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How Art Can Help

Alexandria Piette 'The Blazing Heart of a Moonlight Arsonist'

By Braeden Pelton

Keeping yourself calm and grounded can be difficult. Being stressed, anxious, or sad can leave your mind racing and focused on only the negative. If you get stuck in that type of head space, it’s important to have something to fall back on and help you cope. 

 For many, art provides a helpful outlet in stressful times. Activities like doodling, music, sculpting, knitting all have been used for this purpose. Several studies have been conducted to prove this true. 

Drexel University conducted one such study in 2016. The study monitored a group of adults with ages ranging between 8 and 59, taking count of their cortisol levels (the chemical produced with stress) before and after a 45-minute period that participants had to make art. Most of the group wound up saying they felt less stressed with 75% of participants showing lessened levels of cortisol. 

With so many different art forms, there is an ample supply of potential coping techniques. The Collegiate asked a couple GRCC students how they use art to relieve stress. Alexandria Piette, 23, of Grand Rapids is majoring in pre-social work and human services, Sky Rodriguez, 22, of Grand Rapids is a cultural anthropology student, and Natalie Bahr, 19 of Rockford is a pre-art major.

Do you ever use art to cope with stress, anxiety, or anything else?

Piette: “When I’ve sought treatment for my mental health, I’ve been introduced to art therapy. I was an avid painter as a result. But lately I mostly venture into writing and college art. I find a lot of solace in writing poetry and essays.”

Rodriguez: “I use art to cope with a lot of things; anxiety, stress, depression, dark thoughts, and things I can’t explain with words. It’s never been hard to do art when it comes to coping with these feelings, it’s an outlet for me.”

Bahr: “Yes I have many times. I usually need to go to art for help because of (a) lack of outside resources. I also had a lot of people in my life contributing to the factors of what was going on. I don’t have the type of relationship with my family where I can talk about the things that are that much of a detriment to my mental health. 

Do these feelings ever make it harder to make art?

Piette: “Sometimes, I do notice that processing via writing can be harder than sitting with the emotions. Mapping out, my feelings and experiences can bring me back to those moments where I felt at my lowest. If I notice I’m struggling, I like to take time away from the peace to internally dissect how I am feeling. I ask myself questions surrounding what it is that I want to convey in my writing about these subjects. Do I want my audience to understand me objectively, or feel as if they are in my shoes?”

Rodriguez: “The only times stress or anxiety has ever made art hard for me is when it comes to school work. When I would stress over an art project to make something for a deadline, something I didn’t like making or something that didn’t bring a spark to me. It’s hard to force someone to make art when they don’t want to.”

Bahr: “It has made it more difficult. Sometimes how I feel can make it impossible to do art even if it’s all I want to do.”

Could you share a time where art has helped you mentally?

Piette: “One piece that comes to mind is my poem, ‘The Empty’, which was featured in GRCC‘s 2021 display magazine. I’ve also performed this poem at an open mic. It largely centers on my personal experience with grief. There was a lot to the grieving process I didn’t understand, but writing it creatively helped soothe the distress I was feeling with my recent losses. I considered it to be one of my best works, and I do feel it helped me tremendously to identify how I was coping through writing.”

Rodriguez: “When I was in school, K-12, I used art as a way to get out of negative situations, both from my home life, school, and even in my own head. I used art to escape reality or face my own reality. It made coming to terms with my issues a lot easier because I could see the toll on something or could explain it easier.”

Bahr: “I have used both writing and painting to talk about and get out (of) feeling suicidal and my want to self harm rather than hurting myself. It’s helped me process different emotions that I wouldn’t have been able to otherwise.”

Have you ever made a piece because you felt you were in a bad place and used that as inspiration? 

Piette: “I write about my experiences, with depression and anxiety, all the time. In my worst moments, I turn into a pen and page. My mental health is my greatest source of inspiration, which is both positive and negative. Ultimately, I feel my experiences can be related to, and I hope that by writing about them, people both understand mental health/neurodivergent and feel comforted in their own circumstances.”

Rodriguez: “Yeah, when I broke up with my ex, I made a drawing about being trapped in a jar of poison. But I made that piece because I felt like I had been freed from a really bad situation. But when you go through breakups, those are the best vent art you can make.”

Bahr: “I have made many art pieces because I was in a bad place and drawing on that as my inspiration. A lot of times it’s been easier to draw from that rather than things that bring me joy because it’s what’s on the forefront of my mind.”

Art can be a huge resource when you need to get into a better headspace. You can make some vent art, listen to music, crochet, etc.. Creating can help you express your feelings or distract you from it.  If you want some ideas, there are plenty of lists that recommend ways to try this out.

Alexandria Piette ‘The Blazing Heart of a Moonlight Arsonist’ Pierson VanGorp | The Collegiate Live
Sky Rodriguez ‘Rainy Mushroom’ Pierson VanGorp | The Collegiate Live
Natalie Bahr ‘July’ Pierson VanGorp | The Collegiate Live
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