What’s Art Got to Do With It?

When I was a kid, I hated art & crafts and much preferred sports…the concept of sitting still and focusing on a single task was a challenge for me; specifically, having someone tell me to follow certain steps to produce a final piece was a huge drawback for me and I always felt more comfortable doing my own thing.  I thought ‘doing art’ was more about conforming to others expectations and less about personal expression; how I was mistaken for so many years is beyond me!

I’ve always been drawn to beautiful things and who isn’t, am I right? I love spending time outdoors and love the wide spectrum of colours displayed in nature; specifically I love sunsets and I’d probably enjoy sunrises too, but I don’t wake up early enough!

How Art Helps Me Cope

When I moved to Oshawa from London (ON) to attend UOIT in the fall of 2013, I was overwhelmed and scared at the prospect of living in a new city without my supports close-by and yet I was eager to begin working towards my B’Ed.  Being in a new environment unveiled some challenges that I hadn’t experienced much of before and I had to learn new coping mechanisms to deal with my anxious moments.  Even though I don’t remember the exact moment where I understood that drawing with Sharpies was a therapeutic endeavor, but I do recall the people that encouraged me to express my emotions via ink and paper.  As a person with Asperger’s, there are moments where it is very challenging for me to communicate verbally and I find that I am able to type or write out my thoughts instead and I believe doing what I call, ‘Sharpie Art’ is helping me de-stress in a similar way. There are moments in my life where it is essential to my well-being to stop perseverating on whatever is bothering me and to focus on a single task; everyone can benefit from this type of intentionality. You know, I think when I’m engaged in drawing a picture, my mind gets to take a break and it kind of functions as a reset button for my whole autonomic nervous system.  My mood and attitude is always more positive afterwards and this tells me that this is a good coping strategy! Over time I’ve learned that doing art significantly helps me and I’ve developed a habit of engaging in this activity on a regular basis.

How It All Started

It started with gratitude. I am so enormously thankful for all the love and support that UOIT staff have given me over the past couple of years and I wanted to show my appreciation by creating pieces of art for various individuals.  I didn’t start out as a confident artist, nor would I currently describe myself as such and even calling myself an artist now, still sounds a little weird. Sharing this with you is a big step and took a lot of courage, as each piece has incrementally contributed to my general ability to cope with life stressors and is a reflection of my emotions too. In the gallery below, you’ll see a variety of works that I have given to others… I love to share and each picture is a reflection of the effort of focus, attention, and time it took for me to do this; remember how it was hard for me to sit still and focus as a kid? These are all done using Sharpies on glossy photo paper… I’ve found my own way to do things, it is very personally satisfying and arguably boosts my self-esteem (just like learning any new skill will).

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The Power of Art

“What’s Art Got to Do With It?” is a the title of a Canadian documentary, screened at TIFF by an occupational therapist & filmmaker, Isabel Fryszberg that highlights an occupational therapy program at Toronto’s Creative Works Studio.  This program “fosters healing and recovery through the arts” and “features five people who, despite their unique challenges, find fulfilment and celebration in art”. I can confirm that my personal experiences with art has helped my mental health in ways that other forms of therapy couldn’t offer; it’s a positive self-help skill that I’ve developed over time and via the encouragement of those that support me.

As it turns out, it seems that art has A LOT to do with it!

For me, art is the break my mind needs from time to time, it’s relaxing and enjoyable too! What started as a means for communicating my thankfulness towards others, has developed into a wonderful addition to my toolbox of skills for navigating life. Just like in a previous post, (https://uoitmentalhealth.wordpress.com/2015/05/13/students-seek-escape-through-music) music was mentioned as a way to help those deal with mental illness, in a similar way,visual arts is another avenue to explore. We all have “unique challenges”, but I believe the key to being healthy is discovering and learning what works for you and adding it to your repertoire of life strategies.

Watch the Trailer: “What’s Art Got to Do With It?”:


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