The minute I sat in front of a canvas, I was happy. Because it was a world, and I could do as I liked in it.” Alice Neel
On Monday of this week the local newspaper printed in “Letters to the Editor”, a piece by Gary R Libby: Director Emeritus of the Museum of Arts and Science in Daytona Beach, FL. He titled it: “Engaging with the Visual Arts Can Lower Stress.” He wrote, “In a world filled with the sounds and images of shock and awe, with reams of bad news confronting us on phones, radios, televisions, and newspapers, I decided to turn it all off, get into my car and visit the Museum of Arts and Sciences to calm down and reconnect with myself”. After returning home, decompressed from the worlds anger, he did some research on how the visual arts can lower stress and increase our capacity for empathy and re-stimulate our positive memories. “Amen!”
Being in the field of education all my life, I have done a lot of research on the effects of “the arts” on children; whether they are an active participant or an observer, and these things also hold true for adults. The arts: change a learning environment into one of discovery, improve cognitive and critical thing skills, help children and young people develop social skills, stretch the mind beyond boundaries, create understanding of other cultures, enhance awareness and respect for others, and foster creativity to name a few. Other studies have shown that interaction with the arts lowers the stress hormone cortisol, and increases the production of dopamine in our bodies. Also things mentioned in Mr. Libby’s letter. So, I have asked myself repeatedly over the years; “Why are we taking the arts out of our schools”?
We all need a place to decompress from the world. So yes, go take a trip to your local museum or art gallery, attend a concert, see a play, take an art course.
I have two things in my life that decompress me: nature and art making, and the first fuels the second. I can go outside and put my hands in the earth and it pulls the stress and angst from me. I feel the “essence of being”: in the soil, in the garden, in the woods, by the water, in the wind. The second is my studio. My “Happy Place.” Here the world is shut out and I am free to create, explore and interpret the world in a kinder and a more beautiful way. When I get deeply involved in a project I go someplace so far from the everyday world, that it becomes a form of meditation.
If I want to visit someplace that has wonderful memories and feel close to nature, I can pull out my pastels and visit it over again. If I just want to create, I can do one of my geologic abstracts. In the words of R. Kipling: “When the world wearies and ceases to satisfy there is always the garden”. Yes, its colors, fragrances, textures, and the sounds of nature it offers, sooth my soul, so I can go to my “Happy Place”, and create something that nature has inspired. What do you do to decompress? Do you have a “Happy Place”?