Get Happy: Make art your medicine

By Venta Rutkauskas –

Science proves what artists have always known—art is just plain good for you.

Ciel Patenaude will guide students through six weeks of creative exploration in The Art of the Draw held at the Central Cariboo Arts Centre in Williams Lake through February and March. Photo: Casey Bennett

In the chaos of crayons, paints, and piles of paper, my five-year-old daughter’s creative exploration merges expression and colour exquisitely. Each time she returns to the ‘canvas,’ it is a moment of freedom. Her eyes shine with joy, accomplishment upon completion, the work itself glows with pure energy, and her cup is filled. Does it sound like something you used to do, long ago, when you had the time and the courage to just get creative like that?

The focus here is to persuade you: once you read this, you’ll dive into the old craft cupboard or head to the art supplies shop because making art is like making magic. Seriously. What kind of magic, you ask? The healing, uplifting, soul-filling kind. Meditators get it, athletes, too—anyone who accesses the beautiful flow state, really. Will you find the flow immediately? Perhaps not. The thing is making art blends all the wonderful aspects of mindfulness practice into one delectable little package. Just keep showing up, and you’ll reap the benefits. A study published in Art Therapy, a journal devoted to the healing benefits of art, titled “Reduction of Cortisol Levels and Participants’ Responses Following Art Making,” concluded simply: making art is going to chill you out.

Local polymath Ciel Patenaude (polymath: a person of wide-ranging knowledge or learning) is a true champion for the practice of art making. Whether it be for her health and wellness clients or the little people she teaches, Ciel incites a knowing passion for the transformative practice of making art.

On February 12, Ciel is offering a six-week artist’s immersion for all skill levels, especially beginners. In The Art of the Draw, participants will develop both the practical skills of drawing alongside the nourishing practices involved in creating. She brings her own experiences as a life-long artist into the teaching setting. Ciel’s own personal exploration has led to numerous breakthroughs and discoveries, while her experience of drawing is now freeing and transcendent. In a recent conversation, she described the satisfaction of truly dropping into a flow state with her artwork. Flow is a term coined by the positive psychologist, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who says, “Flow is the secret to happiness… You are in the zone.”

While at first you might encounter some discomfort or feel vulnerable about your artwork, Ciel trusts implicitly in the process of creating.

“Art is somatic as an act of immersion,” she explains. “The body is involved and paired with awareness and observation.” In terms of mindfulness practice, bringing the body mind together in this way is one aspect of art’s healing magic. Ciel points out that in our digital age, our attention veers away from our surroundings. “The act of noticing what is here, right in front of you, is healing in the mundanity of it… Just in the fantastic simplicity of saying, ‘This is here and I’m going to draw it.’” In the act of art making, we anchor into the present moment, and we enter the tradition that, as author Junot Diaz has said, educates our soul.

In a culture that compares and where we compete for what we earn, it has become commonplace to assume that making art should fall under the same rules. Mark Twain observed, “Comparison is the death of joy,” and current research proves this observation. Our self-esteem is not ameliorated by comparing ourselves to others, though there can be some critical benefit in assessing your skills, for example. We have convinced ourselves that art is to be bought and sold, or needs to have a point. Our relationship to these strict boundaries around who can be an artist has diminished our creative freedom. In the process, we have also removed ourselves from pleasure on so many levels. My daughter’s unencumbered joyful experience of creativity is a brilliant model we can hold in our hearts as we begin to delve into our own personal artistic journey.

Human beings are creative beings. Immersion in the arts can offer a gateway into the subtle dimensions of our lives, whether it is to process emotional realities or confront deeper mysteries. It activates within us ways of knowing that don’t fit in structured learning models. In fact, one could argue that making art is a practice of self-knowing, building trust and intuition in your daily life.

The act of seeing art also changes the brain, releasing dopamine that is akin to the flare of romantic love. University of London professor Semir Zeki found that the neurotransmitter dopamine increases to this loving level when we are in the presence of art we resonate with, and that even less pleasurable pieces invoked a dopamine response. When you consider that making art adds physical and spiritual dimensions to this response, you begin to understand why Ciel believes, “Art is really the best medicine.”

Using techniques from several established teachers, including Dr. Betty Edwards’ Drawing from the Right Side of the Brain, Ciel’s intention for the drawing class is to build technical skill while also freeing the artistic process. These two streams give the two hemispheres of the brain balance, where the left side plans and assesses, but is surrendered to the right side to unleash the free flow of your own unique creativity. Most importantly, Ciel emphasizes releasing attachment to others liking your work. “Your artistic process should not be attached to whether people will like this,” she explains. “We need to teach people to feel confident in offering what is emanating from them, simply because it is happening through them.”

We’ve become so accustomed to avoiding uncomfortable or vulnerable experiences, but this is where the growth magic happens. Tap into your inner child’s wild abandon, make something, find the flow, and let go. Science says you’re going to get happy, and quickly at that. I double-dog dare you to find those art supplies.

The Community Art Council (CAC) is providing discounted tuition to youth (14-25 yrs.) and seniors. Inquire with Ciel at info@entelechyheals.com or (778) 267-2435. The cost is $210 (+tax). Course held Monday evenings from 6:30-8:30 p.m. at the Arts Center.

Venta Rutkauskas is the co-ordinator for the Community Arts Council of Williams Lake (CACWL). She is an advocate and lover of the arts, and has taught drama and written plays for young children. She is also passionate about the healing arts. To earn more about CACWL and local artists. williamslakecommunityartscouncil.com

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