I’ve loved making art for as long as I can remember. I used to draw the same picture of a dog on different pieces of paper and leave them scattered around the house as a not-so-subtle hint to my parents that their 5-year-old really wanted a puppy. I like to draw images that I want to remember; memories of pleasant things and places. But I also use art as an expression of mental health.
Feelings are hard to articulate, but colors, shapes, and textures can carry meaning without the structural constraints of sentences. Creating an image can be a cathartic way to express feelings that also lets other people in on the experience. When I don’t know exactly what to make but I have an urge to make something, I start with choosing materials and just let my hand move freely. Something usually takes shape, but even if it doesn’t, I can always just scrap it and start over.
Part of what I love about art as a way to express mental health is that everyone can interpret it in their own way. As the artist, there’s something that it means to you, but you don’t even have to share that meaning with the people who see your art. And even if you do share it, people will still have an immediate reaction based on their own life circumstances and interpretation style.
The therapist I saw in college believed that there were no accidents in art, and would analyze my sketchbook while sitting next to me. While I’m sure there are some elements of my art that come from my subconscious, I don’t usually see the “accidental” parts of my art as meaningful.
That said, there were always parts of my art that my therapist pointed out as meaningful that I hadn’t noticed before. I could always come away with a better understanding of myself, or at least something new to think about. For example, the window mechanism in this piece is very detailed.
She suggested that detail might be an indicator that there was some hope of freedom or escape from the thoughts in the drawing. Whether that’s something that ended up in the drawing because some part of me believed there was hope, I’m not sure. But I can certainly take that sense of hope away from it, into my normal life.
Art about mental health is not just an excellent way to express feelings, but it also starts a conversation. It can make people feel less alone in their experience, and it can help your loved ones understand your symptoms and how you feel. Sometimes, it even helps me understand where I’m at in regards to my own outlook. Sometimes a piece of art will take me by surprise at its dark overtones when I thought I was feeling ok. Other times, I’m pleasantly surprised to find that drawing a whimsical picture is exactly what I want to do.
If you’re interested, you can follow my art Instagram @lumpdates