Nothing tastes as good as the sacrament on Fast Sunday.
I have written about how making time to practice art can be stressful. Learning new things, adding one more thing to your schedule, and going through that phase where everything you make looks terrible aren’t always very fun. But, that does not mean that art has to be a difficult chore.
While perfecting skills and technique are important, they are just one side of art. Art can be joyful. I think it’s good to experience both sides of art.
Kathy Decker told me once that when she paints she feels like she’s in another world and she could go on for hours. Making art can help you forget things for a moment, just like a good nap or watching a good movie. It can be a form of meditation, giving your brain a break from overthinking.
According to studies, making art can reduce stress hormones and release dopamine. It’s a healthy way to relieve stress. ( See: https://news.artnet.com/art-world/art-reduces-stress-says-study-521051 and https://bebrainfit.com/benefits-art/ )
When trying to relieve stress with art, the important thing is to have fun. Let go of the need to produce something that looks good. Embrace the process and not the product.
So, what are some of the things I do when I am making art for fun and stress-relief?
I doodle whatever comes to mind.
I color in pictures with crayons or colored pencils or markers.
I draw something for my kids like mazes or paper dolls.
I play with salt dough.
I fold origami figures.
I write the names of my family members in swoopy fancy handwriting.
I press flowers in books.
I take close up pictures of plants. (Especially trees. I love trees.)
I work through a problem with collage.
I read an art book or visit a museum.
I draw pictures of whatever is stressing me out as goofy-looking monsters.
I draw pictures of my favorite characters from stories I’ve read or movies I’ve watched. They do not have to look very much like the characters at all.
I do an art or craft project with my children.
I write out a favorite quote in fancy letters. Sometimes I decorate it.
I try a new braid or hairstyle with my daughter’s hair.
I sing or whistle, often to my pet birds, who like any music and are a fabulous audience.
Sometimes I attempt dancing to music, but only if I’m home alone. It’s a lot of fun when you don’t worry about looking goofy.
I try to draw things the way a three-year-old would.
I look for faces and shapes in wood grain or textured tile or tree bark or clouds.
I try to make a flower chain. Or a chain out of candy wrappers.
I draw a map of someplace imaginary.
I could go on. There are so many things to try. Do a search for art projects or artist dates or art therapy, and you would probably find more things than you’d ever have time to do.
It’s important to regularly find joy in art, and it’s good for your stress levels too. I think making sure to do something fun at least once a week is a good plan. If you’re feeling extra stressed, have fun more often. It doesn’t have to take long, and it really can help.
How does art bring you joy? What art projects do you do just for fun? How often do you try to do something artistic just for the joy of it?
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Last week I talked about mentors. Mentors are wonderful people who find the good in the work you do, even when you can’t see it. They are positive and encouraging. They believe in you and your potential, and that is remarkably motivating.
Critics are the opposite of mentors. Critics only point out what you did wrong. They can be negative and discouraging and demotivating. You thrive under the care of a mentor. You struggle to survive after an encounter with a critic.
Before my children were born, I sang in several different choirs. I didn’t have any real vocal training, but I received compliments on how well I was able to hear and sing my part. I felt comfortable and confident with my voice.
After my children were born, I spent over a decade hearing “stop singing, Mom!” and “Mom, don’t sing!” every time I sang around my school-age children. I continued singing and laughed and pretended it didn’t bother me. It bothered me.
Now that my oldest children are old enough to babysit their siblings, I’ve started singing in the choir at church. Do I sing as well as I used to? I don’t know. People sitting by me have complimented me on how well I hear and sing my part again, but I don’t feel as confident. I go home and worry that I’m not singing well enough. I’ve lost some of the joy I used to feel in singing. I hope it comes back.
That is not the only thing my pint-sized critics have attacked. (And yes, I love them anyway.) As I mentioned in an earlier post, I draw a picture of a family member every day. This put my sketch book in view of my children, and children can be casually cruel. They haven’t fully developed empathy.
When I started out, critical comments were commonplace. Laughter. “Mom, that looks bad.” “Mom, that’s silly. What’s it supposed to be?” “Can I see what you drew? Oh.” My writing received criticism too. Luckily, I learned from my singing experience how to better handle critics. Through trial and error, I have discovered how to handle critical comments and keep my confidence.
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If life freely hands you critics, what is the best way to deal with them? (And the answer is not make criticade. That’s not really a thing.) I’m not sure about the best way, but I’ll share what’s worked for me.
First, acknowledge that it hurt. You don’t have to laugh or agree with your critic. Why add insult to injury? If the critic is a child, they may need to hear that what they said is hurtful. This can be a teaching moment. Play it by ear.
Second, see if there is anything helpful in the comment. Did they say that something specific looked wrong or out of place? Make a mental note to come back to that when you’re feeling more objective. Was there nothing helpful? Time to move on.
Third, be your own mentor. Find something you did well. Look for something you are happy with. Be pleased that you took time to create something.
Recognize that the more you practice, the better you’ll get. Overcoming all the doubts and fears to create anything at all is difficult. To continue to persist in the face of your own inner critic isn’t easy. External critics just add to the difficulty level. Over time, you’ll be able to take a moment to look back and see how far you’ve come. Allow yourself to feel happy that you are growing and improving.
Finally, recommit to moving forward. Don’t let a critical comment take away your joy. Don’t let the harsh words steal what you’ve worked so hard for. Look forward to your next project. What will it be? What will you do? What will you learn? Leave the criticism in the past where it belongs.
Is there anything you can say to a critic without being unkind?
You can say “ouch!”
You can politely say that you’re still learning, and that you’ll get better.
You can thank them for their feedback and ask what they like about the work. (This can be risky, but rewarding.)
You can ask about their work and what they do differently.
You can change the subject.
You can say, “I see. Very interesting,” with a weird accent and pretend that you are someone much braver than you are. Sometimes being silly makes it all seem not so bad or important. Find your own brand of silly and run with it.
Even when other people aren’t nice to you, you can be nice to you, and you can be nice to them. Dwelling on the negative or returning negative for negative will leave a bitter feeling in your heart long after the moment is over. It doesn’t help.
People are complex. It’s difficult to know why someone said something unkind, and sometimes they don’t even know. A lot of the time it has nothing to do with you or your work. Acknowledge the hurt, take what’s helpful, leave the rest, and find joy in the good you do. Look forward with joy.
Have you received any criticism that hurt? What did you do? How did you move forward?