Art of expression: The benefits of engaging in an artistic process

How creative expression can alleviate the daily build-up of stress, as well as help you get in touch with yourself

Abu Dhabi, U.A.E., February 2, 2019.   Christina (right) and Tanya Awad with their dog Brownie, have brought together hundreds of people since they launched their indie arts and culture initiative, Blank Canvas Community. 
Victor Besa/The National
Section:  WK
Reporter:  Nathalie Farah
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From reducing stress to boosting self-esteem and fuelling the imagination, there are a range of benefits to engaging with art and other forms of creative expression.

But for the uninitiated, it can be intimidating putting thoughts to paper or sitting down to draw something. Sure, we can’t all be Gorkys and Kahlos, but we could all work towards reaping the benefits of creative expression.

It could be as simple as sitting at your desk with a pen in hand and, on A4 paper, blindly drawing lines, spirals and abstract shapes for a few minutes, before opening your eyes to make sense of the scrawled doodle in front of you, to give it a semblance of form or to simply add colour.

That was what artists Christina and Tanya Awad encouraged participants of their online lecture The Art of Expression to do at the end of their talk on Monday, June 22.

The sisters behind Abu Dhabi's Blank Canvas Community, a platform that brings people together with art-focused exercises, spoke about how creative expression can alleviate the daily build-up of stress, as well as helping you get in touch with yourself and those around you.

The Sea of Culture Foundation is the brainchild of Sheikha Rawda bint Mohammed bin Khalid Al Nahyan
The Sea of Culture Foundation is the brainchild of Sheikha Rawda bint Mohammed bin Khalid Al Nahyan

Their talk came as part of a series of online lectures hosted by the Sea of Culture Foundation, launched by Sheikha Rawda bint Mohammed bin Khalid Al Nahyan to promote the development of knowledge and skills through an integrated literary and artistic programme.

“Now, more than ever, we’re experiencing drastic changes that are inviting all of us to think about how we do things, inside out,” Tanya said, speaking about the necessity of engaging in an artistic practice in today’s world.

“We are all experiencing some internal renovation with everything that’s happening all over the world.”

As dizzying as the past few months have been, they’ve also presented an opportunity for growth “and a chance to make change work in our favour".

“But in order to do that, we need to start with our internal world, we need to assess what kind of people we are, what our strengths, weaknesses, joys and triggers are,” Tanya said. “What do we do with them? Which ones serve us and which ones hold us back?”

The Awad sisters explained that engaging with a creative practice – be it painting or cooking or journaling – can guide us in our path to self-discovery.

“The more we can awaken inside individually, the more we spend that time to discover ourselves, the more we can really work on improving on a collective level,” Christina said, noting that creative expression has less to do with what a painting or poem you’re working on might look like, than with the process of actually making it.

“This is essentially what Blank Canvas is built on,” Tanya said. “It is the process of art where self-discovery happens just as much as the outcome.”

Speaking on the physical benefits of creative expression, the Awad sisters quoted a study from the University of Auckland, which showed that expressive writing and journaling helps improve the immune system, increasing lymphocytes count.

“Dance can improve our physical body as well as our body image,” Christina said. “And any kind of creative expression in general lowers the heart rate and stress, which will alleviate physical tension.”

There are also a number of neurological benefits to engaging with a creative art form. “Especially with brain coherency,” Tanya said. “The left half of our brain is more dominant with structure, whereas the right is more dominant with creativity and fluidity. When we are able to use both hemispheres due to the creative process, it’s as if you’re massaging your brain and bringing your body back into balance.”

The Awad sisters then had participants of their online talk close their eyes and draw on a piece of paper for a few minutes before they opened their eyes to further develop their blind scribblings.

“If we were all physically together during this art exercise, we probably would’ve all been sharing a canvas together. Naturally what would have happened is, we could have started imagining a collective story together,” Christina said. She also encouraged listeners to create collaborative pieces with their family, friends and loved ones to foster a collective bond, and to “embrace collaborative art as a lifestyle.”