You must have seen art geeks standing for hours in museums and art galleries staring at one gigantic artifact or another. Have you ever wondered what possibly keeps them entranced? Why does it happen that certain types of music leave numbing effect on you? Why do you get so attached to some characters in certain stories? Why in the middle of the night when you wake up from deep slumber, a scene you have watched from a drama or a snippet from a series you watched years ago pops up in your mind? Why some poetic expressions, lyrics and inscriptions resonate with you more than anything? The answer is simple- such is the nature and purpose of true Art.
Art basically is a myriad of expression using extensive creative skills and imaginative powers, and is typically found in the artifacts of visual, auditory or performing arts. Its sole purpose is to evoke the emotions of humans by its sheer beauty, appeal and relevance. It can account from universal emotions to personal and to make political, religious or whimsical statements. Such variations and aestheticism are the key for the artists. The better the expression, the stronger the appeal. In its extended sense, it also serves as a means of communication and healing. This is where the concept of Art Therapy crawls in.
In today’s world especially struck by the pandemic resulting in lockdowns after lockdowns has disrupted the normal way of life greatly. The concept of an inclusive society was already drawing its last breaths due to the advent of modern technology, fast paced life and non-availability of time on an individual or societal level. The strike of COVID-19 has only stimulated it. Where our Generation Z (born between 1997 to 2012-15) is supposedly considered to be the loneliest of all generations, now people have started to feel more isolated. Anxiety, PTSD, and depression is more prevalent among people of different population groups coming from different walks of life (1). It is also affecting people’s social connectedness, trust in other people and institutions, concerns of jobs and income support, and to cause a toll in terms of anxiety and worry (2). Imagine a world of lockdown for another year and picture the consequences double folding.
Art Therapy is designed to identify and rectify the imbalances of people’s mental, emotional and physical conditions. People on whom this therapy is performed take part in some visual arts forms like drawing, sculpting, painting, etc. coupled with ongoing advisory sessions and medical treatment if necessary. Their hands-on activities by using clay, paint, brushes, crayons, etc. aids to express themselves freely without the dread of being judged for their production. The experts and psychotherapists then study these works which help them strategizing the recovery process.
At one hand, it is a therapeutic self-expression that uses certain art modalities and artistic practices to supplement the aesthetic experiences of people. On another hand, it also helps with rehabilitation, psychotherapy, and liberation of pent up feelings. It will not be wrong to say that it taps on the edges of people’s imagination, gently scratches the scab off of physical and mental illnesses and helps them return to their normal lives through creativity. Such is the transformative power of Art Therapy.
Art Therapy is for all age groups. Children who suffer from trauma, OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) or autism, can be greatly facilitated with finding balance and control over their conditions. It assists the teenagers in countering the emotional issues during the tough stages of adolescence when and they begin to form their distinct perspective on life and their hyped developmental changes cause behavioral upheavals. Through meaningful practices of Art, they are urged to self-express in harmless and yet concrete ways. For older people, it works wonders in helping them sustain through drastic changes caused by deteriorating mental health, alterations in finances, relationship losses or social isolation.
Art Therapy is widely recognized and practiced in the West even for the toughest treatments of substance abuse. Unfortunately, the case in Pakistan doesn’t seem so promising. A lot of people are plainly unaware of its existence. Its awareness is increasing slowly among our new generation and in some bigger cities, it is only being practiced on a micro scale. Although it is recognized and validated by some universities, clinics, leading public figures and media coverage, there is still a huge gap to be filled.
It won’t be wrong to say that to a lot of people in our country, Art is still considered a taboo topic due to various reasons. The inclination of the majority of people is to simply rely on medical test reports more than an artistic creation prepared under the supervision of a professional Art therapist for diagnosis, and to rely on expensive medicines, incantations or home remedies more than any other source of treatment. The validity of the tests and ingredients or side effects of the medicines go unquestioned quite often. Such is the case not only because people don’t want or trust any treatment via Art, but also because they can’t afford to. This is the same case with artists when it comes to make both ends meet, be those painters or writers etc. The majority of people doesn’t buy books or paintings. Hence, the option spared for the artists is to make a living first by doing a job and to pursue their passion in part-time. This is why, there is a need to bridge the space between people and the basic understanding of Art. While it is absolutely unnecessary to discredit the medical treatment, there is also no need to consider Art or Art Therapy a bane. A proper balance between these two can turn out to be miraculous.
Communication is an innate human requirement. Without it, there is no life. Consider what’s a more sophisticated way to communicate than Art? None! Our people are facing issues that go unchecked every single day. Political, social, financial and disturbances in our personal lives are causing ever increasing mental health ordeals. Only if there is enough discussion on Art Therapy, we can raise more awareness to gain people’s trust. The universities should offer courses, programs or diplomas on this. Seminars, workshops and online sessions can be conducted for better social visibility. The students of Art and practicing artists also have to play their role in this regard. Academies or clinics can also be established at micro or macro levels for social welfare. Pakistan is already famous for its philanthropists. Once the word is out and about, a plethora of people would surely would like to support and participate in such a noble cause to keep the negative energies of our laymen at bay.
Art Therapy is a kind of Psychotherapy that is safe by nature and leaves the ripple effects that can last longer than one can imagine. If you feel stuck during this pandemic and are seriously looking into finding treatment especially for any mental health illness, consider finding an Art Therapist around to help you give an expression to your emotions, feelings, guilt, regret or anxiety. You can still go for this therapy even if you don’t suffer from any illness. The sheer experience of creating something by your hand will uplift your spirit and mood, and boost your confidence. Such significance of the Art Therapy can’t be undermined because “Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life”- Oscar Wilde in his 1889 essay The Decay of Lying.
- Luo, Yang; Chua, Cher Rui; Xiong, Zhonghui; Ho, Roger C.; Ho, Cyrus S. H. (23 November 2020). “A Systematic Review of the Impact of Viral Respiratory Epidemics on Mental Health: An Implication on the Coronavirus Disease 2019Pandemic”. Frontiers in Psychiatry. 11: 565098. doi:3389/fpsyt.2020.565098. PMC7719673. PMID 33329106.
- “OECD”. read.oecd-ilibrary.org. Retrieved 7 May 2020.