Healthy Beginnings

Art Therapy: Elevate Your Wellness with a Dose of Culture

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Photo by Jeff Dow

I’m currently re-reading The Dalai Lama’s “The Art of Happiness.” This morning, one quote in particular grabbed my attention: “The destructive effects of anger and hatred have been well documented by recent scientific studies. Of course, one doesn’t need scientific evidence to realize how these emotions can cloud judgment… or wreak havoc in our personal relationships.” Some things, it seems, are simply common sense. Negative emotions like anger and the exhausting rapidity of stress cause toxic responses in the body. Many of us take great measures to stave o these harmful effects. We eat well, breathe deep and engage in some sort of daily movement. But is it enough?

The World Health Organization defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” Clearly, eating right and exercising regularly comprise only part of the whole health equation. Healthy living begins with cultivating meaningful life experiences and immersing yourself in creative endeavors. Art – both making and consuming it – forms the foundation for a rich, healthy life. Through artful engagement, we connect with others. We build culture. We create a healthy community.

A 2010 article in the American Journal of Public Health by Heather L. Stuckey, D. Ed., and Jeremy Nobel, MD, MPH, explores the relationship between art, healing and public health. The authors indicate the crux of this connection lies in the very human need to share meaning, and to create meaningful experiences. Since the beginning of human existence, our drive has been toward constructing these shared moments. We long to connect to something greater than ourselves. This search for meaning, this subconscious yearning to plunge beneath life’s physical surface is one of the hallmarks of our humanity. Engaging with art helps us to manifest this desire.

One study cited in the paper showed reduced hospitalization time for people exposed to art and music during their stay. For sick patients, art serves as a refuge from powerful and often painful emotions. Art therapy has gained mainstream acceptance as a valid form of treatment for people suffering from physical, emotional or mental illness. From the terminally ill to the interminably busy, art makes people feel better. The studies in this review “… indicate that creative engagement can decrease anxiety, stress, and mood disturbances.”

This doesn’t mean that all art you experience must make you feel happy inside in order to be an effective medicine. Some works are disturbing, some angry, some loud. Others are beautiful or dramatic. The key is the engagement and ensuing discourse with those around you. The purpose is to make meaning, to disrupt the mundane and connect with the extraordinary.

In the words of Pablo Picasso, “Art washes the soul from the dust of everyday life.” Clearing the dust makes way for the light to shine through. In order to rise into the abundance of extraordinary health, you have to actively remove the toxic debris. Art is your cleaning agent.

Visit the Nevada Museum of Art for some visual art-infused healthfulness. Right now the Museum has a diverse array of exhibitions.

If hands-on art therapy is your script, take a class at the E. L. Cord Museum School. With more than 60 classes each quarter for all ages and levels of artists, you will definitely find something of interest.

Amanda Horn is the Director of Communications for the Nevada Museum of Art. Connect with the Museum on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram @ NevadaArt. Learn more about classes, exhibitions, talks, films and other events at www.NevadaArt.org.

Museums benefit the health and well being of community members by providing:*

  • Positive social experiences, leading to reduced social isolation
  • Opportunities for learning and acquiring new skills
  • Calming experiences, leading to decreased anxiety
  • Increased positive emotions, such as optimism, hope and enjoyment
  • Increased self-esteem and a sense of identity and community
  • Positive distraction from clinical environments
  • New experiences which may be novel, inspirational and meaningful
  • Increased communication between families, carers and health professionals

* According to research conducted by Dr. Helen Chatterjee, Head of Research and Teaching at UCL Museums and Senior Lecturer in Biology at University College London, and Guy Noble, Head of Arts at University College London NHS Foundation Trust.

Interested in learning more about the E. L. Cord Museum School?

The E.L. Cord Museum School offers over 225 classes annually and serves over 2,100 students, said Claire Muñoz, E.L. Cord Museum School Director.

Classes are offered for all ages, and most classes are designed for students of all levels of ability. Scholarships are available for those who have financial obstacles. Students enjoy small class sizes (averaging 10 students per class) allowing for plenty of one-on-one engagement with instructors. Popular courses include watercolor, life drawing, ceramics and kids classes.

“Because we offer courses during the day, in the evening and on the weekends, our student core is quite diverse,” said Muñoz. “The majority of the students (about 80 percent) are adults. Some are new to art, some are wanting to return after a period away from their practice while others look to invest time in themselves by taking classes. We have professionals, retirees, a strong youth presence and several courses for creative teens. There is something offered monthly for just about anyone with an interest in art.”

For a comprehensive list of courses, visit www.nevadaart.org/learn/e-l-cord- museum-school/class-schedule/