ART AND ITS IMPACT ON MENTAL HEALTH

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Picture this, the guy/girl you have been crushing on for months has finally noticed you and you are going on a date, how do you feel?

“IM WALKING ON SUNSHINE AND DON’T IT FEEL GOOD HEY”

Have you ever thought why that is? Well I am here to give you an inside look on how music, art or any form of creative media can impact your mental health, whether it’s a good emotion or a sad emotion.

The study of creative outlets and the effect they have on mental health began in 1942 by a British artist named Adrian Hill, who was recovering from tuberculosis. He discovered that drawing and painting was therapeutic and uplifting and that the more artwork he created, the more his spirit fought the disease, and allowed him to communicate with doctors and people around him.

Today the subject is studied world-wide and in all types of media; music, performing arts, etc. Some of the practices of arts in mental health is to bring out unresolved issues or emotions the client/artist may have communicating not only with themselves but also with the people around them. I have divided this piece into three interviews – music, visual and performing.

MUSIC: Caroline Pham music student

 Q, Have you ever felt, as a music student that some of the music you play doesn’t relate to what who are feeling at the time?

A. Definitely, although it’s not necessarily a bad thing. At Uni we are encouraged to experiment with a wide range of styles which I personally appreciate. In saying that, however, there are days where I’m asked to play something technically challenging like jazz or Bach, but all I feel like playing are 3-chord rock songs. It’s not easy playing difficult pieces when I’m not in the mood, but at the end of the day I can look back and say “I pushed myself today”.

Q, As everyone is different, do you have a certain genre that you can relate with?

A. I  love aspects of all genres, but alternative rock has to be the one that speaks to me and excites me the most.

Q. When you’re writing or playing your instrument, what are some of the emotions you may (or may not) be feeling?

A. One of the most exciting experiences you can have while creating any form of art is feeling like a channel for your instrument to speak through (or vice versa depending on how you look at it). It’s almost as if your instrument becomes an extension of yourself, and working together to create something meaningful and beautiful. It doesn’t happen every time I pick up my guitar, but it’s a very liberating and whimsical feeling.

Q. Is there a time where you have found that your music hasn’t helped you with an issue/emotions?

A. I wish I could say otherwise, but there have been many times. I’ve learnt that my guitar isn’t a fix for all of my problems – there have even been times where playing has exacerbated those problems. If I’m frustrated or exhausted, the last thing I want to do is play as doing so could frustrate me further. You could look at art as a life partner; you will love them endlessly, but there will be times where you need time to yourself – and that’s okay!

PERFORMING: Peter Hagan actor/singer

Q. If you are playing a character that has been through a lot, what are some of the ways that you connect with them?

A. My job as an actor is to connect to the character and discover what it is they are all about, so when performing as that character people are trapped in the illusion that I really am him. I first read my script and gather all the clues about my character that I can. I then use my own life experiences to see if we have anything in common,  try to relate that the best way to the character. If I have nothing in common, I research what they are going through or ask people who might have experienced those situations and try to convey them the best I can.

Q. What are some of the emotions you may feel when preforming and ways you embrace them?

A. It all depends on the character. I played an orphaned teenage prostitute in a show called “Shopping and Fucking”. His whole character was focused on being loved, but also being free. His freedom however was through death. When playing that character I had so many emotions. I felt personal connections to Gary more than anyone I have played , due to him wanting a dad. I used my own experience in not having my dad around when I was a child. I have to execute control to make sure my emotions don’t take over the performance. I embrace the emotions in the present with the character and his situation, but at the end I let it go until next performance.

Q. As a performer do you ever feel like your mental health impacts your performance either good or bad?

A. Absolutely! Mental health is everything when performing. When you are feeling good about life and yourself, when you have that confidence, I feel I am unstoppable on stage. It not only affects my frame of mind, but others. When I played Rocky. the role required me to be pretty much naked in front of everyone. This wasn’t a problem, however when people laughed because I wasn’t as defined as the original Rocky in the movie (Rocky Horror Picture Show) it played with my confidence and self-esteem. I had to be spray-tanned and felt so fake, and steadily I drifted away from myself and felt sad and just wanted the show to be over before it even began. In the end I left the role due to my mental health.

Q. Is there a time where you have found that music or acting hasn’t helped you with an issue/emotions?

A. Yes there have been many times where singing a song just did nothing to ease my internal pain and sorrow. Sometimes no matter what you do, you just can’t get over that bump in the road. Singing for me is usually my first outlet for frustration or when I’m sad and can’t cry. They act as tools to help me cope. But when they can’t do anything I usually just wait until it passes. Performing is my job, but is also my passion so I have to always be ready, but there are times when I perform and it feels just like going through the motions. A curtain opens, lines are said with no meaning or conviction – songs sung with no passion or emotion and an audience that claps. When those days happen, I try to find other outlets to cope with the emotions or issues I am dealing with, either in my career or personal life.

VISUAL ART: Kathy Pham artist

Q. How does your emotions impact on the outcome of your artwork?

A. Greatly, I don’t think I have ever entered into a creative project with just an absent mind. My best work has always been when I was feeling the most emotional. In the process of drawing, I have always been fueled by my state of mind. Lately it has always been feelings of frustration and stress, which has had a negative impact in my life. I try my best to channel these emotions into something more productive, positive and rewarding and that is through visual art. That is not to say, however, that I only experience negative things because I also express my feelings at times of success! I have always been very open about my thoughts and feelings when it comes to my artwork with the intent to encourage others to channel their emotions in a healthy and positive way.

Q, Do you feel there is a connection between different types of methods and emotions?

A. From personal experience, I remember going through a trialing phase where I was experimenting with different materials, and this ranged from traditional methods to modern digital techniques. I was surprised at how different approaches were able to elicit distinctive patterns of emotions and thoughts. Eventually, you want to try and find a method that is able to accurately translate your ideas and keep in control your emotions, and it is a very surreal moment when it all just clicks.

Q. As an artist, is there any kind of fear in showing your work as it is a reflection of your emotions?

A. I can understand why for some it would be difficult to present your vulnerability to the eyes’ of strangers. Sharing your artwork to people can become a deeply personal experience, which can become daunting. But for me, I have never had any fear in expressing my thoughts, feelings, and phases through my art. In fact, and I’m sure that for many artists too, a creative project is the best way to channel and communicate these emotions. One can choose to remain reserved, but visual arts encourages us to do otherwise, and this philosophy should always be embraced.

Q. Is there a time where you have found that your artwork hasn’t helped you with an issue/emotions?

A. During the process of creating a piece where I confront my insecurities, my fears and my stresses – which obviously can be destructive – it was these thoughts that at times have killed my drive to continue because I started to trust in my weaknesses. I often saw these failures as a signal to turn back. It was a cycle of toxic thoughts that resulted in several blocks that artists often have, but in a greater sense, it was a state of mind that was not healthy to be in. I knew it was not a practical situation to be in, but sometimes I couldn’t help it and become absent; not just in my art but also in everyday things.

So if you are an instrumental musician, an actor/singer or an artist, the music, art or characters you create and play can reflect the emotion you are feeling at the time, and if you are involved with these different types of creative outlets, it’s another way for you to communicate those emotions.

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