Let art happen

By Jenn Watt

Published by Feb. 14

I’ve never been inclined towards making art. In university I was required to take two visual arts classes and struggled my way through both of them. Once we were required to sculpt busts of our own heads out of clay. After looking at my hours-long effort my instructor eyed me carefully and then my artwork before declaring I hadn’t made the nose on my clay likeness big enough. I chucked my project into the dumpster on the way across campus and with it any interest in making art.

Because I’m not artistically disposed I don’t tend to gravitate towards arts and crafts supplies. Aside from a casual knitting habit I don’t really make things. They just don’t turn out well when I do. And that’s part of the problem not just for me but for many art-averse people out there.
Unfortunately looking at artistic practice as something only “artists” can do limits us. Many a student has left art class with the impression that only those who are “artists” should be picking up a set of watercolour paints or a charcoal pencil. But that means that only those making “good” art can reap the rewards of arts practice.

Studies done in the last decade around mental health and visual arts have found alleviation of depression symptoms reducing feelings of isolation and helping medical patients find clarity in their emotions among the benefits. According to a 2009 report by the Society for the Arts in Healthcare one study measured the cortisol levels in the saliva of those doing a two-hour art making session. Scientists found “a significant reduction in anxiety” amongst participants.
Art has also been found to improve memory and observational skills with those actively engaged in making art exhibiting increased brain plasticity according to an article by the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
Of course it’s also just fun – and you don’t need any studies to know that.
In order to have fun and enjoy the benefits of putting pastel to paper we need to allow ourselves the freedom of not being “artists” and just be art makers.

Over the past few months a friend of mine encouraged me to join her in an art journaling workshop at Visible Voices Open Arts Studio in Haliburton. We’ve worked with acrylic and watercolour paints cut out images from magazines glued down tissue paper and doodled our mornings away. Some people use their journals to explore memories and difficult experiences others just revel in the studio’s wide selection of materials. For me it feels like Grade 6 art class – back before there were “good artists” and “bad artists” – when we just enjoyed the smells sights and textures of paint and paper glue and gouache.
Some in this community still aren’t aware of the Visible Voices studio but with any luck that will soon change. Its pay-what-you-can structure keeps it accessible to anyone and the laid back atmosphere means you don’t need to get caught up in whether you’re the next Auguste Renoir or Georgia O’Keeffe. You can just let it happen on the page and in your mind.