Certain diversions we do because we more or less have to do, such as vigorous exercising, studying languages, sex, travel, and reading.  And these all have their proper place.  But there are times when the collective strain of responsibility, and the stress of duties, demand that entirely new parts of our brain be activated and exercised.  When I say “new” parts of the brain, I mean literally that:  a man can rub raw a particular part of his brain by continually using it, and exhaust himself by repetitive tasks.

Avoid Repetition

Doing the same things over and over again, even though they may be enjoyable, can cause our brains to settle into a comfortable rut from which little creative energy can be coaxed.  We slide into a comfortable routine; we become assured in our torpor, and our brains and spirits move about within their own self-imposed and ever more restrictive boundaries.

Everyone knows that we live in a stressful world, where we are often harassed on all sides by deadlines, obligations, and similar impositions that act to upset our serenity.  The worried mind can take hold of some oppressive thought and fixate on it.  Often the mind will not let a troublesome thought go.  It does no good, in this situation, to try to talk your mind out of thinking unwanted thoughts.  The mind has its own separate engine, and will continue to expend its efforts day and night on its own fixations.

In this situation, I have found that the best remedy is not to try to banish stressful thoughts (for this is nearly impossible), but to introduce some new and totally different subject for the mind to focus on.  The more different the subject matter, the better.  The brain finds it refreshing to employ totally different parts of itself.  And in so doing, it loosens its grip on stressful and oppressive thoughts.  In this way, art can truly be liberating.

A New Hobby

And this is how I discovered the wonderfully therapeutic power of painting.  I am talking here about painting pictures.  Several years ago I reached a point in my life when I felt I needed a hobby that was totally different from my usual ones.  On some sudden impulse, and with no previous background or experience in the visual arts, I bought an acrylic paint set at a hobby store and dove in.  I let the colors fly.  I could hardly believe how much better I began to feel as I began to focus on colors, spatial relations, depth perception, alignment and lighting.  These were activities that were totally different from the skills employed in my regular life.

The process of being surrounded by rich and varied color somehow activates certain switches in your brain that attune you to other artistic things in the world.  This was an activity totally different from any other I had taken up, and I could literally feel the synapses of my brain firing in ways they never before had.  I mattered little that I had no experience or training:  after cranking out twenty paintings, you will know how to paint.  Plunge in and just start the colors flowing in bold strokes.

The Benefits Of Color

Why is it that painting relaxes and soothes in ways that other hobbies do not?  I think there are several reasons.  One reason is that we city dwellers, cut off from nature, live in a color-starved world.  Our world is filled with the drabness of concrete and steel, rather than with bold yellows, greens, reds, blues, purples, and oranges.  We are famished for color sensory stimulation.  Another reason is that is painting, unlike reading, is a handicraft:  you are using your hands and motor skills to create a visual statement.  You are expressing yourself in a non-verbal way.  Painting enables you to generate sentiments that are nearly impossible to verbalize, and in so doing, you relieve the soul from its pent-up burdens. This creative act starts some kind of mysterious chain reaction in you, and the resulting creativity spills over into other aspects of your life.  You will find your work, relationships, and love life improve considerably. This type of cross-fertilizing expression is a rare thing in the modern world.

The great modern artist Wassily Kandinsky thought that colors themselves possessed mystical qualities.  In his great 1911 treatise Concerning the Spiritual in Art, Kandinsky even went so far as to assert that colors actually had musical qualities, whether alone or used together.  This was one of the reasons he called his paintings “compositions”:  it was his way of relating paintings to musical symphonies.  I don’t know if I share his opinions, but I do believe that colors have some mystical force.  Being bathed in a mix of color, whether from oil painting, watercolors, or acrylics, has some undeniable therapeutic power.  It cannot be fully explained; you have to experience it for yourself.

Try painting.  It will ease the tumescence of an active imagination, fire up and sustain your creative juices, enable you to see relationships and connections between things you never could see before, and make you a more complete man.  The initial investment in money is far smaller than nearly any other hobby.  It makes little demand on your time, and rewards you with serenity of spirit and an increased appreciation for the depth and richness of the colors of the world.

It does not matter if you prefer abstract art, landscapes, portraits, or any other visual style.  And it is never too late to take up the brush.  Winston Churchill came to recreational painting late in life after suffering political setbacks in his career, and found that it always sustained his spirits through trying times.  His little 1932 homage to painting, the essay Painting as a Pastime is a wonderful little read in its own right.  “Just to paint is great fun”, he wrote.  “The colors are lovely to look at and delicious to squeeze out.  Matching them, however crudely, with what you see is fascinating and absolutely absorbing.  Try it if you have not done so—before you die.”

Gino Severini's "Armored Train"

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