3 Ways Art Kept Me Sane During College

Most of our college careers are all about planning and structure. There’s a lot of putting yourself and your pleasures to the side in order to focus on what’s important. As if getting up in the morning shamefully early to work on papers, arranging meetings, communicating with professors, picking up side jobs, applying for internships, and working in crisis mode to keep up with school work, wasn’t enough…

It doesn’t sound ideal, and it’s a lifestyle that isn’t sustainable for your health and mind. Almost subconsciously, I found myself turning to art in different ways, which, looking back, are the reasons why I never felt burned out.  

Art gave me confidence

Starting college, I jumped straight into the university newspaper, and was immediately tasked with covering stories that often seemed larger than I was. As the news editor in 2016, I landed a lot of protests which often ran late at night, and were often very intimidating. In a crowd of thousands of residents that were usually angry (whether about police shootings or the recent presidential election results), I almost felt smaller and unnoticeable walking through the crowds. And I often found myself feeling frustrated as words were often not enough to convey the atmosphere of each charged chant throughout the city.

I turned to photography and soon after picking up a camera for the first time, I felt relieved and better equipped to tell my stories. I was able to capture the look in protesters’ eyes when they were faced with police officers lined up against them, I was able to tell stories without convincing the audience that my descriptions were enough. I was able to show them everything I saw, and felt entirely confident that I was exposing my readers to everything I was exposed to, with no biased or no wrong descriptions. With a camera in hand, I found myself feeling confident enough to not only mingle with the crowd, instead of lingering in the sidelines, but to stand facing the front line. Acknowledged as a reporter and with a new-found confidence to look these people in the eye and without saying a word, let them know I was there on a job, no longer feeling like a small-sized college student.

Last month, I was talking to a friend who let me know he picked up the camera amidst a battle with depression. He said the hobby brought him happiness and he found the motivation to get out of the house and wonder about, looking for the perfect shot. He wasn’t the only one I heard a similar story from.

Another good friend of mine picked up the camera as a last resort. Growing up within gangs and alongside friends that are now in prison or no longer alive, he said he often felt pressured to be more involved in that community, to never show emotion, and to find ways to collect money on the streets; whether that was drugs, sex or “getting things done.” Halfway through college, and seeing many of his peers suffer consequences from that lifestyle, he felt discouraged and unmotivated. With thoughts of dropping out already setting their foundations in his mind, he told me he was convinced someone like him wouldn’t “end well” and would probably end up in the wrong place at the wrong time. He begun taking pictures and turned his life around in what seemed to me like seconds.

He’s no a freelance photographer, picking up gigs with not only local outlets but also shows, galleries and individual photo shoots. It would be unfair to hide that he’s extremely talented behind the lens, but it’s a craft he practiced obsessively before getting to where he got. And it’s something that came out of nowhere. “A gift from a friend,” something he never considered, an ability he never thought he had. And in his short time shooting, he’s built a following of people that appreciate the way he captures feelings through the eyes, and the way he lets light give viewer’s the model’s personality. It’s an art that saved his life.

 Art was a (much needed – essential actually) outlet

A mentor of mine recently gave me the good ole lecture on pacing and balance. I’ve never really been a fan of either. Aching to keep up with a competitive job field that’s been sneaking up in my nightmares more often than not, the “healthy mind, healthy life” slogan isn’t really on the top of my priority list. In fact, what are proper meals in healthy, balanced intervals, and WHAT IS self-care?

Once we graduate, we most likely will understand that face masks and “me time” aren’t really what we should be focusing on–at least that’s what most people tell us. I was never a person to appreciate sitting around anyway. But I saw the consequences of burning out very often in my junior year of college–got sick a lot, lost appetite often (and my temper), and was never in the mood to go out.

So, I found hobbies.

I bought myself the starter pack of ‘How to Draw Portraits’ collection from Barnes & Noble, and while that specific endeavor didn’t quite work out, I did pick up other hobbies I busied myself more and more with while under stress. Reading, journaling, and a delirious jump into modern art and music. I found the good spots in Atlanta (which means: good music, good beer), saw the art our grungy places had to offer and I traveled quite a bit in the past semester enjoying my newfound musical preferences, writing down realizations and often found the things I wrote felt like a conversation with myself.

Art was a reminder of my community

My mom and I got into shows very recently. While living in Europe, we used to go to the theater productions very and had our own ranking system of the comedies we watched. Our favorite productions are Greek so we didn’t get to see them live, but the reminder of my love for stand-up and shows opened up a door for Atlanta entertainment.

Open mics and smaller events have become not only an outlet, but hours of complete recreation. I attended the monthly Atlanta Write Club performance (10/10 would recommend) which was hilarious, liberating and entirely comforting to hear that so many others in this city are not only struggling through their own trials but most importantly, are using those struggles as a comedy script. If local productions and theater do one thing well, that thing is creating a community. People you don’t even know but yet are lucky enough to see their most vulnerable selves, feel for their sorrows and laugh with them on their father’s most absurdly religious arguments. I’ve been juggling the idea of whether going on that stage would be healing or entirely traumatic (currently at a 50/50 decision point), but even if you’re not the type to go on stages at all, I think there’s no one that can’t benefit from a good long, breath-taking laugh, or a quirky, mind-twisting poem reading.

I read an article on a program in southeast London aiming to bring children of deprived backgrounds closer to the arts. People are starting to realize the arts not only increase confidence and tackle community issues, but literally connect us with each other. And under so much stress these days, who doesn’t need a de-stressor?

We at The Creative Folks encourage you to try new things and find new horizons and hobbies that involve an artistic, creative process. You’d find out more about yourself than you intend!

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