Should you abandon art during a crisis? Only if you want to cut off an important way to take care of yourself! Why art matters--all the time.

Should you abandon art during a crisis? Only if you want to cut off an important way to take care of yourself! Why art matters–all the time.

During the present COVID-19 crisis, we all need reminders on how to take care of ourselves. When disaster strikes, we easily forget familiar routines and ways of managing healthy self-care. April’s series will provide hacks for self-care–mental, artistic/academic, physical, and spiritual–during a crisis.

Should you abandon art during a crisis? Only if you want to cut off an important way to take care of yourself! Why art matters--all the time.

An Unusual Art Walk

“That’s some weird art,” Pedro said, as we shambled down the hallway of Eleven Long, UCSF’s (University of California San Francisco) Parnassus Campus hospital’s cancer ward.

“I stopped earlier and read a plaque on the other hall,” I told Pedro as I matched my usually long stride to his painfully slow shuffle. “An art therapist came to the hospital one year and worked with the patients. They framed some of the pieces and hung them around the hospital.”

“Huh. That’s cool,” he said

I thought of the watercolor set a well-meaning friend had given me right after Pedro received his diagnosis back in April. I hadn’t touched it.

I felt a little resentful that anyone could imagine I’d have time to learn how to paint during a crisis. It seemed selfish to even imagine myself splashing colors on a page while our lives spiraled out of control under cancer’s deadly grip.

Years later, as I dove into the world of digital photography, I started to understand the power of art as an important part of a healthy self-care routine.

My friend hadn’t intended that I take up watercolor painting in the first months of cancer crisis. She did want to provide the means so that I could have a creative outlet at some point—when the sudden changes cancer caused had settled into a new routine.

Sadly, I never untwisted the tubes of paint or spread out the watercolor paper. If I had, perhaps my healing from Pedro’s cancer wouldn’t have taken so long.

What Happens When We Stay in Survival Mode

Instead of squeezing color into a palette and lettings my brush wander with abandon over blank page, I poured myself into the caretaker role. I armed myself with a new vocabulary and read up on the details of my husband’s disease.

Should you abandon art during a crisis? Only if you want to cut off an important way to take care of yourself! Why art matters--all the time. #art #beauty #awe #crisis #COVID-19 #selfcare #SelfCareSunday #shelterinplace #activities #millionmaskforce

My stress level rose, and I added to it by cutting out exercise and reading. I worried that others would judge me if they saw me ‘wasting time’ on ordinary pleasures during a crisis. In retrospect, I see my thoughts as misguided attempts to deal with the unknown. I thought that excising the ‘frivolous’ would help me operate more efficiently. Instead, I set myself adrift without the familiarity of paddles.

Routines and procedures help us feel safe because they automate areas of our lives. When our routines get disrupted by things like shelter-in-place orders and social distancing, we feel adrift. That feeling of uncertainty can cause us to turn to other things—unhealthy things—to deal with our angst. I turned to food and bidding for Longaberger baskets on eBay. Instead of self-care, I used self-indulgence.

In retrospect, I would have done things a lot differently. I would have worried less about how people thought we should ‘do cancer’ and more about taking care of myself during a crisis. I have learned from my mistakes, and managed to stay healthy and take care of myself during our daughter’s mental health crisis.

During our current COVID-19 crisis, I continue to use what I learned in the past to help me exercise artistic self-care. At this time in life, we don’t have any little ones at home, so that makes staying home from work a lot easier. Those of you who have kids home from school have an opportunity to model and teach healthy artistic self-care to your children.

1. Do it YOUR Way

‘Art’ doesn’t mean pencils and paper or paint and canvass. You can create art in the kitchen, whether you decorate a cake or create a recipe. Art can happen with a camera or a camera phone.

Don’t conform to someone else’s ideal of art, create your own! For art the other day, my three-year-old grandson cut the craft instructions from his developmental pre-school into dozens of tiny pieces.

His huge grin and look of concentration while he cut proves that art is personal and we shouldn’t worry about doing it the ‘right way.’

2. Take Time Each Day for a Creative Endeavor

Schedule your creative time in your daily plan to ensure that you make the time to create. If you have children at home, involve them in the decision-making process. Pinterest has a huge wealth of age-appropriate projects and crafts.

You’ll model planning, material gathering, and giving creative endeavors a priority when you share the process with your kids.

Stuck sheltering at home? Don't abandon creativity. Model artistic self-care by doing art with your kids. #shelterinplace #art #selfcare Click To Tweet

3. Don’t Let Perfectionism Prevent You from Participation

When I look at a beautiful watercolor painting, I sometimes wonder why in the world I want to attempt using watercolors. I somehow expect that my first effort should look as beautiful as the end result of someone who has painted for years.

