“Sheltering in PEACE” part 5: from REPRESSION to SELF-EXPRESSION; utilizing the arts to restore mental and emotional well-being

Art, as it turns out, is much more than just a hobby, an activity to keep our kids busy, a relaxing pastime, or a product to simply appreciate or enjoy. Art is a process, a ritual, a tradition, a ceremony, a journey, even . . . a preventative and interventional therapy. Art stretches and strengthens our bodies, expands and enriches our minds, touches and inspires our souls. Art is physical conditioning, cognitive development, emotional maintenance, and spiritual growth. Art is holistic medicine, holistic education, holistic . . . humanity. Breath for the body, food for the brain, sunshine for the heart, water for the soul.

art2My son and resident artist

How do we know ART is “all that”?

To help answer this question, I called in a few life-lines, personally interviewing four masters of their artistic crafts whom I have had the privilege to call teachers, directors, and friends (oh . . .  and one of them “mom”). This post is a truly collaborative effort; a collection of expertise and insight from professionals who are influential in their artistic fields, and truly wonderful people to boot. Meet the experts:

  • Susan Berkompas; MFA Department Chair at Vanguard University & Artistic Producing Director
  • Dr. David Anthony Dehner; DMA (Doctorate in Voice, Musicology, and Music Theory), Vocal Arts Instructor at Monte Vista Christian School, Four-time Grammy Nominee for Music Teacher of the Year – 2017 Finalist
  • Jamie Davis; professional artist and performer
  • My amazing mom; piano teacher, choir leader, concert accompanist, expert seamstress, and bread-baker extraordinare

I am truly honored to share with you the incredible wealth of information and inspiration gathered from these interviews. Thank you, experts!

happy feet15
Happy Feet Art Project

ART— why it matters, at-a-glance

The POWER OF ART, in all its forms, can be seen throughout history:

  • anthems that led armies to victory or kept courageous patriotism alive
  • speeches that challenged the current tide of morality
  • paintings that crossed time barriers, altering beliefs and worldview in their wake
  • books that exposed corruption and forever changed the face of government

The BEAUTY OF ART, in all its forms, can be experienced around the globe:

  • traditional and tribal dances that celebrate life’s most precious events and milestones
  • writings and recitations, read and spoken in good times and bad
  • architecture, fabrics, paintings, sculptures, cuisine —celebrating and reflecting history, heritage, culture
  • stories passed down from generation to generation and translated from tongue to tongue
  • songs and speeches and anthems that bind a community, a country, or parts of the world—sometimes surpassing even the barriers of time, language, and religion

The TRUTH OF ART, in all its forms, can be realized individually or even universally:

Artists and critics will often remind us: ART IS STORY. And stories, as Sarah Mackenzie tells us in The Read-Aloud Familyare the vehicles for imparting the most important truths we know. Story awakens us to the beauty and bedlam of the world around us. It awakens within us a desire for mercy and justice and truth.” Putting those two concepts together (that art is story, and that story reveals truth), then art reveals and imparts truth to us in a way that can override the barriers of time, language, and all manner of distinctions between people. In other words, art can effectively and universally communicate truth on an instinctual, almost transcendent level. 

danceMy niecces, beautiful ballerinas and artists

What is the impact of REMOVING ART?
from a culture, from a people, from a community

“Parents need to understand that the arts must be implemented, and at a young age, for their child to truly have a complete education. When we remove the arts,
we lose our most valuable and most effective tool for cognitive, social, and personal development ” -Dr. David Anthony Dehner

What does the loss of art look like? As an example, as a test-run, as an experiment, let’s look at schools—our children, our future. What happens when you remove the arts from schools? Well, that we know! Because we’ve done it!

  • Scores, morale, and comradery go down—in one fell swoop, one arguably holistic movement
  • Behavior issues, bullying/violence, harassment, and mental health issues go up —correlationally . . . or causationally? That remains up for debate.

