top of page

How making art helps in the recovery process

Updated: Dec 4, 2020

by Grey Anstiss, CCPRD Project Associate

The Starry Night Over The Rhone, 1888 by Vincent Van Gogh

Art is something that people see every day, all the time. The music someone listens to on the way to work, the book they are reading, the clothes someone wears. All of these things were made by artists as an expression of their emotions and ideas. Art helps someone develop and express identity, value system, and much more. Art can also help people achieve recovery.

Whether it be recovery from physical injury, from a traumatic event, a death in the family, mental illness, or substance abuse, art is an extremely helpful tool when it comes to processing the emotions someone feels in their journey. Art is something that has helped people with mental illness for hundreds if not thousands of years, and the struggle that they were able to process in the form of art has had a great impact.

Take Vincent van Gogh for example. Van Gogh was an artist who struggled deeply with mental illness and unhealthy behaviors to cope with his pain. He frequently experienced mental breakdowns, and during these time periods, he could not paint. He produced artwork most often during his recovery experiences, whether they were at home or in treatment centers for substance use and mood issues. During these periods, he would have great revelations as he worked on his healing. These revelations encouraged him to make some of his most famous art pieces.

Van Gogh’s talent as an artist rests in his ability to express deep and moving human emotions as he worked on his healing journey. One of the ways he accomplished this was through the strategic use of both primary colors and textures. The Blue Period is considered one of his darkest times, yet so much of his well-known artwork comes from this time. His images clearly evoke emotional states, and for this reason, his artwork continues to be heavily admired long after his death in 1890. Van Gogh’s lasting impression on his admirers is due to his ability to channel deep emotion through his artwork.

Why is art helpful in healing and recovery? For many people, art is helpful because, in the creation process with art, the artist must come to terms with a process with self-identification, self-acceptance, and self-appreciation. When a person invests time and energy into artmaking, they gift themselves a material object that they can derive meaning, pride, and strength from.

For example, someone looking back on an old art piece might remark, “I know I was in a rough spot at the time, but look what a beautiful thing I did with that.” A statement like that can spark a kind of confidence and self-love that some people may have never experienced before. That self-love and confidence can be enough of a motivator to pull you through the recovery process.

Recovery belongs to all people. And art-making opportunities should be made available to anyone seeking to heal and recover. Some barriers to art might be income and access to supplies. However, that should not stop someone from making art - they just need to think a little creatively and resourcefully about it. Make art that is out of the box and surprises - that often is the best type of art.

While traditional, “professional,” art supplies can be expensive, require experience, and can be really messy, there are innumerous other options for making art than going the traditional route. A person can make their own stories or art books with some construction paper and markers and string. Another example is making collages out of old magazines and mail. A classic option is buying a cheap notebook from the dollar store or Target and using it as your sketchbook or doodle pad with a pen and pencil. Digital art is also big these days, with people making art on free phone apps and sharing on TikTok and Instagram. Common household brands are also great for usage, like Crayola crayons, Sharpie markers, Blick pens, and whatever else is around! Don’t be afraid to be unconventional. YouTube has lots of free videos on low-cost art projects to help people get started on their creative projects.

Art-making can be a valuable part of anyone’s recovery experience. People experiencing complex mental health struggles often experience stigma and loneliness. The creative process is a great bridge to help a person connect pieces of their story together and leave behind a testimony to their questions, experiences, and answers.

Calling all artists and people with experiences of addictive behaviors (i.e. to substance use, gambling, self-harm, shopping, and more)! Our Recovery Art Festival is happening on Saturday, December 5th, 2020 from 1 — 3 PM! This show will be on Zoom and features an artists panel, digital gallery opening, and live art workshop that all centers on the role of art in recovery. We welcome all people to attend this show. Please register and RSVP today!

Read more from our team:

Recent Posts

See All


Commenting has been turned off.
bottom of page