According to an article in the Art Therapy Journal, art has been used as a channel to communicate thoughts and ideas since the beginning of human history. Although contemporary art therapy is relatively new, individuals have been expressing themselves as far back as tangible evidence goes – roughly 40,000 years ago.
Mary Elizabeth Marshall, an Ottawa-based artist and professor at Algonquin College, remembers being in elementary school and going down to the basement of her childhood home in Fredericton, New Brunswick, finding a spot to sit by the woodpile and thinking really hard about writing a short story.
“I might have been eight or nine,” says Marshall. “So my first foray into art was really literature and poetry, because there were so many writers in my family.”
While she was working on her Masters in creative writing at Concordia University in Montreal, she got sick of studying intense terminology, and reading old books (although she loves them).
That is when she started painting.
Marshall felt that painting was really free, and it was something that she didn’t know a lot about.
“I could express myself in a way I couldn’t with language,” she says. “Because it felt really heavy.”
It took until the 1940’s before art was defined into it’s own discipline of psychotherapy. But even if you aren’t seeing a professional regularly, or at all, it can still be a therapeutic way of releasing your emotions and expressing your own ideas.
Painting isn’t the only way to derive therapy through art, there are plenty of outlets and mediums that allow a person to express themselves in a creative and constructive way.
Sage Picody, is a 22-year-old Pow Wow vocalist and member of the Ottawa River Singers, uses that and beading, as a form of therapy. When it comes to beading, creating something out of different materials helps lighten his mood.
“It takes my mind off of things,” says Picody. “It’s very time consuming so it keeps me very busy. It just makes me feel good when I look at a piece of work that I’ve completed, especially when I wear it.”
Betty Kwong, a part-time art therapist in Ottawa, and graduate of Western University in London, Ont., explains why art therapy can be so useful.
“For me, as an art therapist, I think it’s the process of doing the art that can be therapeutic,” Kwong says. She feels that the ability for a client to be able to use and the assessment she has given them, and complete the goal that is outlined, truly helps them get better.
Picody has been beading for about four years now, it’s something that he picked up and taught himself.
“When I first moved to Ottawa – from Timmins, Ont., I didn’t know what beadwork was until I started seeing people wearing medallions,” he says. “I thought about buying some for myself to wear, but then I thought ‘why not just make learn how to bead and make it myself.’”
Picody is no stranger when it comes to the world of art. His mom is a painter and makes regalia and ribbon shirts, his dad sings and his sister paints as well.
In regards to his involvement in music, he owes a lot to his father for bringing it into his life.
“My dad has been singing for about 27 or 28 years,” he says. “So it’s something I was just born into. I’ve been singing for 16 years myself, so yeah, it takes a lot of time.”
Pow Wow isn’t something you just walk into and expect to be able to do it, it takes years of practice to be able to enable yourself to be able to sing in that style.
Picody says that he learned how to use his diaphragm off of YouTube, as well as voice projection.
“Voice projection came from opera singers,” he says. “And using your diaphragm came form scream singers. A lot of people ask ‘does it hurt after a while?’ But no, it’s just like any other muscle really, you just keep on practicing and keep on singing.”
He explains that the longer you sing for, the longer you last while doing it, and the stronger your voice will get. In order to get good at it, Picody says that you can’t stop it, and you have to practice this art on a daily basis.
Art can be perceived in a number of ways, and for some, it’s something that they don’t think of when they hear the term. For 22-year-old Monica Kulas, something as different as applying eyelashes to people who want to be pampered can be therapeutic.
Kulas is the owner of Aubrey Lashes which offers professional eyelash extensions. She is an Ottawa-based certified eyelash technician. Although it may seem that the therapy involved would be for the client, she to feels the positive effects of the trade.
“I’ve never had a job where I just sit down, I’m always running or walking, whether it be giving horseback riding lessons or managing a store,” says Kulas. “But with this, I get to just sit down and relax, and when my clients get up, and look in the mirror, it just looks so pretty and they really love it.”
She says that she usually receives texts from her clients afterwards saying, ‘Oh my gosh, I love them, I can’t wait to come back again.'”
“It’s nice to see them so happy,” Kulas explains. “And because this is meant to be such a relaxing place, when they come in in a happy mood, it just puts you in the same place.”
Raven Barr, a 22-year-old previous massage therapy student at Algonquin College, loves to create works of art. She has been into the art scene for roughly ten years. Past experiences, including the loss of her aunt and dance teacher, drew her closer to art in the traditional sense.
“No matter what emotion your feeling, you want to be able to express it,” says Barr. “Everyone is kind of different where as someone may want to write it down on a piece of paper and they can re-live that and re-read it. Where I can put all of my emotions on to a piece of paper, and when I look back, it tells its own story.”
The definition of art can differ. Generally, it is seen as the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination. Regardless if it’s singing, dancing, writing or painting, it is something that people use to express their ideas and emotions. Through art, most individuals can find a way of releasing these and turn them into something positive.