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.
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.
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.
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.