The benefits of making art are well known and accepted especially in cultures that values mindfulness and flow state. I often hear about the latest research that has shown how the practice of the arts can delay symptoms of dementia, and assist with good mental health not to mention all the social benefits of being part of an art group, class or community. But what of its dark side? And here I’m not meaning the compulsion to stock up endlessly on the latest water soluble gold leaf markers, or the occupational hazard of dipping you paintbrush in your mug of tea because it looks exactly like your dirty paint water.
I am currently recovering from a bout of Artist’s Elbow- I heard that chuckle- and yes I hadn’t heard of it either until I got it. Like Tennis Elbow and Golfers Elbow it affects the muscles and tissue around the elbow joint and is caused by repetitive strain. Until I googled my symptoms I had no idea how vulnerable artists are to this kind of injury…..but apparently we are in the top 5 most likely! It’s really debilitating- and currently affects really everyday things like using the kettle and chopping up vegetables and means I can’t draw for long periods of time without ending up with a seriously sore arm.
Perhaps I have reached that age where my body is saying ‘I can no longer tolerate this abuse’ I’ve known for a while now that sitting for prolonged periods at my desk- drawing or cutting with a craft knife caused intense knots in my muscles and often resulted in back pain, poor posture and related headaches……..
Is it enough to stop me making art? Unimaginable! I would still make art if I had no use of my hands and no art materials, somehow, I know others have. If art is intrinsically part of who you are then it’s simple you have to make art- can you imagine trying to stop a young child making art out of anything and everywhere?
But what habits must I inhabit if I am to avoid unnecessary suffering for my art?
For the eyes: working in well lit areas, wearing glasses for close up work
For the muscles and joints: sitting in a good position, holding tools in as loose a grip as possible. Warming up and down art (as you would after a run, but focusing on shoulders, wrists, fingers and neck.)
Taking regular breaks (apparently there is an app remind you to do this!) it the thing I find hardest because when you get into a piece of work your really don’t want to stop. On the upside walking away from your art work and returning can often help you to spot problem areas or deliver new inspiration.
For the soul: remembering that I am not my art and my art is not me.
On balance making art is a healing process if I don’t neglect the body that enables this creativity.