had the strokes, I was practicing a lot. I was in the middle of a big project, illustrating a children's book.
So how did the regular and conscious practice of art prepare me for facing my injury? What fundamental skills was I growing and making a bigger part of me as I practiced?
I was solving problems, regularly exercising my creativity, figuring out ways to work within the limitations of what I was using. Any tool is limited. If you are not a painter, you might think that you can mix any color from paints, but it's not possible.
The spectrum of light produces all colors. But paint does not. Some red paint when mixed with blue paint makes a lovely purple. Some red and blue mixtures make a not so lovely color that looks a lot like mud. It's the nature of paint.
If I want to create a certain look or a certain color with paint, I have to approximate, developing an alternative that will more or less do the job I am trying to do. All art materials are like this. Stone only approximates flesh in a sculpture. A stringed instrument, like a guitar, only makes the tones and sounds it makes in the range it makes them. Words in a book, however descriptive, cannot fully reproduce the experience they are describing.
There is a grace in working within the limits of our materials. Often in the process of creating the approximation, what is discovered is something wonderfully adaptive and new - something we never would have known unless we had to experiment and see how close we could come to creating what we wanted to create. Making art teaches us to look realistically at whatever tools and materials we have, learn what they can and cannot do, and find creative ways to adapt them.
Healing from an injury or illness, living with a changed body, requires us to do exactly same thing. We have to discover what we can and cannot do in every phase of the healing journey and find ways to work creatively with what we have available to build our lives. Regularly practicing this skill before we are ill or injured makes our understanding of how to work with limitations a conscious and more readily accessible part of us when we need it most.
Another very useful skill that making art taught and continues to teach me is the ability to live with uncertainty. Rarely does an art project turn out exactly as planned - actually never in my personal experience. Inevitably, somewhere in the middle of a painting at least once and sometimes multiple times, I would lose a sense of where the painting was going. Something unexpected happened. Something unpredicted surfaced and I despaired of my ability to ever make sense of what I now had. Everything I planned seemed upside down. I was awash in uncertainty. This is the place I call, "The Big I Don't Know."
When we hit The Big I Don't Know, there is only one way to get to the other side. We have to keep on working. Stopping and giving up only makes everything worse. To find our way out of The Big I Don't Know, we have to be willing to accept the uncertainty, not know where things will end up, and work anyway.
Healing is like this. Healing professionals may give us some guidance about how we might heal, but for many things, particularly brain injuries or serious illnesses, no one can predict with certainty what the outcome will be. There are a multitude of variables, including how we, the patients, work with what happens to us. Realizing that our healing outcomes are unknown, we quickly and perhaps shockingly discover that we are now in The Big I Don't Know. Experiencing this uncertainty often brings fear and fear can be paralyzing. But our choice in The Big I Don't Know is always the same: either keep on working, living with the uncertainty, or give up. Giving up, as I said, only makes everything worse.
Regularly encountering this uncertainty, having the experience of working through it, before we are ill or injured helps us steady ourselves and face our fears. Working creatively with limitations helps us make the best of what we have in every moment. However we choose to practice these skills in our daily lives as the artists we all are, if we do practice them, we are also preparing ourselves for facing difficult times when they occur.
Article Source: psychologytoday.com