Recently a colleague put an article in my mailbox which led me to other articles by the same author and others talking about emotional expectations of both men and women and the dangers of social isolation. Issues were raised about men and women being limited in different ways from expressing certain emotions and both men and women being discouraged from showing “darker” emotions like despair. These limitations stunt emotional growth and contribute to social isolation. The structure of our society can also contribute to social isolation which is a big contributing factor to depression which is, in turn, one of the leading causes of suicide. All this gloom and doom is to say that many people are hurting on one level or another and society does not necessarily make it easy for them to feel connected to others or make it feel safe to share the darker, perhaps scarier, feelings. When feelings are not released or are turned inward, they can lead to physical manifestations, dis-ease. Enter the arts.
I am not suggesting that art is a cure-all but it is a beginning and for many, a savior. In fact, there is a nationally recognized organization here in the San Diego area called ARTS or A Reason To Survive whose founder, Matt D’Arrigo says that art gave him a reason to live and is the reason he founded the organization. Its mission is “to ignite the power of creativity in youth, inspiring them to overcome obstacles and providing them with the skills needed to become compassionate catalysts for positive change in themselves, their communities and the world.” Just reading that mission statement brings tears to my eyes. I love the twofold idea of igniting the power of creativity and providing skills in and through the arts. Classrooms are not the environment for intensive therapy nor are teachers trained to be therapists and many of our students need more help than we educators can give, but by creating a space for creativity and by demonstrating how powerful creativity can be in conveying meaning whether it be the relationship between two characters in a novel or a student’s own feelings which are hard or scary to acknowledge or to express, we are opening up possibilities to our students. By giving students skills in different art forms, we are giving them another language with which to speak that may transcend words.
Have you ever looked at a piece of art and felt connected to this artist you have never met? Have you ever heard a song or watched a dance and felt that the performers just put your very feelings out for you to hear or see? Did you feel less alone? Have you ever had the chance to make art with others? To create a dance or perform a piece of music or contribute to an art installation? If you have, you may already know how connected you can feel to those with whom you shared the experience.
Knowing that art can express inner feelings and having the skills to effectively represent those feelings can be a huge part of our students being able to fully develop themselves emotionally. Having the experience of connecting with others through art, whether a student is appreciating another’s art or co-creating art, can help students feel less isolated and alone – a part of something greater than themselves. And all of this leads to happier, healthier people who are better equipped to handle the challenges that life will inevitably throw at them and quite literally help keep the doctor away.
Deirdre is a teaching artist and AI coach in the San Diego public schools dedicated to helping classroom teachers make arts an integral part of their teaching. Deirdre has an MEd in Arts Integration and over twenty years of classroom and performing arts teaching experience. Email Deirdre.