I’ve been an artist from birth.  Coming from a practical family, I always thought of art as an almost guilty pleasure. Traditionally artists are not known for the wealth, so I’ve always tried to have a practical application for my artworks; jewelry, household items, knitwear, etc.  As fate and the stars would have it, I’ve been gifted with finding myself as an art teacher for people who are have a “disability”.  Having taught people with CP, Autism, Parkinson and the spectrums that each of those encompass, I’ve found one of the most practical but often unheralded application for art is TRANSFORMATION.

Over the course of the past 3 months I’ve been leading a couple of art sessions for Parkinson Alberta. The small class and dedicated arts space at Swinton’s who sponsored the location, allows us to interact in a small art studio. Although the first session was only 6 weeks long, transformation was evident in many aspects of the class. Parkinson disease had symptoms that vary, most people would be familiar with the visible ticks, tremors and speech impediments that are symptoms of this disease, often characterized by Michael J. Fox.

Observing during class and the series of sessions I saw many changes. One student who has distinct hand and body tremors literally still his movements when he has a paintbrush in hand. This gentleman is able to paint perfect straight lines and linear objects while he’s at the easel. He was not the only one to have a steady his hand while painting. At times I’ve worried that they may be challenged by some of the fine motor skills required for painting or multi-media projects. The students are encouraged to work at their own pace and go with the flow. Once everyone understood that there is no wrong way was to express themselves, they relaxed considerably.

The change in self-deprecation is evident. Most chronic health issues are accompanied by diminishing self-esteem, with increasing feelings of isolation and depression.  After a couple classes they naturally started to interact and offer each other suggestions and encouragement. On one occasion around the 3rd or 4th class I went to get more supplies in store and re-entered the studio to hear students calling out their symptoms, diagnoses and treatments they’ve tried and cracking jokes across the studio. It was a significant development from the initial classes. On another occasion student literally bounced and twirled around, so pleased at the results of her paint experiments at home that she brought in her own paint concoctions to share with the others. Communication and interaction rise each day, as does a sense of community. Most student have purchased their own paints, brushes, and supplies for home. They are engaging in art projects outside of class too. One couple takes their artwork home and work together on their individual creations.

Being creative in right environment is transformational, even if only for the duration of class. From my observations I would say that it extends far beyond that. I for one have never left the class without smile. If I would add another practical application for art and creativity would be REWARDING.


The Art & Soul Studio

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