The Benefits of Arts and Crafts

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I am not an artsy person. Not even in the littlest slightest bit (my boyfriend may lie to you and tell you that I am. Don’t believe him. He’s biased). I’m really bad at drawing, painting, sculpting, origami…really anything that involves using my hands to make something. I used to hate it all for that very reason. When they announced an art project in school I would cringe because I knew it would be my lowest grade of the semester. But recently I have begun to be converted to the beauty of craft.

It started when I was in intensive therapy and we had art therapy every couple of weeks. Oh did I loathe it the first few times. I hated my final product, I felt out of my depth, it all seemed like I couldn’t express myself at all with it. But then I was introduced to the concept of an art journal: I repurposed an old copy of Brave New World, and could use it for any artwork I so chose. I could collage or paint or write or draw…whatever. And the words on the page often served as inspiration. Oh my god, suddenly I could play with pictures and colors and NO ONE had to look at it. Ever. How liberating. How utterly liberating. I found that it was really calming to just color or cut and paste pictures. I liked having something to do while I was watching a movie or listening to a podcast. How utterly fantastic it was to create something that could be 100% mine and that I could SEE the end product of. There is something so satisfying about creating a physical object.

And then I began collaging. Oh the catharsis. I took pictures of my ex-boyfriend and burned his face off in them, then collaged them together and dripped “no” in red candle wax. It feels amazing to recreate things, to express yourself as part of the world through engaging that world physically. And since I’ve been off of exercise, the physical movement of it is calming in a way few other things are. I love the mess of it, I love seeing my work spread out around me and then come back together. It’s amazing how powerful using our senses to calm ourselves can be.

And then I discovered two things that were almost life-changing for me: melting crayons and mosaicing. Yeah, it sounds almost trite, but these two things have helped me combat self-harm like nothing else has been able to. The thing about craft is that it can often serve all of the same purposes that our unhealthy coping techniques provide. It is incredibly versatile, and you can adjust it and mash things together in whatever ways you need to to get the particular satisfaction that you require. For me, the combination of filling up a space with color (particularly with red crayons which mimic blood) combined with the repetitive nature of the activity, the mindlessness of it, and the potential for slight pain (playing with glass pieces leads to lots of itty bitty cuts and burning things often involves slight burns) but without the major potential for hurting yourself made these things the perfect substitutes for cutting. It was amazing.

Even more amazing is that I can look at my final product and feel some pride about what I’ve done. These are simple, easy things that don’t require looking realistic or life-like, I don’t necessarily have to HAVE a ton of talent, just some patience and persistence. There is some research that shows how beneficial crafting can be in mental health practice, because it improves self-image and identity, strengthens confidence, can be an outlet for emotion and stress, and can also be a method of communication. I’m actually really quite excited about the idea of integrating crafts into my daily life as a way to self-soothe.

I suggest everyone tries out some new crafts, just to see what helps you calm down. I know people who do everything from building cars to knitting to welding as their methods of self-soothing. You can try anything. I’m curious how other people experience asserting themselves into the world through changing an object. It’s very Marxian, and I’m starting to be convinced that the best way to assert your self and your dominance in the world is through creation or recreation of an object. I have been able to do this in an intellectual way through writing for the longest time, but connecting with the physical world is often harder. I think as human beings we long for a physical product of our labors, and it’s good to provide that for ourselves.

PS: the featured image is the mosaic that I made with my boyfriend. It’s called Octopus and Squid, Friends for Always, and I LOVE it.

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