We know this to be true now from an overwhelming and ever-mounting pile of research, but many of us (like the expert voices behind the insights in this post) also know this instinctively or through personal experience. People who practice daily self-expression (arts & crafts, music, movement, dance, culinary arts, creative writing—art in any form) know first-hand how truly invaluable the arts are to our overall well-being.

Camp-Inspired Arts & Crafts for Summer!

“Art is even the fingerprint of God; the strains of music, the pulse of rhythm can be found throughout every facet of nature.” -my mom

We were created to create. To inhibit ourselves or our children from that God-given right is nothing short of thievery. If we do not embrace and celebrate artistic self-expression, in our homes and in our schools, we rob our children (and ourselves) of the opportunity to thrive on a human level. We do not all have to be artists by profession, certainly! But to engage in a form of artistic self-expression is to physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually pour into and free ourselves to take on whatever task or challenge is at hand to the best of our ability, from our most present selves, from our well-nourished souls.

Camp-Inspired Arts & Crafts for Summer!

SHIFT #3 for our series on caring for kids with the “Isolation Blues”: from REPRESSION to SELF-EXPRESSION; utilizing the arts to restore mental and emotional well-being

peace9If you missed the first two “shifts” for this series, click here: Sheltering in PEACE; caring for kids with the “Isolation Blues” Archive


“Giving kids of all ages access to the arts means freely enabling them to do what they already instinctively do. Free play and imagination emerge, even sometimes before talking, yet somewhere along the way we stifle creativity and imagination with societal concepts that inhibit and encroach on childhood.” -Susan Berkompas

How can we remove from core-curriculum that which, as humans, is in the very cores of our being—our artistic self-expression? The arts, which have, throughout history, been woven into the fabric of humanity— culturally, ritually, holistically, mentally, spiritually—are often so removed from our modern culture and daily lives that we have to INJECT them back into our lives in the form of innovative and interventional therapies!!

Music therapy, various movement therapies, “grounding”. . . the arts are being used to TREAT many mental-health (sometimes even physical) conditions that often need never exist or progress if we simply, preventatively, holistically keep art where it should always be—historically where it has always beenat the heart of our cultures, at the heart of our communities, at the heart of our homes, and, intrinsically, at the heart of education.

at home and at school

“I have, and have had throughout the years, many students with various physical and mental-health disorders—anxiety, depression, even autism— and the arts are basically what saves them.” -Susan Berkompas

PHYSICAL EFFECTS of artistic expression:

  • better, more restful sleep patterns (as explored in Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child by Marc Weissbluth, M.D.)
  • increased lung health and capacity (singers and musicians who play wind instruments)
  • boosted immune systems (even from simply listening to music)
  • increased blood flow and restored lymphatic function (yoga, dance, martial arts, movement, etc.)
  • increased dexterity and muscle coordination (across the arts)

COGNITIVE EFFECTS of artistic expression:

  • improved focus in a classroom setting
  • increased mathematical conceptual ability (with any art involving music)
  • more retentive memory (using rhythm or music as a memorization tool)
  • supportive in learning to read or learning a new language (particularly music theory)
  • produces more creative, more open-minded, divergent and dynamic thinkers (across the arts)
  • facilitates the ability to multi-task (particularly music and theater)

MENTAL & EMOTIONAL HEALTH EFFECTS of artistic expression:

  • increased emotional strength and resilience
  • decreased stress and tension
  • supportive in the sorting of and working through strong or difficult emotions
  • alleviates symptoms for anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, OCD, ADD, and ADHD (across the arts)
  • increased self-esteem, confidence, and comradery

These effects for children can be seen immediately as well as cumulatively. Directly following a window of artistic-expression—a block of time spent painting or dancing or singing—a child may be noticeably happier, more at peace, more confident, etc. Over time, these effects of artistic expression can contribute significantly to a child’s development and overall well-being. If you have doubts (understandably so) put it to the test!! Keep a journal of your child’s moods and behavior and add time for artistic-expression into your child’s daily diet. Record their behaviors and moods during and directly following an artistic window, and monitor their emotional progression over time. If you really mean business, be sure to include a “control” group in your experiment in the form of other non-artistic activities your child engages in —normal activities/play, watching TV, playing video games, etc. blues23

