Painting. Knitting. Gardening. Cooking. Crafting. Creative activities are not just pleasurable pastimes; it turns out they’re good for us! Creative outlets relieve stress, improve mood, and cultivate a healthy social life, helping us to age dynamically and vibrantly.
“We are on a trajectory toward health and wellness” is how Rachel Baerg, Winnipeg Art Gallery’s head of education, describes the gallery’s decision to conduct a pilot art project for people living with dementia.
The “Art to Inspire” program is for participants and their caregivers to view art under the guidance of a specially trained arts educator and respond to it in the studio by working with clay, watercolour, collage, and sculpture.
“We partnered with Alzheimer’s Society of Manitoba to provide supportive training for our team and the University of Manitoba Rehabilitation Sciences to ensure our program was backed by scientific research.” Raving about the overwhelmingly positive feedback, Baerg states, “It superseded our expectations.”
Art as wellness
“The goal was to make people feel welcome and comfortable and to build relationships. We encouraged conversation and became a community,” she says. Although one caregiver conveyed the challenge it sometimes took to coax their partner out of the comfort of their home, “Once they were there she blossomed and had a wonderful time.”
The gallery is offering the program again this fall and may add more sessions with increased demand. Baerg affirms, “Most people are returning. The caregivers said they had fun with their partner and were even inspired to buy art supplies for the home.”
Research supports the philosophy that stimulating activities such as photography, bird watching, dance, journalling, cooking, knitting, and gardening are good for overall health. Engaging in art or craft work in both midlife and late life is thought to reduce the risk for mild cognitive impairment and, of course, has the well-researched benefits of engaging in stimulating or productive activities.
Go to a comedy club, get tickets to a music festival, or take in a play. Viewing art is thought to be beneficial for our health.
Professionally led group arts instruction in particular, with its inherent social support, has a positive cognitive and quality-of-life outcome. Plus, it’s fun! Seniors can experience improved physical well-being, higher degrees of social inclusion, increased confidence, and an enhanced sense of accomplishment by enrolling in group activities.
Creating at midlife and beyond
“Self-expression is something that does not and should not ever stop.” Julia Cameron, the bestselling author of The Artist’s Way and It’s Never Too Late to Begin Again: Discovering Creativity and Meaning at Midlife and Beyond (TarcherPerigee, 2002, 2016), has made it her life’s mission to encourage people to discover their creativity. “All lives are colourful and interesting.”
“I always find them lively,” Cameron says of her students, some of whom are in their seventies. She herself turned 70 this year and is still teaching and writing poetry. “I just hired a personal trainer and work out three times a week. I feel more alive than ever.”
Channelling emotional struggle into art is the basis for art therapy. Freedom of expression, having a flow experience, and stimulating insight and self-understanding contribute to changes in cortisol levels and stress reduction, which benefit those managing stress or going through trauma such as dealing with cancer and depression.
Small, curious steps
She counters the common fears of “It’s too late to start now” and “I’m not the creative type” and finds ways to dispel the myth that art is only for people who are talented. Encouraged to work with her creativity tools, she witnesses students move from “I couldn’t do that” to “I think I’ll try it.” Cameron persuades her readers to take small, curious steps toward a more passionate and engaged life.
Practices to unleash your inner artist
1. Morning pages
Start each morning with three pages of raw, unfiltered, longhand writing. Patterns and insights will appear to tutor you into expansion and point you in interesting directions. Don’t be tempted to show them to others. This is your private wake-up call to coax you into self-examination and insights.
2. Artist’s dates
Take yourself on a weekly artist’s date to explore new interests or old passions. Browse an art store, try a new coffee shop, or wander an unfamiliar park. These mini adventures allow you to open up to fun and play. Go alone to foster a heightened sense of intimacy with yourself.
3. Walking in this world
A daily solitary 20-minute walk without earphones opens us to the delightful world around us. For centuries, artists have used this simple physical practice to connect to themselves, their surroundings, and a higher power. Walking brings reflection, regardless of whether you live in a natural or urban neighbourhood.
4. Be a beginner
Fill in the blanks:
- One adventure I still long to have is…
- If I let myself admit it, I would love to try…
- If I didn’t have to do it perfectly, I would start…