The healing qualities of Art

In the third of her series, Gemma Hirst looks at how art can act as creative outlet for the artist.

When Richard Oliver was a little boy, he struggled with Maths and English. He always knew that he wouldn’t have a career that involves working at a desk. He was more hands-on.

When he was 14 years old he always caused trouble in his schooling life,  he wasn’t interested in learning and was labelled as a lost cause “I felt lost at school but when Mr Hair took me under his wing and praised me for my work, and encouraged me to get on the potter’s wheel and show me how to manipulate clay creatively it was an amazing feeling.”

Richard is a ceramic artist and used to suffer from severe depression. This led him into wanting to find pottery again and focus on something more on the creative side. He built his own studio, made a kiln and started to create clay “being creative always came easy for me, so making art in any form became a brilliant tool to help me deal with my issues. It takes my mind away from the problems I am facing.” He secured a place at university to study glass and ceramics “my mind is sometimes overloaded and anxiety kicks in, using clay calms my mind helps me focus, and takes stress away from me. It’s a little like holding a stress ball, but with clay your actually making a visual representation of how I’m feeling.”

Richard Oliver, 40, works in glass and ceramics has found art as a creative outlet and is now a way of life for him as it has helped him through his severe depression.

He plans on working with other people who have mental issues to use  clay as a way of therapy “my future is to help others who have issues of mental health, and or learning disability’s. In general I will be hoping to hold workshops out in the community, hold workshops in schools to help better educate the schools as well as the children in how clay/ ceramics and art in general is very important in education, my artistic practice is also important to me as an artist, and my creative mind.”

Art as a creative outlet

Like Richard, Sarah Legender is an art student also uses her art as a creative outlet. Focusing on contemporary art and using it to tackle serious issues such as mental health she believes that art can be a comment on society “personally I think that art can be the perfect outlet for anyone. For the maker you get to release you thoughts and emotions, your comments on society in a way that you feel is right. As cheesy as it may sound you could say when making art it’s like telling your secrets to a canvas as the viewer doesn’t always have to know what it is about or understand it.”

Sarah’s work is expressive as she uses acrylic paint to create her pieces, her current work that focuses on mental health she uses a collage of leaflets about mental health from the NHS along with tissues and other text adding “I have also been using a lot of portrait photographs of people that they sent me for my previous project based on anxiety where I tried to create awareness of the amount of people that suffer with some sort of anxiety on a daily basis by posting on social media and asking people that suffered with it to send me a “pass port” style photograph of themselves which I would then turn in to paintings. The response from people was incredible and I’m still making use of the photographs they sent me today.”

Visual Art

Experienced photographer Rebekah Kitchell has taken an interest in documentary photography- in telling a story in her work. When it comes to taking photos her inspiration can be found anywhere “sometimes it is inspired by a friend, other times it’s something I see on the street. I like to do very personal projects most of the time, so a lot of my inspiration comes from my family life and me. I do a lot of personal reflection on my life, both on my own and via blogs, and I am very close to my family so most of my inspiration begins there”.

Rebekah thinks that photography can benefit the artist and the audience “I think photography and other visual art forms can be very therapeutic. The process of getting from concept to product can be very long, and very relaxing in a sense. Having something to work on and a visual product at the end is very therapeutic to me. A lot of work out there can be supportive for people, I find seeing other peoples work can be therapeutic to look at as a lot of visual art projects are relatable”.

From artists using art as self-expression to art acting as a way of communication for audiences.

Room for You is a project that offers people the opportunity to engage in art. Based in Newcastle, Room For You are in partnership with Arts in Health work with hospital patients and use art as a facilitator of emotional support.

It was set up in 2001 by a cancer patients Ali Rhind and Mary Jennings, Ali as an artist and Mary being a counsellor. They wanted to make a difference to the patients experience using their skills.

The project offer a range of activities that are accessible for the patients in the hospitals, they offer proggy mat making, silk painting, sculptures and kite making. Mark Mulqueen Arts Coordinator for Rooms for You explains why this project helps patients “We always attempt to engage them in a purposeful conversation, in which we listen and think about the patient or carers needs as well as trying to discover ways in which they are already being creative, whether they recognise it or not.”

Their mission statement is to provide emotional support through creativity and listening to people living with life limiting, long-term conditions. As Mark adds “our counsellors frame conversations around people’s interests, assisting them to state psychological strengths, identify positive aspects in their life and in respect to the challenges that they face, help to develop coping strategies with them.”

Room for You are all about making art as inclusive as possible and enabling everyone to participate no matter what their experience or ability “the artists offer a range of artistic activities that are specifically designed to be as accessible and inclusive as possible, enabling everyone whatever their experience or ability to achieve something that they are proud of and are happy to share with their family and friends.”

They also want to change the hospital experience by making it more comfortable for patients. Since the project the coordinators have been able to install large artworks, designed a soft furnishing colour scheme to improve the hospital experience for patients through art.

As Mark adds “we have the view that everyone is capable of being creative and will seek to find a way for this to be expressed in whatever setting we are working.”


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