Saturday, helicopter speakers above my apartment blasted unintelligible words. Streams of protesters took to the streets right outside of my window chanting, drumming together, pleading for hope.
Driving through the streets later that day, I saw many more streams of protesting groups all throughout the city. There has been turmoil and uncertainty here in Baltimore for the past week which was heavily splashed on national news. It’s not a new problem for the city which has a clash of different cultures, income levels, and neighborhood geography.
In Baltimore’s decidedly upper-class neighborhood of Guilford, there is a beautiful garden of tens of thousands of tulips. While we could think this was an oasis among the trees and mansions of the city, my thoughts drifted as I experimented with my second plein air painting.
Sherwood Gardens is as much an illustration of the national discussion about the city’s inequality as the stretches of vacant homes and food deserts just a mile or two away. How do we appreciate value and beauty during inner and outer turmoil?
1. Art Helps with Stress and Anxiety
Visual art’s relationship to anxiety have been studied: increasing positive emotions and reducing stress. This is according to a six month study testing how creative arts intervention can assist cancer caregivers by Barry University School of Nursing. The creative activities were designed to be easily completed while at their loved ones bedside so that the caregiver would be available to assist the family when needed.
Even a family member dealing with care during distressing illness can make time for themselves. The lesson here is that self care can put us in the position to help others. There is evidence that art therapy can ease symptoms in cancer patience themselves as well.
2. Love Helps with Creativity
Our thoughts about love can help us think of new ideas. The hypothesis that romance causes us to think differently was studied at the University of Amesterdam who found love does truly alter our thoughts. The results suggest that romantic thoughts inspire long-term thinking, wishful attachment, and fantasties beyond the present.
How is this linked to our creative passions? The experiments found that love and desire have an influence over how we think of all aspects of our lives. The halo effect that helps us see the positive or even idealized qualities of loved ones also was then shown to apply to unrelated contexts suchas inanimate objects. Thinking about love makes us generally more imaginative.
3. Painting Helps Depression and Fatigue
Weekly art therapy sessions creating paintings in a study at Technion-Israel Institute of Technology resulted in reduced levels of depression during chemotherapy. After only four appointments of art therapy, there was a measurable change in both depression and fatigue. In patients with Parkinsins disease, another study also found positive affects on depression levels. The could be one reason that the most productive artists tend to practice positivity.
I’ve often turned to painting as a way to become more introspective about my inner world. I find creating art can be sometimes challenging, yet mostly rewarding and I feel happy about the end results which makes for a better day. Even if the result isn’t always amazing, there still is a certain joy in knowing I tried. I don’t think that my painting of Sherwood Gardens in my favorite. Getting out of my comfort zone and attempting plein air painting created for me a chance to try some new techniques and see the city of Baltimore in a new way during a week of protesting and riots. We know that our creative habits can impact our levels of creativity. Painting channeled my energy and thoughts into something visual. This painting has already began to inspire some new ideas for future paintings.
Has your art helped you in times of stress and anxiety? Do you think you’re more creative when you’re in love? Try out some of these ideas and let us know how they worked for you in the comments.
Brian E. Young is a graphic designer and artist in Baltimore, MD.