So many people come home from our painting holidays feeling recharged and refreshed that it got me wondering about the emotional and psychological benefits of painting.
Obviously, being in Italy for a week, doing something you love, enjoying fantastic food in beautiful surroundings with fun, like-minded people – it’s bound to put a spring in your step.
But is there maybe more to it than that? Could painting itself be good for our mental and emotional well-being?
One interesting study by a psychologist and neuroscientist, Kelly Lambert, suggested that painting may actually alleviate depression and anxiety by stimulating parts of the brain affected by depression.
Other psychologists liken the experience of complete concentration and absorption that you get while painting to mindfulness practices such as meditation and yoga.
Putting neurology aside, here are 7 more ways that painting can have positive impacts on our health:
This sounds obvious enough, but what might not be obvious is that painting stimulates both the right and left side of the brain.
In painting, we use the left side of the brain to tackle rational, logical challenges – how to structure the painting, for example – while the left side of the brain is used for more creative challenges, helping the painter visualise their work before they even set up their easel.
Painting is an all-brain exercise, strengthening the mind and triggering dopamine activity in the brain. It’s basically aerobics for the brain!
Nurtures emotional growth
They say a picture tells a thousand words, and painting can be a hugely cathartic experience, allowing you to access feelings buried deep within our subconscious.
Painting can also help us deal with those feelings by giving them a physical shape, removing the anguish involved when keeping feelings hidden.
In fact, psychologists often prescribe art therapy for patients who have suffered psychological trauma: it helps release emotions in a safe, non-threatening environment.
Builds problem-solving skills
Paintings rarely turn out as expected: changes in the light, the limitations of your palette, and just plain old lack of experience and technique mean that what you start out trying to achieve will almost certainly not happen.
This has two benefits: for starters, you pretty quickly learn to deal with disappointment, and in time – often through repeated error – to realise that when one door closes, another opens. For another, you quickly learn to adapt and come up with creative solutions to the problems the painting presents.
Thinking outside the box becomes second nature to the painter.
Improves memory and concentration
Painting boosts memory function and sharpens the mind. Just as a runner exercises their heart, so painters exercise the parts of their brain responsible for memory and concentration.
People who regularly practice creative activities such as painting are shown to have less chance of developing Alzheimer’s and dementia.
Painters enter a world of their own, and this allows them – albeit unconsciously – to separate themselves from the stresses and strains of everyday life. No mortgage, no office politics – just colour and shade, and how on earth do I do justice to those incredible poppies and that terracotta rooftop, instead.
Painting allows us to escape our daily struggles. And it lifts us. By focusing on our painting, we achieve what art critic and philosopher, Arthur Danto, calls “transfiguration of the commonplace,” as our painting becomes imbued with meanings that go well beyond their literal worth.
In other words, your painting may not turn out like you thought it would, but somehow just by contemplating it, studying it, you feel lifted by its beauty.
It can heal
You may struggle to capture the full beauty of that hilltop town or cypress-studded skyline, but just trying can have a hugely positive impact.
Painting is incredibly meditative: it takes you out of yourself, freeing yourself from your physical limitations. Renoir and Gauguin are two famous examples of artists, who through painting’s transcendental bliss, were able to move atrophied hands, experiencing a remarkable temporary healing.
Develops communication skills
Not only does painting help you tap into your subconscious, allowing you to communicate your feelings to yourself and the outside world – it also, in simple terms, acts as an ice-breaker.
Our painting holidays are pretty social affairs, and inevitably you end up discussing each other’s art. Little wonder that many come back from our holidays not just with a portfolio of paintings, but also an address book full of new friends.