I once asked a distinguished art therapist in Japan, “What is it about Art that gives it its therapeutic quality?”. She said “It sometimes silences your mind and if required empties it and brings it back to its truest and most natural state of being”. She of course went on to tell me how she had used art to relieve people of milder challenges like stress, body aches, worry as well as cure people of more deadly diseases like cancer, heart ailments, depression, strokes and bi polar disorder.

In this fast paced world of rat races and reducing human interaction shrouded by pokes, likes, Whatsapp messages and tweets, the run of the mill human mind is in anything but its natural state. Expression, for example is a very basic human instinct. But due to the nature of corporate hierarchies, social conditioning and sometimes even governments, people are forced to curb this instincts. There is a lot of mental clutter that accumulates as a result of things that we do throughout the day. For example, people who get back home after a hectic day and fall asleep after a heavy dinner, accumulate all the pent up stress in their systems. People who have unresolved arguments, fights and difficult relationships of all kinds, carry feelings of guilt, anger and revenge for months and sometimes years. Feelings and emotions like regret, failure, sadness and discontent get bottled up into mental clutter that later translate quite effectively into disease and pestilence.

So let me plunge in and get to the essence of what it is about art that will help in clearing your mind. Even for those who aren’t directly involved in the creation of art, merely going into a good art gallery to see an art exhibition or display of paintings will help. The silence of the art gallery, the beauty of the pieces displayed and the stillness and serene energy around helps in slowing the mind down from its daily breakneck pace.

For those involved in the creation of a piece of art or are willing to embark on that journey, here are just a few ways in which you might benefit.

Being Here and Now
One of the phenomenal qualities of creating a piece of art is that it forces you to step into the present. Since most of our mental fog is either about the future or the past, merely being in the present for an extended period of time helps in creating the mental space required to process other information later. While there are several other activities that could offer the same benefit, art does so in a cajoling and non threatening way, especially if approached in the right manner. Don’t start doing a painting with a specific finishing time in mind or a very accurate visual outcome. Go with the flow. Even if you have no clue about what you are going to paint, allow the blankness of the page or canvass to guide you. Let your intuition and instincts guide your hand and keep following it. In fact, if you are not a person who is used to starting without a definite image or goal in mind, try one of the following if you like:

Try to get that image completely wrong, in all possible ways and enjoy the process of doing it.
Try to create that entire image with scribbles and splashes of colour rather than with well defined lines. This will really help you loosen up.
Try the minimalist approach. Reduce the image to its bare essence by stripping it off anything unnecessary. Ask yourself what would be the simplest form of the image and just paint that.

People have learnt valuable lessons about going with the flow, not being perfectionists and simplifying their own lives by following some of the above techniques. Moreover, staying invested in the creation of a painting for an hour is equivalent to an hour of mindfulness meditation.

Emotional De-Cluttering
Art, especially with the use of colour, has direct access to the emotional part of your brain. The amygdala, an almond shaped mass of nuclei located deep within the temporal lobe of the brain is responsible for several of our emotions and motivations, especially the more rudimentary ones. It is the seat of several of the intense emotions like fear, anger and pleasure. Also, the right brain is the more intuitive, imaginative and creative side of the brain. Art greatly stimulates the amygdala and involves the use of the right brain in general. With the use of different colours, with the creation of vivid images and with the exercising of intuition, a lot of the bottled up emotional pressure is released. This gives people a renewed sense of being able to deal with their life’s situation and challenges. Mild headaches to severe migraines have been cured as a result of emotional de-cluttering.

Feeling Good
As a result of trying to meet strict deadlines, following set and rigid processes and doing routine work, many have lost the sense of how it feels to create something new. Painting or sketching puts people back in touch with their ability to create. It clears the mind of the monotony of repetition and ushers in new energy like a whiff of fresh air. The feeling of having created something beautiful and impressive brings in a sense of accomplishment that people carry to other areas of their lives. Many who pursue art even develop a serious interest in it and becoming part of a new circuit of friends and associates. This in itself could be a stimulating experience both with respect to how much you end up learning from each other as well being exposed to a host of new ideas and ways of looking at life.

Back to Basics
As mentioned earlier, one of the basic instincts of the human mind that is curbed in the world today is the instinct of expression. Art creates a clear outlet for expression. Drawing, painting, etching, scribbling, splashing colours, etc. are all modes of expression. Art helps individuals express themselves in a manner that is more fundamental and intrinsic. It is normal for people who are involved in any form of art to feel light and rejuvenated after finishing taking a piece to completion. Many who have been involved in some form of art long enough even develop a deep appreciation of doing art for art’s sake. A painting is created purely to express themselves in a manner that is most real and natural. The process of expression is embraced to its fullest for the sake of the experience rather than for social approval or to impress the world around you. People who have understood this also carry this mindset to other areas of life. They become more interested in experiencing life rather than clicking pictures of experiences to share on social media or texting to broadcast their experiences.

While most of what is discussed above is in reference to the fine art of painting or sketching, the same applies to any other form of art. Music, dance, any of the martial arts, writing and photography are all classic examples. In short, it applies to methods and techniques of art collectively and any product of human creativity. What it does not apply to is the entire space of buying, selling, trading or auctioning art.

Article in the Discover Mind and Emotions Section of the September 2014 Issue of Complete Wellbeing Magazine by Vinesh Sukumaran