Making the Shift: Embracing the ARTS in the Home

“Art in the home and at school establishes rituals and rights of belonging, providing opportunities for speaking truth and creating empathy, ultimately establishing a sense of well-being that prepares and empowers children to later go out into the greater world.” -Jamie Grace Davis

What does an artistic home look like? That I can answer, since I was lucky enough to grow up in one! In case you weren’t (lucky enough), let me paint a picture for you:

When your mom is a piano teacher and concert accompanist, your childhood is, quite simply, set to music. Growing up, the piano was always but always being played, or attempting to be played, or being plunked at by a curious toddler. My siblings and I heard music, played music, felt music, breathed music . . . all day, every day. Additionally, my dad, who is a farmer, taught the fine arts of gardening and manual-labor, sometimes against our will. In our school room, an easel, chalkboard, and generous art supply cupboard were always there—freely available. And so was the swing set, the herb garden, the orchards. Breads and pies and cookies were always baking in the oven, bowls being licked, quilts and dresses being expertly stitched together with a whirring sewing machine, gymnastics and cheer-leading routines being choreographed on the lawn by my eldest sister, tap routines being drilled out in front of the closet mirrors by my middle sister, fishing lures being tied together and survival skills being tested by my little brother, and myself—journaling and writing stories through it all, or putting on a dramatic puppet show. I give you . . . my original holistic homeschool. I never really knew mine was an artistic home growing up. Art just was. . . is . . . daily life.


~The effects of ART on a family~

Art is bonding and binding: creating something together, participating in something together, enjoying something together —artistic collaboration is incredibly uniting, unifying, and enriching for a family. People who create something together are often lifelong friends. Imagine what that could mean for our children!

Art is confidence-building: in an artistic household, children will feel useful and special contributing to individual and collaborative art projects. For the youngest members of the family, or children who feel they are always left out or misunderstood, this can be incredibly powerful.

Art is quieting: ok…. drum practice excluding. On the whole, integrating the arts into the home creates a more peaceful home environment, allows children longer and more restful sleep, and has a way of quelling sibling and even marital spats.

“Love the art your children create, and they will more deeply understand how much you love them.” -Dr. David Anthony Dehner

dance2 (2)My nieces’ beautiful tiny-dancer feet

~3 Steps to Integrate (or better integrate) the Arts into Your Home~

1.) Create SPACE for art in your home environment:

    • establish set artistic “zones”: art corners, reading nooks, writing desks, costume boxes, dance floors— and stock them with a well-rounded supply of materials

2.) Set aside TIME for art in your home environment:

    • establish set artistic “windows”: arts & crafts time, “Cozy Corner” (reading time), “Creative Corner”, Music & Movement time, etc.

3.) Allow FREEDOM of artistic expression in your home environment:

    • emphasize “process” and “effort” over “product” and “results”
    • provide art mediums but refrain from the stress and confines of specific, result-oriented art projects


Life-Changing Insight from an Unsolicited Artist

Of all the art experts I am honored to have interviewed for this post, perhaps my favorite quote and insight on the subject of art as it relates to mental-health came about organically this week, from an unsolicited source: my son, my own little resident artist. He had been painting on our apartment balcony for an hour and a half, completely focused, visibly at peace. When he had finished, he asked me how I liked his painting. I responded that I loved it but had loved watching him peacefully paint even more. His response, with an unknowingly wise smile and lit-up eyes, is one I will never forget:

“I was so happy and peaceful because I felt like I was in the woods.”

To feel you are in the woods, while on an urban balcony on the outskirts of an enormous city . . . that is the power, the beauty, the truth of art.


Thank you for reading!

Love, ~Our Holistic Homeschool~




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