Isobel Murdoch is a freelance arts for wellbeing practitioner, having set up Medley, an online initiative, during lockdown in 2020. She has now secured funding from Arts Council England for “Paint Your Mind: Art As Tool”. Here she explains what it’s all about and how you can get involved.
How can art become a helpful mental health tool? Is there even one way that’s best to use art for mental health or are there many? Is it best to focus on expressing thoughts and feelings, maybe visualizing a scene or using colour to sum up how you feel? Is it best to try journaling, or to record mood, or use sand play? Is it best to draw or paint something totally unconnected with these issues? How might art complement counselling models, like cognitive behavioural therapy? So many questions – and every single one opens up another.
Paint Your Mind: Art As Tool is my new development project, funded by Arts Council England’s Developing Your Creative Practice Fund. It will run from January to June 2024, as I learn and share.
My aim is to root my practice in a more specific focus on how the visual arts can be used to improve mental health (as well as wellbeing in general). To this end I’ll be researching possibilities, gathering views, creating new artwork and sharing all this more widely with new and existing audiences.
I want to take my practice to its next stage by focusing on “art as tool” – art directly exploring and expressing mental health issues through image, symbol, colour or visualization. So far this has been less prominent in my practice as I have focused more on art for general wellbeing. Over the next six months I’ll be dedicating regular, specific time to this new direction.
Using art to improve mental health could focus solely on the individual. But mental health and wellbeing are so interwoven with wider wellbeing that I see this as one thread within that larger tapestry. No individual will thrive unless communities and natural world thrive too. And art never exists in isolation. That’s why as I’m already outlining words to highlight in my model and method; there’ll be words like “express” and “absorb” but also “root” and “connect” (see below). I want to root art in the wider world, maybe as a way to respond to events or to react to injustice or the climate emergency, and use art and creativity to reach out and connect with others in community. Only then can art become a true tool for mental health for the individual within their world.
My development plan has three strands. The first is research: I will research therapeutic art techniques and arts models used in anxiety, depression and trauma, and I will conduct my own research – surveying fellow practitioners as well as therapists and participants.
The second strand is creating new artwork: I will create a new body of expressive artwork to form a toolkit, sharing this with participants in two art challenges – one in February and one in April. Their responses will contribute to shaping my final toolkit, which I hope will take the form of a model and a method to follow.
The third and final strand is reaching new audiences through networks with a specific wellbeing focus.
If I am to draw together as many ideas and experiences as possible, then I need your voice!
My first challenge starts on 1 February 2024. This challenge compares the impacts of abstract and figurative art. To sign up go to https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/all-change-art-for-wellbeing-challenge-tickets-784434834707. Also, you might like to complete my initial survey on art for mental health – go to https://form.jotform.com/240184274130043. If you would like to share any other thoughts, or would like me to lead an online workshop for your group, just email me at email@example.com.
Thank you for any way you are able to get involved.