When Art is More Than Meets the Eye

When Art is More Than Meets the Eye

Most of us have been to museums where we have experienced the pleasure of art: a painting, a sculpture, an installation, antiques, or perhaps a living museum as some gardens or zoos are called. Images on social media can also have a powerful effect on us. We are transported to other places in our minds, hearts, and imaginations.  

I am reminded of a trip to the Smithsonian museums where I experienced paintings by both Monet and Renoir. As I stood in front of those aged masterpieces, I got lost in the beauty of them and of the artists who painted them. I had many moments of wonder and reflection that day.

As you view the picture above, can you describe it in detail? As you look at the picture what do you see? What does it make you think or how does it make you feel?  What, if any, sounds or smells does it evoke? How long can you invest yourself in this process?

What I have described above is a technique to increase coping mechanisms. While I could write volumes about art and my experiences, I am particularly interested how you might use art as purposeful distraction. These skills are called “grounding,” and knowing how to do them can improve your ability to cope in a moment of elevated stress when you need it the most.

Here are some ideas and tips to begin using these skills.

Mental Grounding Skills Most people would say “counting to 10” is one skill, and that would be correct. Additional skills could be:

  • Describing your environment in detail, and include everything that you see. Aim for three minutes of focus to start learning this process.
  • Describing objects; this is where art can be useful. Add additional details of sounds you hear, textures, colors, smells, shapes, and numbers. Try to engage all of your senses.
  • Describing things by category. Name your favorite rock bands, flowers in your garden, zoo animals, bible characters … and the list goes on.
  • Describing an everyday activity in great detail. How to cook a meal, change a flat tire, or complete an art project. There are so many things to do and life processes to explore.
  • Imagining a pleasant place you have been, a place that feels safe and nurturing to you. If you struggle with this you can create such a place in your mind. See if you can stay in this place for 5 minutes to begin.
  • Reading aloud to yourself. Start from the end and read to the beginning. This will really give your brain something challenging to work on.

Physical Grounding Skills

  • Run cool or warm water over your hands and wrists.
  • Grab tightly onto your chair as hard as you can; notice the sensations and the experience.
  • Touch various objects around you: your pen or pencil, a leather handbag or the fabrics you are wearing, furniture you are currently sitting on, or anything that is safe to touch in your environment.  
  • Carry a grounding object in your pocket – a small stone, piece of cloth or object that you can touch when you are struggling with any unpleasant emotion.  
  • Notice your body in the physical space you inhabit. Move your hands or toes and notice the sensation, lean against your chair or experience your feet firmly planted on the floor below you.
  • Jump up and down.
  • Eat something in a slow and mindful way. Try a raisin or an M&M. Don’t swallow it but rather notice the texture on your tongue and in your mouth. Describe it to yourself.
  • Focus on your breathing, noticing each inhale and exhale. How wonderfully your lungs provide oxygen for your body. Focus on this only and do not let your mind wander. Aim for 6-10 focused, deep breaths.

 Soothing Grounding Skills

  • Create kind statements that you can say to yourself, “I am a good person. I don’t have to be perfect. I don’t have to know everything. I am enough.”
  • Ponder on favorite things.
  • Imagine people you care about, that care about you, and look at photographs of them.
  • Remember the words to an inspiring song, bible verse, quotation or poem that makes you feel better. Social media sites like Pinterest have many quotes that can inspire.
  • Use coping statements like, “I will be OK. Nothing lasts forever. This feeling will pass. Tomorrow is a new day.”
  • Think of things you are looking forward to the next day, week, or month. Maybe spending time with family or friends, an upcoming vacation, a meal you will enjoy, or doing something for others.

Some say, “That sounds too simple” and others say, “I can’t focus on anything else but feeling upset in this moment.” Do not underestimate the value of distracting yourself with skilled intention.  Grounding works because our brains cannot focus on two things simultaneously. 

Grounding skills take practice, but the effort will pay off. They can be used anywhere and cost nothing except the wise use of our time and a desire to invest in yourself. They can transport our thinking and change our emotions, which is sometimes exactly what we need to help us get through this moment, this day, or this trial.  Try them, you may be surprised to see how these skills can enhance your coping strategies and your life.

Art is ubiquitous. It is the sculpture in the park, the painting in your hospital room or hallway; it is architecture, a warm smile from a stranger, a favorite coffee mug, or a snapshot of someone you love. Art is more than art; it is a gift we can use to enhance our lives.