Reframing visual art as another method of communication

Dr Darren Fisher from Swinburne University of Technology.

Like language, it is an inherent part of us that develops consistently in children from birth until puberty, after which we face a “period of oppression… where our progress suddenly slows and stagnates. “. Dr. Fisher points out that this is largely because over time we have simultaneously devalued drawing as a skill (a 2020 survey classified artist as the first non-essential job) while seeing it as the development of an individualistic skill in which some are more or less proficient.

This detachment from drawing is even more surprising when we think of its benefits not only on our cognition and our health, but also on our soul.

“How we feel influences how we draw,” says Fisher. Likewise, engaging in drawing affects how we feel; it can help us understand and process our inner world, and is particularly helpful in overcoming trauma.

“My whole PhD was about autobiographical comics, which was very powerful for me,” he says. “The drawing helped me think about the events that happened…because the drawing is so slow, you’re forced to spend time in that past and really think about it.”

Artists often refer to their artistic practice as a way of working through their innermost emotions. French-American artist Louise Bourgeois, known for her female forms, giant spider sculptures and “cellular” installations, has often expressed her feelings and experiences of love and marriage through visual art, suggesting that “the artist is lucky to [be able to] overcome his demons without hurting anyone”.

Similarly, artist and writer Terry Sullivan recalls how the drawing helped him process a horror shooting on a New York train in 1993, in which he saw a gunman shoot several fellow passengers while sparing it.

“I am a writer and I use words to tell stories. But after a tragic event in 1993, I felt that words had lost their effectiveness,” he wrote. Instead, he found solace in still life painting, where he “used the canvas to visually piece together fragments of personal memories, emotions, and fears during this time.”

“It also helped me avoid obsessing over the memory of the shooting, a common problem in patients with post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD,” writes Sullivan.

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The fact that drawing can help us make sense of traumatic experiences that words themselves cannot express is further proof of how visual art is intertwined with the way we think, feel – and who we are.

“We can learn a lot about ourselves by drawing,” says Fisher. “It’s a way of thinking, a way of being, something that really slows down our brain and frees it up to process all the important things.”

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