Tabletop of art supplies. Creating art for mental wellness and joy.
Photo by Sarah Brown on Unsplash

Why Make Art if You’re Not an Artist?

Lots of everyday people make art with no expectation that their work will be displayed in a gallery or sold for big bucks. Their work may not fit the definition of artist as listed in Dictionary.com: “A person whose work exhibits exceptional skill,” or, “A person who practices one of the fine arts, especially a painter or sculptor.” So why do they do it? What are the benefits? What keeps them committed and connected to their art?

Famous artists throughout history have spoken about the benefits of art. Pablo Picasso suggested that, “Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.” And Marc Chagal said, “Great art picks up where nature ends.” The creator of “The Thinker,” Auguste Rodin, said, “The main thing is to be moved, to love, to hope, to tremble, to live.” These are awe-inspiring quotes but how do everyday people place themselves into the category of Picasso or Rodin?

Getting closer to inspiration for everyday people who make art are the words of Henri Matisse, “Creativity takes courage,” or the words of Salvador Dali, “Have no fear of perfection, you’ll never reach it.”

What’s good about making art? How does it help us?

The World Health Organization states that art supports health and wellbeing and aids in preventing the onset of mental illness. Dr. Girija Kaimal, an associate professor in the Creative Arts Therapies Department at Drexel University says, “Yes, some people have more technical skills than others but that does not mean that someone is an artist and someone else is not.”

The American Journal for Public Health examined a wide variety of arts in their study, The Connection Between Art, Healing, and Public Health. They found creativity in the arts reduces stress and anxiety. And, “Through creativity and imagination, we find our identity and our reservoir of healing.”

What do everyday creative people say about the art they make?

Mask in-progress during COVID-19. Art improves mental wellness.
In-progress masks by Pam Meister

The executive director of a museum in western North Carolina, Pam Meister, always stays connected to art. “During the current COVID-19 crisis, the non-work activities that have sustained me most are making music with friends via Zoom (although I miss singing in person terribly!) and using my fiber arts skills to make beautiful cloth masks for a volunteer group that distributes them free of charge to anyone who needs them, including nursing home residents and workers, and seasonal farmworkers and their children. Art has always been central to my personal and professional life — I was lucky to be raised in a family that made music together, visited museums, and attended performing arts events.

Painting with blues and greens. Art brings joy, even when you’re not a formal artist.
Poured acrylic painting by Kathy Thompson

Kathleen Thompson, a retired public library director in North Carolina, enjoys discovering and purchasing regional artists’ work for her home, especially nature art. Recently, she took up making art — poured acrylic paintings. “I love looking at the paints and powders, wondering how they’re going to combine. So, the benefits of pouring occur long before any paint hits the canvas. The things I hear over and over again from other acrylic artists are ‘Don’t give up on the pour!’ and ‘You are doing this for you. Don’t worry what other people think about it. If you don’t like it, scrape the canvas and try again.’ I have scraped the canvas on numerous occasions and not feeling defeated was empowering!”

A large hanging quilt. Art and crafts build our mental health.
Quilt by Deb Beckman

Deb Beckman, also from North Carolina, is a quilter. She began her craft four and a half years ago when she was an elementary school teacher. Now that she’s retired, she’s putting more time and attention into her quilting. “Quilting satisfies my need to create. It also allows me to share a bit of my artistic self with others.” Ms. Beckman makes quilts, table runner, carry-all bags, and more, sometimes for herself, sometimes for friends and family.

Fall leaves turning color in Sweden. Photography is one way to build joy and contentment.
Photo of low growing blueberries by Ulla Thompson

A lover of photography, who in the past published her photos in a blog, Ulla Thompson, lives in Sweden. “I’m an amateur nature photographer, wanting to capture the moment, the beauty of motifs and scenes. I capture them in order to enjoy them later. Close-ups are my favorites.” Ms. Thompson has a penchant for wildflower and tree photos, capturing flora images on her hikes and travels across various countries and continents.

Painting of flowers in a pitcher. Arts such as painting improve our mental health.
Flowers by Kristine McLean

Kristine McLean, in Australia, who draws and paints says, “I’ve only done art for the last five years, but it is now firmly part of my daily life. Every day I look at scenes before me from flowers or household items on the kitchen table to sheep and cows or rocks in the fields. I relish the colours and shapes and the contrast of light and dark before me. I love the actual ‘doing’ of art. I find my mind is totally focused on the pencil or pen, the brush or the charcoal, and the paper before me. I don’t think of anything else and this is very restful and calming. I also love just thinking about art and looking at what other people do or have done. I daydream about how I would draw or paint something similar. Even this daydreaming (without any action) gives me great delight. I love that I can in fact draw and paint. I never expected this in my life. I take pride in what I have achieved so I suppose in some way it builds my sense of self-worth.”

These creative everyday people share how making art brings delight, calm, beauty, enjoyment, creativity, and empowerment. Perhaps a new description of the word artist might be: A person with courage and ingenuity whose work expresses their own personal style and sense of aesthetic.

How will you empower and nurture yourself through art-making?

Will you pick up a long-forgotten hobby of whittling or knitting? Might you start an art journal where you sketch patterns you see in stone walkways, brick walls, or park benches? Perhaps you’ll take one photo everyday of something in your favorite color? Or, will you stretch yourself and take a painting or pottery class — something you’ve never done before?

Go ahead, be an artist, an art maker! Develop your own personal style and sense of aesthetic. This is about you, no one else. Feel rewarded! Improve your mental wellness. Build your confidence!

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Susan M. Ward

Susan M. Ward

Blending art & mental wellness. Therapist. Curator. Savvy museum visitor. Traveler. Ever curious. Asheville. www.artformentalwellness.com.