Visual art has long been acknowledged as one of the most emotional means of communicating human feelings and ideas. But art can also play an even more important role in literally transforming the lives of the people who create it.
“The creative arts have an exceptional power to inspire empathy and bring people together,” says Nicky Goulder, Co-Founder & Chief Executive of award-winning arts charity Create. “We firmly believe in the power of the creative arts to spark imagination and promote self-belief.”
Boosting self-confidence through art
Create’s mission is to reach out to the most disadvantaged and vulnerable people in society, particularly in areas of deprivation where engagement in the arts is low, and where people can feel trapped by their circumstances.
“Each of our projects is individually designed to meet the needs and interests of the participants, be that young LGBT people, older people with dementia, young carers, vulnerable women, homeless adults or young patients, for example,” Nicky explains.
One of Create’s programme’s is creative:voices, which is designed for adult carers to explore their creativity through writing and collage. Taking part had a huge impact on Peter*, 46, who cares for his wife, who has paranoid schizophrenia.
“I always thought of myself as a bit of a slow learner, but Create has given me the time and effort to bring myself out and kind of explode on the page,” he says. “I’ve gone from a person that struggled expressing themselves visually to someone who feels completely comfortable with creating art.”
The impact of the project on Peter’s life has been hugely positive. “Now I’m a lot more relaxed because I’ve actually got an outlet. I’m going to use the story skills that I’ve learnt with my little boy and I’m looking forward to sharing some of the visual skills that I’ve learnt with my wife.”
How art can help in overcoming depression
Little Van Gogh artist Tina Ashton has also experienced the life-changing effect that can be brought on by releasing an untapped passion for creating art.
After beginning her career in the RAF, Tina married, started a family and took on other jobs over several years. But, she says, she never felt truly rewarded or satisfied. “I was quite a depressive person – I struggled to be happy, despite everything good I had and all the things that I was grateful for.
“I felt I needed to do something to make myself happier with ‘being’ and I knew I needed to be creative.”
Tina’s instinctive artistic streak was evident early on. “At school, one of my greatest joys was drawing and scribbling – in every lesson!” she says. “But I didn’t see it as a passion back then. I was quite academic and everyone pushed me in that direction, telling me that I’d never earn any money from art.”
At 39, Tina took the plunge, giving up work to enrol on a two-year art and design foundation course plus an art A Level at her local college. It unlocked some powerful convictions. “That first week back was like somebody had opened up my eyes after a massive sleep – an amazing feeling. Straight away, I knew that I would never be miserable again.”
After selling some paintings via a local exhibition, Tina realised that she could forge a career from art and has continued to paint full-time ever since. “It’s most definitely been a life-changing experience for me and it’s made me a very different person. Where before I felt a massive emptiness, I now feel that there aren’t enough hours in the day!”
How can art make a difference in my life?
There are two main ways – looking at art, and creating art.
At Little Van Gogh, we’ve seen that regularly viewing and discussing a range of art helps all kinds of people and organisations improve both their communication and their imagination. Simply making the time to look at art is the first step in embracing its benefits.
If you’re ready to really invite the transformative potential of art into your life, the next step is to create some art yourself. It doesn’t matter if you were fourteen the last time you held a paintbrush; the idea is to just go for it and embrace the process, however rusty you might feel.
You don’t have to spend a fortune on materials – just a sketchpad, some 2B pencils and an hour or two spent at a place that inspires you could be enough to get you started. Don’t worry if it takes a while to get going; focus on the artistic process and the parts of your brain you’re flexing (after all, many professional painters are dissatisfied with their work at first).
You may discover – or resurrect – a passion for creating art that could truly transform your life too.
*not his real name
At Little Van Gogh, we’re proud to exhibit the work of 116 artists in workspaces all over the UK. Our Make Art Accessible campaign in 2016 is all about promoting the availability of art to everyone – in public spaces, at home and at work.