How Students Use Art to Aid in Mental Health

Story and Photos by Samantha Shriber

Pablo Picasso once said, “The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls.”

There are times where the dust can overpower us – through insecurities, tragedy and the overall hardships of living. Art, musical or visual, can transition us away from the dark and towards a lighter and healthier experience to everyday life.  

The phrase “what’s bad for the heart is good for the art,” refers to the common belief that heartache makes room for creativity.  

Art: A Universal Outlet
Kelley Woodall, a Central Michigan University junior and art major, believes that art is the ideal mechanism for expressing one’s feelings.  

“A lot of great work can come from a place of pain or hurt,” Woodall said. 

Art, in Woodall’s opinion, is being able to take shape in virtually anything. Emotions are released through either traditional painting and drawing or even by the simplest visual expressions of creativity and personality. 


Woodall intends on becoming an art therapist after attaining the necessary art and psychology requirements. She believes art to be both something freeing and intimate.  

“Being able to express yourself in a creative outlet can be very freeing for an individual and gets rid of bad vibes,” she said.


Escaping the Fear of Failure
Rachel LaFrance, sophomore and graphic design student, views art as the perfect antidote for getting rid of gloomy thoughts.  

Some of LaFrance’s insecurities come from the fear of being limited to simply “a spec in existence.” She dreads the thought of being insignificant or falling short in comparison to her peers. Thankfully, she relieves these worries with the strong impact her craft has on her life.  

“Without art, I would be an empty shell of a person,” LaFrance said.

As college students, the concept of failing stands as a possible outcome. A reality like this one can be petrifying; it urges students to pursue dedication in their demand for distress, but at the almost-promised consequence of stress and paranoia.

“As a college student, I feel like a failure everyday. In class, for example, I try and try but I still don’t get the grades I deserve. I also feel like I just never get a break. I’m always expected to be doing something that I don’t want to do,” LaFrance said.

Through art, people have a meditative opportunity to escape the battle between passing and failing. By practicing new skills and finding contentment and enjoyment, an individual can feel pride from their creations.  

“No one bothers me when I’m making things, and once I’m done I can get the positive attention from the things I create if I choose to show others.”

Connecting with the World Around Us
Art doesn’t just provide self-help, but also the ability to inspire others.

Laura Kleven, a freshman who hopes to earn a degree in music education through the School of Music’s saxophone studio, holds great respect for the sovereignty of sound.

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“I want it to touch others the way music touched me,” Kleven said. “Mental health takes its toll, but music has a great positive effect. It can be a wonderful distraction from the monsters in your head and it brings beauty and joy into your life.”  

Kleven struggles tremendously with the fear of rejection.

“I will specifically avoid people I want to interact with,” Kleven said.

Music, in response, provides her with the ability to connect to others and seek out the confidence she requires for her everyday life.  

“Music helps me by giving me an outlet to forget about those insecurities and by relaxing me and giving me common ground to socialize,”  Kleven said. 


A Product of Immense Feeling
Alexia Ellison, senior studying vocal music education, is another believer in the power of art.  

“We make good music from tough situations. Or, not necessarily tough, but strong [passion] – really happy, really sad. You never hear songs about how someone feels mediocre about something,” Ellison said.

These artists use their insecurities and personal conflicts to create works of art. With this said, picking up a pen, brush, instrument or microphone could create something remarkable out of something stressful.