Why We Paint | Art As Therapy

Since prehistoric times, humans have manifested the desire to express emotion and thought through artistic forms. Often this is done solely for personal enjoyment, but frequently it serves a bigger purpose by communicating personal feelings to other human beings. This desire to be heard, and hopefully understood, has led to the formation of language, the invention of a written alphabet, the arrangement of sound into music, and the placement of pigment upon a painting surface.

The Journey (pastel, 12×19) by Richard McKinley

When our artistic efforts are to be publicly displayed, craftsmanship and technical mastery of the individual medium is required: Otherwise, gibberish and nonsense will be the outcome, resulting in a failure to communicate. Since all of us are the sum total of our experiences and no two of us see and hear things in quite the same way, our artistic expressions will either be cheered or jeered depending upon the audience. This leads most artists to pursue study and practice throughout their artistic lifetime. As important as this educational focus may be, it’s imperative that we be reminded of why we paint.

The Therapeutic Nature of Art: Many years ago, I was fortunate to be part of a professional group of artists who were having a discussion, after a long day of en plein air painting, on why we painted. As the discussion travelled around the table, many practical and philosophical reasons were shared. One comment has always stood out and had a profound effect on my own personal perspective. The artist stated, “The day I realized that no matter if I never sold another painting, never got into another exhibition, or never won another prize, I would still paint. It is the day I really started painting.” This simple statement pointed out that as much as the physical body requires certain nutrients to survive, so does the human soul. Painting, just like many of the arts, is therapeutic. It provides a conduit to emotional release. This is well demonstrated in how painting is being utilized today as a means of therapy and rehabilitation for traumatized individuals, such as soldiers returning from war.

As the United States mourns the tragic events of the past week, I am again reminded of the therapeutic qualities the arts provide. Orators will speak, authors will write, musicians will play, and artists will paint. Personally, I have no answers. There are no words I can find that are capable of communicating the profound grief I feel for the loved ones of those lost. All I can do is add a voice to the chorus by allowing my emotions to flow through my painting. I encourage all of you to do the same. It feeds our collective soul.

3 thoughts on “Why We Paint | Art As Therapy

  1. I love pastels

    Your comments brought to mind a book I read some years ago, Shaun McNiff’s “Art As Medicine”.
    “When the soul is in the process of ministering to itself, shamans and other imaginal persons appear and converge in a process that I call art as medicine>”

  2. jwditri

    It has been a horrendous week. Your painting soothes my soul. Thank you for helping us to more effectively express our emotions through painting. I love it that you always say, “paint from the heart.”

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