Art Can Be Harmful: How to use Creative Expression the Right Way


There is this common idea that art therapy is great because art is healing. It relieves stress, decrease anxiety, depression, and lots of mental disorders and it makes you healthy. It’s like magic. You make art and you’re gonna be better. It’s gonna be rainbows and ponies.


I hate to break it to you,

But not all art is wonderful.


Not all art-making is great

And healing

And amazing.


The problem is when people think everything’s good and they do art, incorporating it wherever. People do coloring books, therapists do art with clients, and paint nights with friends.


It’s supposed to be great, wherever you use it, whoever you do it with, and however you do it, right?


Not really.


The better way

If you really want to reap the benefits of making art – of expressing yourself creatively – there is a better way to do it and there is a not-so-better way of doing it.


I’ll say it once more: art is a tool for you to express yourself. Like any tool, there is a safe and helpful way of using it, and then there is a counterproductive and harmful way of using it.


Lots of people turn to art because they need an outlet for expression. They need creativity, freedom, growth, healing, and connection in their life.


You can make art that will fulfill this purpose and meet this need.


But you can also make art that will go against this.


Here are some example scenarios when art-making can be counterproductive and even harmful:


If you do it with the wrong person who might be so afraid of making pencil drawings because they’re perfectionistic and you’re asking them to make a still life drawing, you might chase that person away forever from doing anything creative.


If you do it in the wrong timing when someone (or yourself) is not ready and is preoccupied with something else, you might be making it even more overwhelming.


If you do it with art materials that actually make you feel out of control, like oil paint, you could feel even more anxiety and chaos.


If you do it in a place where there is no privacy and quietness, you might feel worse when you were trying to feel better by expressing your bottled up feelings in your art journal.


Some tips

To make art that is helpful to you, think more about the details:


Who you’re making art with – what are you like as a person, what can’t you stand, what makes you spark?


What – what art materials are you using? What is the prompt?


Where – where are you making the art?


How – what is the art-making process like? Quiet, contemplative, busy, active, quick, rough, aggressive, repetitive, slow, calm…?


Perhaps many people know whether the place and person is a good fit for art-making.

But many might not know if an art material is good for you and your specific purpose.


Pencils, markers, pastels, paints, clay, paper, junk materials, natural materials, carving materials, stones, fabric, yarn, and on and on….. How do you know if it is a good fit for you or not?


To really get the best out of art-making, an art therapist will help you with an answer (of course, after knowing you). They have the experience and knowledge of orchestrating the whole process of art-making.


But if you are simply trying to see whether using that acrylic paint in your daily mood journal is good or not, just think whether this material is a loose and flowing or a dry and “controlled” type of medium. If you need more loose and wide ranging expression, go for the acrylic paint (since paint is liquid-y, rich in color, and expressive); if you need more containment and control, opt for something more easily “controllable” like colored pencils.


Your gut feeling is also a helper. Know that if you gravitate towards a medium, it may be a sign that your needs match that medium’s qualities.

Just think of the purpose, aim, and meaning behind what you’re doing – is the purpose to relieve stress, to feel more positive, to manage something hard to handle like illness, disorder, or death? And think whether the way you’re making art fits this purpose.


Being mindful

It might be hard to stop and think about what it is that you’re really doing. What materials are you using, how are you using it, with whom are you using it, where are you using it…


But if you become more mindful of these things, you’ll reap even more benefits and you’ll feel even better when you engage in creative expression.


It’s gonna make you a better artist – but even better – a more mindful and compassionate person who takes good care of themselves, what they’re here for, and meet their needs.


You will be more in alignment with your purpose and meaning in your creative activities and in life as well.


So go make some art 😉


Y. Jung

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