Creativity just might be the most powerful tool in your possession to help you overcome the mental strain of a crisis. Find out why it worked for Winston Churchill.
You’ve landed on one of 28 posts about photography and how to improve your skills. If you’re a creative, blogger, or photography enthusiast, you’ve landed in the right spot!
What Churchill Did May Shock You
“Two point seven six million dollars,” I exclaimed. “Who would have thought a picture of a goldfish pond could sell for that much money.”
I spoke to an empty room. Still, the price tag on one of Winston Churchill’s paintings had my head spinning. I had only discovered the fact that Churchill even painted the day before, whilst listening to a biography of his wife, Clementine.
The author, Sonia Purnell, tells how Churchill suffered from depressive periods in his life. He experienced an especially dark one after he lost his cabinet position as part of the fallout from Britain’s disastrous leadership during the Dardanelles Campaign during World War I.
A man of robust action and intellect, Churchill struggled with the inactivity from his job loss and his withdrawal from political life. His wife and close friends feared that Churchill would self-destruct.
The summer after his fall from Grace, the Churchill family spent the summer with Winston’s sister-in-law, Goonie, and her children at a large country estate. Everyone noticed his dark moods and sought ways to lighten them. Finally, Goonie handed him a children’s paint set and suggested that perhaps it might entertain him.
Thus, began Churchill’s introduction to the world of art. Clementine bought him his own setup the following day, and Churchill threw himself into his creative endeavors. Churchill called painting “a wonderful new world of thought and craft” (Purnell 87). In fact, he credited painting with helping him withstand the pressures and emotions of that horrible time in his life.
Using Creativity to Keep One’s Sanity
At over forty years old, Churchill had never even been to an art exhibition. But when he embraced his creativity, he started visiting art galleries with Clementine. He continued to develop his artistic skills under the tutelage of artist friends for the rest of his life.
Painting became a way to express his creativity and work through what burdened him. We can learn from Churchill. His story proves we don’t have to grow up creative or artistic to embrace the benefits of creativity later in life. And who knows? You might fall in love with something and your heirs could sell your creations for millions of dollars.
Come to think of it, I didn’t discover the power of creativity to help me through dark times until my 40s, either. And, like Churchill, I continue to improve my skills. I doubt if any of my photographs will ever sell of $2.76 million, though! But making money isn’t the point. Improving my mental health and outlook in life are the only benefits I need.
Meet My Therapist
I’ve learned more from my therapist in the last ten years than I ever could have imagined. Like many decisions in my life, I stumbled upon the use of a therapist by accident—but in retrospect, I realize how much I needed one. The money and time I’ve invested has certainly paid off beyond my expectations.
Once, during a particularly stressful period of my life, I ran out the door in the middle supper and sprinted through three feet of powdery snow to spend time with my therapist. We watched the sunset together, and despite the freezing cold, I felt rejuvenated after our session.
Ok, that sounds bad. I’ll confess. I call my camera my ‘therapist’ and I probably should have started seeing a human therapist years ago. Back when I first experienced stress from cancer caregiving—but I didn’t. I worked through a lot of those issues through journaling, Bible study, and prayer (not to mention many heart-to-heart talks with my husband).
In lieu of seeing a professional (I worked two jobs and didn’t have time for office visits), I rediscovered an old love. A love I met the summer I turned 16 when I purchased my first ‘pro’ camera with tip money I earned working at a restaurant in Cooper Landing, Alaska. The camera came with a telephoto zoom lens and a 50mm lens, and I spent hours photographing nature. I even took a photography class in college to hone my skills.
But somewhere, between diplomas, marriage, diapers and daily life, I’d quit taking photos. During my hiatus, the world of photography changed from Kodak to digital. Fifteen years ago, I enrolled in a digital photography class as part of my credential renewal requirements—and my love affair with photography took a new turn.
Creativity as Therapist, for Me, I Call it Cameratheraphy
For the last fifteen years, I’ve worked on my craft—and discovered the therapeutic value of photography. While many people might not see creativity as akin to therapy, I have some good reasons to classify creativity (in my case, photography) as therapy.
1. Therapy (and creativity) involves going outside one’s comfort zone.
I normally eschew all temperatures above 72 and below 69—but for a good photo I’ll stand outside in 95% humidity at 99˚ just to photograph a bird (I’ll even hike miles and miles to get to the place where I can see the bird). I’ll dash outdoors in sub-zero weather to snag the perfect shot of a sunset or sunrise.
2. Therapy involves learning new coping skills.
I discovered that instead of turning to carbohydrates when life stresses me out, I can turn to Canon. Walking around the neighborhood in search of ordinary beautiful melts the stress out of my mind.
3. Therapy involves accommodations.
One’s family members have to accustom themselves to your trips to the office, repeated references to, ‘My therapist says…’, etc. My family has graciously accommodated my mid-dinner sprints outside to photograph something interesting, the sudden slamming of the car breaks so I can hop out of the car and photograph a hawk. I usually remember to put the car in park before I get out…usually. They willingly join me on early morning treks in search of rare birds or a golden glow.
4. Therapy involves practicing new skills.
I spend many enjoyable hours sorting and cataloging the photos I take. As my skills improve with post-processing programs, I like to revisit old shots with potential and unlock the key to make them pop.
5. Therapy strengthens family relationships.
I have grown closer to my husband, parents and children as we spend time outdoors exploring nature and photographing it. Sarah and I have a new motto (one I DON’T advise that you incorporate into your life)—“Photo first, safety second!”
A fringe benefit of cameratherapy has also turned into an anti-Alzheimer’s agenda for me. I’ve discovered the beauty of birds. Researchers say one can avoid Alzheimer’s in old age if one keeps learning new things. I’ve learned about bird species and bird habits and how to best photograph birds.
There you have it. I don’t advocate skipping formal therapy. When faced with a crisis, every person will handle it differently. My own journey back to health probably took longer than it needed to because I didn’t avail myself of a real therapist. But I know for certain that my camera helped speed up the process. Not to mention giving me a healthy dose of the vitamin Es—exercise, enjoyment, and excitement.
You own a camera for a reason. Or you purchased your phone for the camera features. Whatever the case, spend some time today thinking about creativity and how it benefits you. Has your camera become your therapist? Do you use it to capture beauty, tell stories, or evoke emotions?
Does photographing beauty help you forget the darkness in the world? Or perhaps telling a story with pictures helps expunge it from your soul. Only you know how the creativity of photography (or anything else) can really act as your therapist.
Own up to it! Introduce me to your ‘therapist’ in the comments section. I’d love to hear how creativity helps you cope with all that life throws at you.