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More Than Just Pretty Pictures

‘Art can seem reserved to the talented and the critical, but simply ‘doodling’ can improve our mental health. We spoke to two artists about how their work is defined by far more than its aesthetics.’

‘Art’ is a broad term sometimes associated with soya latte drinkers and large-glasses-wearers. The word seems to align itself with those who can find meaning behind sharks pickled in formaldehyde, and people who understand exactly what winning the ‘Turner Prize’ means (c’mon, that painting with all the dots looked like an IKEA placemat) – but in reality, art finds itself everywhere.

Art begins with ideas; it’s most embryonic form is hidden in between the crevices of our brain, burrowed between concerns about tasks at work and when the car’s MOT is due. Céli Lee, a Chinese-born artist whose work takes on an abstract and dreamlike form, says that emotion gives her the very urge to create her work. Although the process ends in a physical representation, all art begins as a thought.

Creating art can take some of the passive feeling out of life. It can empower us to do more, motivate us to improve and provide us with a creative outlet (even if it starts with doodling personified penises on coursework).  In fact, there are people out there who actually analyse and research doodles for a living. Sunni Brown, an American author who researches and spreads the word on the power of doodling, spoke at a TED talk about the importance of scribbling.

Doodling can actually increase your ability to learn and concentrate

People who doodle when they’re exposed to verbal information retain more of that information than their non-doodling counterparts’ (take that Miss Wilkinson, I knew what I was doing in Art class). The arts in general have been linked to productivity – a research paper from the Arts Council England provided evidence that self-selected music increased mental performance in surgeons. To sum up, trying to draw that bowl of fruit can do a lot more good for you than you would expect.

Céli says that she has ‘always found that the process of making art is a procedure of self-healing. It allows you to unfold your imagination to build your own universe. Also, it guides you to learn about yourself and how things affect you in what kind of way.’ Not only is art beneficial for our cognitive functions, it can be a fantastic way to channel emotions. Even when we’re not sure what was the initial purpose of the doodle/painting/little car we drew because Jones was complaining about the coffee machine being broken again for the fifth time that week.

Jake Spicer, a Brighton based painter and drawing tutor says that ‘all of my work has some emotional dimension to it; the paintings and drawings I make are always of people I know and tell stories about how I feel and the part they play in my life. Even when I’m making very objective drawings the drawings are almost always affected by some emotional dimension; how I’m feeling that day always feeds into the works somehow.’ (This explains why we all doodled the word ‘bored’ in class then).

The process of producing art can go even further than that; it can help us to understand emotions we didn’t even know we had. Jakes elaborates, saying that, ‘we live in a very literary society: we use words to communicate and our language skills often fall short when trying to communicate complex emotions. The great thing about making emotionally charged artwork is that you don’t have to know exactly what you are trying to say. You often find that in expressing something visually, you can create something that reflects your emotional state better than the spoken language.

But what if you’re just a really rubbish artist? Jake says ‘I don’t think you have to master the skills in order to make art. The process of making is what art is about; the adventure is the biggest benefit.’ Céli adds ‘There’s no difference between good art and bad art. Everyone is free to create their own, there are no boundaries. I don’t think art is made for social recognition, it is subjective, abstract and dedicates only to the creator.’ So even if that lion you tried to draw ends up looking like an umbrella, you’ve only got to convince yourself that was what you meant to draw.

Art is clearly far more beneficial to our minds than we sometimes care to believe, and art isn’t just something produced in galleries, we all have the capability to give it a go (and hopefully the sense of humour to endure it when drawings don’t quite take the form we expected).  Jake summarises it with ‘it’s a really meditative process, even when it is practically frustrating!’

Photo Credit Creative Commons.

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