How art thou?

By Gloria Chadwick, RN

How art thou during this pandemic of enormous magnitude? A whole new social lifestyle has emerged, and cabin fever has strained those with little to do to keep themselves occupied. The good news is, there are therapeutic past times to fit every interest and personality. While physical movement strengthens the body, art can soothe the mind.

Merriam-Webster defines art as “something that is created with imagination and skill and that is beautiful or that expresses important ideas or feelings.” We must keep in mind that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and emotion can be expressed simply as a splotch of color that brings out that emotion.

Art as therapy

The official use of art therapy dates back to the 1930s and 1940s, and it has ultimately become a useful tool in mental health care today. Art therapists, with their Masters’ degrees in various areas, can become credentialed in art therapy.

As a registered nurse who has worked in acute care psychiatry, I am aware of the benefits of art for the everyday person.

We all began our young lives in school learning colors and how to color inside the lines. We learned that some have a more joyous appearance for creating our art. All those attempts as children to express ourselves can be witnessed on the many millions of refrigerators decorated with the art brought back to Mom and Dad.

A very small percentage of people have an unusual, innate talent for visual arts. The rest, and most successful, are those who practice the craft day after day. There is no trade or skill that is an overnight success. Those who work at their craft, or job, become proficient and they are always seeking new methods, new techniques and products to hone their skills.

In this isolated time, a time of social distancing, an opportunity of art discovery exists. A blank piece of paper or canvas beckons every artist to stare at it. Doodles, lines, squiggles and geometric patterns can fill a page. When the page is filled, color can be applied. There is no reason to think about a figure or element until one is comfortable with the drawing tool applied to the paper, be it pencil, marker, crayon or ink. The exercise is as beneficial to the mind as the physical effort is to the body. It allows you to not think of news, voices, debts, deadlines or irritants. Just doodle, and each day you will gain more confidence and skill even with minimum tools. Expensive brushes, paints and lessons will not make you a better artist until you sit back, relax and enjoy the art of making marks or images on blank paper. It really is as simple as that.

We need to provide some down time to let our brains relax and express our feelings on paper; a time to ourselves. What better time than now? We must stay socially distanced, so this is a great time. When you feel comfortable with your simple doodles and drawings, move on to drawing a cup, or a piece of fruit, or a book on the shelf.  Keep it simple. Draw it, put it away and draw it again and again. You will see progress. This is all about you, with no need to share unless you want to give it to someone special.

Adding color

If you want to add color, here are some things to know. Color is very personal and there is a whole industry devoted it and the emotions it brings out. Look at signs and logos and think about the use of color in the ones that stand out to you. There are several interpretations of color symbolism, and below is some information you may consider when creating your art.

White has traditionally stood for purity and grief; black symbolizes protection and fertility; pink represents breast cancer and infants; red stands for fighting (flag flown on sailing ships), rebellion and politics; orange for vitality and energy; yellow for defiance and happiness; blue for religion and scholarship; purple has stood for nobility (since it took 12,000 sea snails to make 1 gram of purple coloring); lavender for femininity, nostalgia and romance; and wonderful brown has been associated with things organic and natural.

Please give yourself the chance to be creative during these uncertain days. If you find that you want to explore more, there are art groups within San Diego County that offer classes or can direct you to resources that are right for you. The nonprofit groups are San Diego Watercolor Society, Foothills Art, East County Art Association and Fine Art Association.

Wassily Kandinsky, a painter and art theorist who lived from 1866 to 1944, said: “Colour is the keyboard, the keys are the hammers, the soul is the piano with many strings. The artist is the hand that plays, touching one key after another purposively, to cause vibrations in the soul.”

So, wash your hands, wear your mask, and go make vibrations.

Chadwick serves on the Grossmont Healthcare District board of directors, and is a native San Diegan living in El Cajon.  She retired in 2008 as a retired psychiatric nurse after a 44-year career in the healthcare profession and today she is a nationally recognized watercolor artist and oil painter.