Art therapy: Coping in a healthy, effective manner

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Split. Splat. Paint dries on the canvas. However, art is much more than just a recreational activity. Art is one of the most powerful and effective tools that is used to help cope with stress.

Despite this, Trump’s recent budget plan will cut funds from the arts, public TV, and library, according to the Washington Post. Although arts funds may seem extraneous, to the education system, it has proven to be an excellent medium for improving mental health. 

Academic and societal pressure can put a heavy toll on adolescents. Without arts programs, students may not have a creative outlet to express their emotions, something many lack at home. For these reasons, the government should place a higher value for arts in education, and people should acknowledge the benefits that art can provide for mental health. 

In a study conducted by the Journal of the American Art Therapy Association, 39 adults took part in an experiment that aimed to identify the effects of art-making on individuals cortisol, or stress levels. Results showed that making art caused individuals stress levels to lower significantly.

Furthermore, according to the study, those who claimed to have limited experience in art received comparable amounts of stress relief to those who were experienced. Between individuals with limited experience, some experience, and extensive experience, differences in cortisol levels were negligible. This data suggests that anyone, regardless of artistic experience, or ability, can benefit from art therapy. 

Although the term art therapy has only been around since the mid 20th century, the practice is consistent throughout history.

In the early 1900s, the Angel Island immigration station detained hundreds of thousands of Chinese and Japanese immigrants under extremely oppressive conditions. 

As a result, immigrants wrote poems on the wall in order to voice their frustrations without receiving punishment from authorities. Along the walls of the immigration stations, these poems can still be seen today. The inscriptions serve as a reminder to the power of art and its ability to act as a therapeutic mechanism.

According to the Angel Island immigration station, a mountain monk from the Town of Iron described his sentiments and the purpose of his poem. “Reflecting on the event, my heart is vexed and depressed. I compose a poem to get rid myself of sadness and worry,” he said.

“100 percent it’s cathartic,” artist Vanessa Macias said about the emotional value of art in her life. “If I’m dealing with a lot of emotions that I cannot express with words I feel like somehow by drawing it or painting it, it’s a way for me to take those emotions from inside my body. When you’re feeling an emotion that’s so powerful and so strong you can’t even name it and you really have to take the time to reflect on it.” 

“If I’m dealing with a lot of emotions that I cannot express with words I feel like somehow by drawing it or painting it’s a way for me to take those emotions from inside my body and put them on paper””

— Vanessa Macias

At its root art is the embodiment of creative expression. As humans, it is necessary for us to express our thoughts and emotions, or else our feelings can become bottled up and manifest themselves into nasty, harmful forms. Thus by allowing ourselves to be vulnerable we can release tension and relax our minds.

Art is an exceptional way to dissolve stress and improve mental state. Whether it be expressing one’s opinions under oppression or de-stressing, art has demonstrated its ability to provide value in the education system and for those who lack confidence or experience in the arts.