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Self Discovery thru Art

Julie Quill, CTRS owner of ARTS AND REC, LLC.

The information in this article is supported by working with individuals that have intellectual, developmental and physical disabilities. Using the standards of therapeutic recreation and visual arts as the main focus to help the participants to meet their goals, finding their best quality of life.

Self Discovery thru Art

“Art provides the stimulus to activate cognitive processes that maintain and strengthen neuronal connections in the brain. Participating in creative activities connects to something essential deep inside a person, bypassing the ego and dialoguing with the essence of a person” (Hayes, 2011, p. 32). This article talks about how visual arts can create such pride in an individual that it can affect so many other life skills. When you feel good about yourself it can make you do great things.

There are many famous greek artists such as Michangelo, Aristotle, and El Greco all of whom used their talents to reach telos, the full potential of the participant. ​​As recreation therapists our job is to help an individual find their full potential toward a better quality of life. Showing off one’s achievements can also make us feel good. Individuals that have developmental / Intellectual and physical disabilities work hard to accomplish their goals. No matter what those goals are, they should be noticed, shared and allowed to grow.

French impressionist painter Henri Matisse said “Creativity takes courage.” This is very true, when you create you show yourself to the world. Visual arts can bring mind stimulation, calming skills, social skills, communication skills, leisure skills and self esteem to those with developmental/intellectual and physical disabilities. Art can also provide confidence, pride, and creativity.

Art empowers us to image, problem solve, be creative and improvise. These traits are important in our everyday life, we use each one in so many different aspects of our lives. However they can be hard to teach. They are usually demonstrated and learned in our daily lives. Art can be a great way to help those with different learning abilities to attain these traits. Art helps the participant to follow directions, release control, be social and share ideas. Whether one on one or in a group setting art will inspire the growth of life goals.

Having modified directions everyone can reach their goals even if it is not at the same pace. The step-by-step instruction allows for conversation about art technique, art history and experiences. It also helps them learn to manage their time, and create at their own leisure. Being able to communicate gives someone so much control over their own life. It gives them the ability to express what they want to say. Art gives them a voice and allows them to bring out what's inside. Participants are encouraged to be individuals, to show their own creativity and own personality. In our classes the participants show their work at the end of the class. They are willing to put themselves out there. Critiquing and sharing ideas is such a great way to practice speaking, and expressing your thoughts.

Imagination helps with so many skills, critical thinking is one of them. Working with familiar art materials can be easy. However when the participant is presented with an everyday item, such as cardboard, tin foil, sticks, etc. and asked to create an art project it could be a little daunting. However this helps them to think outside the box. They need to look at the object in a different way. This is a great way to show how the expected can become the unexpected. A lesson that all should learn about life. A huge example of this life lesson is COVID.

This virus has changed the routine of so many individuals with special needs. Everyone’s lives have been disrupted. For these individuals these changes have turned their worlds upside down. Everything stopped, including their programs, how they work, learn and live. Most have not returned to their “normal” routine. Art classes have allowed for some familiarness in a very unfamiliar world. In dealing with all of these transitions so many of them have shown all of the characteristics mentioned above. Art has played such a huge role in the lives of the individuals I work with. The participants have learned how to adapt to the new ways of life.


They have grown in communication, being willing to speak up and let me know what they like, dislike and how they are feeling. They have used their artwork to give back to the community by having an art show and donating all the proceeds. They enjoy looking at something and saying, “I created that.” One of my participants weaves with me and you can see how it centers and calms him. Art helps with self correcting, seeing what's there and how they can change it. Oftentimes things don't go as planned when creating a piece of art. Problem solving in art is changing the artistic path. Art can show us how to be flexible and move with the change.

Using questionnaires and interviews with the participants and caregivers, I learned that many had goals such as artistic skills, communication and social skills, however so many also mentioned pride. Being proud of what they accomplish, what they are learning and how they create the artwork. Using the standard of Recreation Therapy and visual arts that pride can go beyond the art work and move into all aspects of their lives. Their pride has led to smiles, and their ability to create has become a love to continue to learn. They have found a new leisure activity that will last a lifetime.


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