by: Gregg Sedgwick
CEO and Founder of Gallery One
The colouring-in book phenomena has brought adult ‘art as therapy’ to almost every book shop in the world. The trend is led by Scottish illustrator Johanna Basford – her book Secret Garden has achieved sales exceeding 10 million units across 40 countries. In China alone, Basford’s book sold 3 million copies in its first 3 months after its publication there in 2015. Whilst the trend has cooled since its peak in 2016, the adult colouring-in trend is still very prevalent and has been instrumental in the revitalisation of physical book sales and the slow-down of e-book sales. Even at my own stores (Gallery One) in the Gulf region we have sold several thousand copies of Basford’s titles.
But it’s important to make a distinction between art as a therapeutic process and the art of colouring-in. There is no doubt that colouring within pre-defined outlines can be a distraction from everyday life. The outcomes can be highly engaging artworks of great aesthetic appeal. Colouring-in can relieve stress and be an immersive experience which reconnects us with our inner-child. Art therapy, however, is defined by the Art Therapy Association as, ‘a mental health profession in which clients, facilitated by the art therapist, use art media, the creative process, and the resulting artwork, to explore their feelings, reconcile emotional conflicts, foster self-awareness, manage behavior and addictions, develop social skills, improve reality orientation, reduce anxiety, and increase self-esteem’. In short, it goes deeper than colouring-in.
Art as therapy can be traced to Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung’s theories of the subconscious and unconscious and based on the idea that visual symbols and images are the most readily accessible forms of communication. Practitioners often use art therapy in conjunction with traditional therapies and can be especially helpful with children or adults with more limited vocabulary and means of verbal expression. Whilst I have no qualifications in therapy, I can think of several reasons why art is an effective tool in the mental health arena.
1. Art is a safe place to release emotions.
Some emotions can be too powerful or simply too overwhelming to articulate. Anger, fear and longing can be expressed in a variety of ways using basic artwork tools. Characters can be explored in simple drawings and can often reveal deep-rooted feelings towards other people, places or experiences.
2. Expression without words.
The act of producing an artwork can feel non-threatening and less intimidating than the spoken word. Through art-therapy, clients can work through emotional issues without talking about feelings. According to artist and art therapist Denise Braun, ‘When you move your focus into your right brain through art, you start to let go of your analytical left brain. It is through that right brain creative process that we learn to release our inner critic and embrace the act of creating. It is never about the product. It is always about the process. Art therapy offers a way to unblock emotional expression without having to sit and talk about feelings. Art makes it easier to represent intense emotion without language’.
3. Creative processes reduce stress.
When your mind focuses on creating an artwork – colouring-in or repetitive actions in the development of a pattern – the body becomes relaxed. Stimulating the right side of the brain awakens our creative self and opens up our powers of intuition, insight and visualisation – we get to see ourselves more clearly. As a consequence, stress levels go down and feelings of inner happiness and peace are enhanced.
4. Learning about yourself.
Releasing our creative instincts can be a revelation. We learn to interpret our drawing preferences and the more we do it the less inhibited we become about the outcome. Getting to know what colours, movements and media (paint, pens, pencils, clay, photography) work for you will help you to use art as a personal therapy and stress reliever.
As a creative person, I always find the act of starting a creative assignment difficult. There is a block in all of us which is whispering ‘the outcome won’t be good enough’ or ‘my ideas are not worthy’. Through many years of practice, I’ve trained myself to get started anyway – invariably the start hurdle is not as difficult as anticipated. I believe in the power of creativity and design to change the outer world – there is no reason to suppose it cannot profoundly affect our inner-world too.
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