How silly of me. The self-care of artistic expression doesn’t come from finished product—it comes from the journey of discovery. Set yourself free to explore and discover.

Many artists offer free art classes for kids and adults during the quarantine. This website has a list you can explore with your kids.

Great Courses Plus also has a free one-month membership where you can take more formal art classes.

4. Do Art for Others

If you have a sewing machine, you could express your creativity through creating surgical masks for friends, family, elderly church members, or even medical facilities. I rummaged through my sewing supplies and discovered I had plenty of elastic (we won’t talk about how much fabric I have).

The CDC website has instructions, and you can find a list of hospital systems that have specific instructions for use at their institutions.

Deaconess Hospital’s website offers not only patterns, instructions, and a video, but it has instructions for donating or requesting donations.

Take joy in creating something for a worthy cause. You might also discover one of your children has a talent for cutting or sewing.

5. Chronicle of Beauty

Find one beautiful thing each day and snap a photo of it. Take time to look at it in awe and wonder. Responding to beauty with awe helps elevate our mood and even prevent inflammation.

Evidently, scientists can now prove the Bible true—“A cheerful heart is good medicine,” Proverbs 17:22

Having a visual reminder of the things you regard with awe will bring back those positive feelings throughout the day.

A Time of Crisis is NOT the Time to Leave Out Art

I learned the hard way that we shouldn’t banish art from our lives during times of crisis. Rather, we should embrace it in whatever way possible. It took me about seven years to begin processing all I’d gone through as a caregiver. And it took a camera to start me on my journey.

Creativity helps mitigate the loss and changes that occur during a crisis. Creativity signals hope for the future. #art #creativity #COVID-19 #crisis Click To Tweet

I’ve discovered that creating helps mitigate the loss and changes. We use our powers of creativity to signal hope for the future. So during times of crisis, we need to turn toward art and creativity, not relegate it to the sidelines.

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17 Comments

  1. You had some very wise & caring friends Anita during Pedro’s time of cancer.

    I love how you have given practical solutions & permission to be creative & artistic, I think we need that!
    Hope you’re enjoying this time of celebrating that He is Risen! 😀
    Bless you,
    Jennifer
    Tea With Jennifer recently posted…“For such a time as this…”My Profile

  2. I love the reminder that creativity will look different for different people. I used to think creativity meant doing crafts, but there are myriad ways to express our creativity, and it does the heart so good.
    Barbara Harper recently posted…Waiting in HopeMy Profile

  3. Good morning, Anita! I enjoyed this post. At the beginning of quarantine, I started writing a daily list for our fridge. First and foremost so we would know the day & date! (Sort of like they do on a hospital room’s white board!) Then I list the things we’re all doing…needs, must, fun. There’s always whatever schooling has to happen, exercise, any household chores, and always something creative. This has kept us balanced, as otherwise I’d be all work & no play (& the rest of my family would be all play & no work!). And secondly…thank you, thank you, thank you to you & your daughter Sara–for having the courage & generosity of heart to share your story of her mental health journey. We have been on one with our daughter, who turns 16 today. Your willingness to be vulnerable brings me comfort + hope. I don’t know if you’ve felt this way or not, but when you’re ‘in it,’ everyone else around you looks like they’re time on this earth has been a cakewalk. And I think a lot of people strive to make it LOOK that way. Know that you companioned us this morning, and I am grateful. Love, Carolyn

  4. I agree, doing something creative can be a great way to switch off, and at times of crisis we really do need those moments when we can think about something else!

  5. I loved your idea of chronicling beauty each day. I do love to take pictures of paths or roads, and white church houses, but there is a world of beauty outside that!

  6. Thank you for these apt reminders that we need to do what works for us and not worry about how others will judge us for it. I’ve felt somewhat guilty doing more sudoku and jigsaw puzzles during these stressful times, but really, who cares? ha. If it keeps me sane, that helps the world too. 🙂

  7. Fantastic ways to move on in this tough time. Well written, Anita! 😊 Also, thank you for the link party. Great to see so many creative people around.

  8. Hello! It’s been so long since I’ve had time to visit my blog friends. I love the self-care focus of your current sight. This statement got me, “Instead of self-care, I used self-indulgence.” Such an important distinction. They really are different, but I see many times where I’ve made the same mistake. Thanks for the encouragment to stay creative during this time. Blessings to you:)

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Anita Ojeda

Anita Ojeda juggles writing with teaching high school English and history. When she's not lurking in odd places looking for rare birds, you can find her camping with her kids, adventuring with her husband or mountain biking with her students.

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