Creating Wellness: The Power of Art

~ By Amy Jones, MA, LPCC ~

“Art knows no age. The body may change, but the imagination still burns bright.” – Jane Alexander, Actress and Former Chair of the National Endowment for the Arts

“Wow! I didn’t know I could do this!” Charlotte proudly held up the soft pink blanket she created with the other members of an expressive arts group at an assisted living community.
As they touched the pieces of fabric, the group members talked about the blankets they had as children, the quilts their grandmothers made, and the clothes they sewed for their own families.
Like the varied colors and patterns of a well-loved blanket, older adults have many rich and dynamic textures in their lives. Sometimes though, it can be a challenge for care providers to find meaningful activities that promote self-expression and freedom of choice. As an art therapist, I help facilitate the creative process while emphasizing capabilities, providing community connections, and fostering self-awareness.

John Zeisel, President and co-founder of Hearthstone Alzheimer Care, writes in his book I’m Still Here, “Art touches and engages the brain in a more profound way than other activities. Music, painting, sculpture, comedy, drama, poetry, and other arts link separate brain locations in which memory skills lie.”Art is the language of self-expression and connection. In my art groups, artistic expression is emphasized over artistic technique or skill. Whether you’ve painted a masterpiece or carried a can of paint out of a Home Depot, creativity is part of your essential self.

The art process allows us to visually explore past and present beliefs about ourselves. Art creation is “beyond words,” often revealing images that cannot be expressed through language. Creativity helps us see options; the possibilities outside of usual life patterns that can leave us feeling stuck in a rut. For example, a woman who was mourning losses she experienced in her younger years created a collage that included images of her early life. The fragments of color and images formed an arrangement on the paper that resembled an open heart – a shape that seemed to take form spontaneously and without effort. The woman described how seeing the shape of an open heart gave her a better understanding of how her early life experiences influenced her current life, but did not entirely define her. There is room for growth and possibility in an open heart.

Through art creation, we make choices and decisions to determine the direction of the art image. The art process involves numerous opportunities for expressing thoughts and preferences, including choice of art materials, size of the image, shape, color, pattern, and so forth.  Art-making allows us to have a sense of control, and ultimately the creation of a life-affirming art image that has personal meaning to the artist.

As the art group added fabric squares to the blankets, one of the participants said, “We’re connecting it all together!” Art connects us to who we are. We determine the direction of what we create, explore what is possible, and have more opportunities to say, “Wow! I didn’t know I could do this!”

Amy Jones, MA, LPCC, is an art therapist and owner of Colorado Art Therapy, LLC. She has been promoting creative engagement for people of all ages for over 15 years. She loves working with seniors in their homes and in care communities to facilitate the creative process, promote self-expression, and enhance well-being. Contact Amy at arttherapyjones@gmail.com or visit www.coloradoarttherapy.com