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  • Writer's pictureShannon Gerrity

Unlock Your Inner Artist and Reduce Stress with Two Techniques

Got stress? Great news:  art making reduces stress levels, even if you’re not “good” at it. Girija Kaimal and her research team from Drexel University found that, “There were no significant differences in outcomes based on prior experiences with art making, media choice, or gender.” Regardless of aptitude, art making lowers cortisol levels.  

In other words: just make art - any kind of art - no matter who you are, because it’s good for you!

If only it were that easy, right?

Even with compelling research, it can be intimidating and inner-critic-taunting to think about, much less approach, art making. We are confronted with our art (making) history, our own ideas of good art, and sometimes a mismatch of skill and vision. Art is a perspective as much as it is a process and a product. Adjusting your lens around art making can unlock your inner artist and provide a new tool for reducing stress (and increasing productivity - but that’s another article). 

If you are enticed by the nutrients of art making but aren’t quite sure how to soothe the critic, unlock your inner artist, or process the product, here are two techniques to follow:  

One: Art is Ish

Don’t be fooled by the (inner) critic: there is no good or bad, right or wrong in art. Art is quirky and individual, alive and resonating, magnificent and very human. Art is a practice like golf or yoga or life. In other words: art is ish. Ish art, or art that is ish, celebrates the human hand, intuition, experimentation, and stone cold practice - the very variables that create resonating art. Human made art isn’t going to be perfect; that'd be robotic and frankly, boring. Just as a party starts at 8:00-ish, paint your tree-ish, sculpt your robtot-ish, and allow your expectations to fall away...ish. Look no further than Basquiat, Banksy, and Ashley Longshore to see that ish art, and the exploration of art itself, is just as valuable as an acutely realistic, seemingly perfect painting. Many cultures purposefully weave imperfection into their art as a nod to a higher power or nature. When we allow ourselves to make art without perfection or expectation, we invite adaptability, play, connection, and refueling. These qualities and behaviors are healthy for us, no matter our skill level. Art making is for everyone. And everyone can make art.   

A tip or two: when the critic surfaces, simply state, “this is Ish. I’m making Ish art.” Or, channel Bob Ross and remember that, “we don’t make mistakes; we have happy accidents.” Read Peter Reynolds’ book, Ish. And then: see technique Two.

In sum: you do you. And make your art...ish.

Two: Communicate with Kindness

(to yourself, to others, to the art)

“Do you like my art?” can be a gnawing wonder of art makers. When we pause and notice, and peel away a layer, what we really want to know is: "Do you see me?” “Do you connect to this art?” “Do you recognize what I’ve created?” “Does it resonate with you?” "Will you be kind to my art (because this is a piece of me)?"

Instead of liking or disliking the art, see the art. State what you notice, share what provokes a response, express how the art makes you feel. You aren’t going to like all of your art products; you don’t have to. Like or dislike, you can still see the product for what it is and how it came to be.    

Art is alive. Ceramics professor Susan Classen-Sullivan says, “ask the clay what it wants to be.” Sure, this may sound like a dose of wu wu. And yet we know that when artists surrender their control and simply explore and experiment, processes and products are born that could not have been delivered with preconceived, precise expectations. Our imaginations can be quite limited. Let the art tell you who it wants to be and what it has to say; or as Rumi wrote, “welcome and entertain them all.”  

A tip or two:  Practice making statements about art; notice without judging. Statements such as, “the blue line really stands out” or, “I see movement in the blue line,” resonate differently than, “I really like/dislike this work.” It's helpful to pause and reflect upon art - to hypothesize what is working or not working within the piece. Practice being kind while also growing from your learning. When you notice unhelpful, critical thoughts, ask yourself, “Am I communicating with kindness?” If the answer is no, return to the first approach: Art is Ish.         

In sum: it’s not about liking (your) art. See the art and accept it for what it is. Listen for the context; look for the message. Be kind to whatever and whoever comes to the table.

When the rules don’t work, when making ish art and communicating with kindness are a struggle, look to nature for perspective and inspiration. Nature is full of process, iteration, adaptation, and imperfection; interestingly, we consider it authentic, interconnected, awe-inspiring, and powerful. Sit with nature and watch it breathe. Look for its ish and kindness; look for its art. Are we and our art any different? Art, like nature, is a comment and a context, a beating rhythm and a living heart.  

“Art is standing with one hand extended into the universe and one hand extended into the world, and letting ourselves be a conduit for passing energy.” Albert Einstein

Be kind, embrace ish, and make art! Your stress level will thank you.  

Shannon Gerrity is the founder of Creative Flow. Creative Flow brings curated art making experiences to organizations and individuals that value creativity as a tool for well-being. Shannon is a California licensed art educator, a 200-hour Kripalu certified yoga instructor, and an active artist showing work in the Bay Area.  

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