Art is here to help you, not to stress you out


Hailey Stessman

Art activities, no matter how small, have helped me maintain a somewhat stable mental state while finishing the semester. Graphic by Hailey Stessman/The Gateway

If you’re anything like me, art was something to be feared in childhood. I always thought you had to reach a certain level of perfection or be born with a special talent in order to make “good art.” When coloring during art class in elementary school, I would rip a hole in the paper from the amount of times I erased my countless attempts of creating the perfect circle. Sometimes the thought of creating art for a grade caused more anxiety than joy.

It wasn’t until I experienced my first mental breakdown from stress in high school that my mind switched its opinion about art. It had been a while since I was in an art class and my creations were put up for examination and a letter grade. It had been months since I picked up a marker or pencil and tried sketching on a piece of paper. The thought of creating art hid away in the back of my mind. But after going through physical and mental distress from schoolwork, I found myself gravitating toward the pretty adult coloring books in Barnes and Noble and buying myself a pack of colored pencils to use while coloring in between my study sessions.

Art no longer scared me. For the first time in what felt like forever, art was fun.

As a student struggling amidst the deadlines and the growing stack of reading assignments, not to mention juggling extracurricular commitments virtually due to COVID-19, I have found myself returning to the calming practice of creating art. My fellow college students who are struggling along beside me while trying to finish this semester of online classes: Give art a chance. It can help us find solace within this hectic environment we live in and give us a space to express ourselves in a way that doesn’t include reaching a word count or getting the right number in an equation.

The enjoyment of art does not need to be rooted solely in the sphere of academia or knowledge within an art establishment. You do not need to be an educated art historian or a painter like Picasso in order to wander the halls of a museum or enjoy a piece of art that comes up on your social media feed.

The definition of art does not simply fit into one neatly packed box. Art is not limited to just Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” or Leonardo da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa.” It is not purely planning a weekend to the Louvre Museum in Paris or the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. It includes the knitting project you haven’t touched in months, and the adult coloring books you find at Target and even the stick figures you draw on sticky notes. Art is music, film, poetry and so much more.

So, I invite you to ask yourself: When was the last time you mindlessly doodled in your notes?

When was the last time you whipped out your old watercolor paints? Or attempted a new craft or hobby you’ve been meaning to try?

These slight integrations of art in your daily life while being in quarantine can make a big difference.

According to a study published in the “Journal of the American Art Therapy Association,” 75% of participants found a decrease in their levels of cortisol, the main stress hormone, after spending 45 minutes engaged in an art activity.

Whether visually looking or actively creating something is your preferred way of appreciating art, our minds are able to use this creative outlet as a way to relax while still being stimulated in a calming manner.

“We now live in a moment where we have a beautiful convergence of what the art world has known intuitively and what the science of psychology says,” UNO professor Adrian Duran said. 

For example, doctors in Montreal and England are even starting to prescribe art for patients as a way to cope with anxiety, depression and trauma. It provides people with a type of distraction from unhealthy habits, a feeling of accomplishment and an overall sense of happiness. Therapists are also encouraging their clients to set aside an afternoon to walk through a museum by themselves.

“[Museums] are no longer temples of high culture and spaces of elitism. They are places of wellness, happiness and enjoyment,” Duran said. “We should treat museums like we do parks and baseball stadiums. These are things we do because they’re good for us and because we find enjoyment in pleasure and self-discovery.”

If you prefer a trip to the museum, which you can also do in the safety of your home, or prefer doodling on your math homework, know that art is here to help you. So please, for the sake of your health and your sanity, make art. Look at it. Listen to it. Absorb it. There’s no harm in trying it out.