A few years back I took an acrylic painting class. Sometimes, while the ever-present radio played a Mahler violin concerto, an aria from La Traviata or Johnny Cash’s Ring of Fire, I would spin about whipping color on my canvas, feeling “in the zone.” My mind would disconnect from my hand, which moved independent of my intent. What surprised me most about the fallout from this class was that I improved my writing ability. I was looser, more adventurous, and, best of all, my inner editor became subdued. I am looking to recapture that feeling.
I have always loved to paint and draw, however, over the years I painted only when I had a class. And I have a treasure-trove of supplies, such as canvases, watercolor paper and tubes of paints, not to mention many half-completed paintings stored in my office closet.
I took a 3-hour workshop yesterday—a primer in watercolor. Supplies were furnished. Our instructor demonstrated simple techniques that we—all women—replicated on 5 X 7 inch sheets of 140 lb. Cold Press paper. Quick. One fluid motion. Don’t dawdle. Don’t over think. Don’t go back over the stroke. Don’t compare yourself to your neighbor!
After the class, I felt rejuvenated. In two weeks I’ll start a six-session class, and if I like that teacher, I’ll sign up for more classes. And I’ll set up my paint supplies in a corner of my office.
Creative art pursuits provide older adults with multiple benefits, not the least of which is enhanced cognitive function.
Throughout history, artists have known that art provides benefits for both the creator and viewer. Current studies in the fields of art therapy, music therapy, and other creative modalities confirm that art can affect individuals in positive ways by inducing both psychological and physiological healing. We know that, in general, exercising our creative selves enhances quality of life and nurtures overall well-being. We all are creative—not just a select few.
. . . Several studies show that art can reduce the depression and anxiety that are often symptomatic of chronic diseases. Other research demonstrates that the imagination and creativity of older adults can flourish in later life, helping them to realize unique, unlived potentials, . . .
Erik Erickson’s eighth and last stage of psychological development culminates in an integration of the individual’s past, present, and future to confront the conflict between integrity and despair. The result can be either despair or wisdom. When older adults pursue activities that are based in meaning, purpose, and honesty, they can attain the wisdom and integrity about which Erickson writes rather than experiencing longing and despair. Therapeutic art experiences can supply meaning and purpose to the lives of older adults in supportive, nonthreatening ways.
Neurological research shows that making art can improve cognitive functions by producing both new neural pathways and thicker, stronger dendrites. Thus, art enhances cognitive reserve, helping the brain actively compensate for pathology by using more efficient brain networks or alternative brain strategies. Making art or even viewing art causes the brain to continue to reshape, adapt, and restructure, thus expanding the potential to increase brain reserve capacity.