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Art is good for you

Art is good, Painting by Moana Munro

Art is good for you – Guest post by Emma Lord

The Spanish surrealist Joan Miró said, “A simple line painted with the brush can lead to freedom and happiness.”

Dog Barking at the Moon 1952 by Joan Miro

Dog Barking at the Moon 1952 by Joan Miró. Image credit: Artists Home

The benefits of painting and other art forms are well established. From concentration and fine motor skills to mindfulness and confidence boosting, the act of painting, sculpting, or making can be therapeutic.

Everyone can benefit from an art class

I recently joined a painting class with a friend. While I have a basic foundational knowledge and experience from high school art classes, my friend has never painted before. Although we’ve only been to two sessions, there have already been a number of “wow” moments.

In our first class, my friend whispered to me, as though it was a secret, “It’s so nice!” Her usual art practice is with coloured pencils, and she was surprised at the relative speed at which she could colour the background. Her sense of happy discovery was as good for me as it was for her. In that session, we both received an injection of joyful wonder at the world and what we were capable of, a shot of satisfaction within ourselves, and a dose of appreciation for the power of colour to affect us.

Art as play

“This is just playing for you,” our tutor said, watching me apply paint to the canvas for my background, before I knew what the painting would be about. The comment made me think of drawing with crayons, and that always gives me a little thrill of joy. For me, using crayons and paint really is a form of play, and that is something most adults don’t have nearly enough of in their lives. And you don’t have to be a ‘good’ artist to experience this. In fact, it’s precisely because I have no aspirations to produce great work that I am able to treat art as play. That’s the “freedom and happiness” Miró was talking about.

Stock image

But it’s not just the act of creation that can soothe and enliven us. The presence of art in our environment is vitally important to society, and can have a powerful effect on the individual.

Celebrating the David Fine Scholarship

For the past two weeks, the Hastings Community Art Gallery on Russell Street South has hosted an exhibition celebrating the first decade of the David Fine Scholarship, supported by local collective Iwi Toi Kahungunu.  David Fine played an important role in forming the Arts Centre, securing the the gorgeous Harvey Building as a designated art space, and creating the Hastings District Community Arts Trust. After his death, the Trust established the David Fine Scholarship in his memory. This ten year anniversary show of the recipients’ work drew me back again and again during its two-week showing.


David Fine and Hastings District Community Arts Trust chairman, Graeme Linwood in the Harvey Building, which houses the Hastings Community Art Gallery.

Many of the works on display, especially those from Iwi Toi artists, were an exploration of heritage and identity. This is something that always fascinates me. New Zealand’s colonial history has created (and still creates) a great deal of pain and division. Yet within nearly every New Zealander, whether Māori, early European settler, or more recent immigrant, is a combination of tangata whenua and manuhiri. Even the lives and identities of pākehā like myself with no Māori blood are deeply interwoven with the whenua and te ao Māori.

Living here means being ‘of’ here. I whakapapa to the mountains and rivers of my tūrangawaewae. I whakapapa to the journeys my ancestors took to get to New Zealand. I whakapapa to the distant and varied countries they started in. The knowledge of this connection to the land, and therefore also a connection to other people of that land, gives me a greater sense of belonging in this world. And belonging is good for us.

Moana Munro

One of the two scholarship recipients for 2019 is Toimairangi student Moana Munro. Her artworks particularly stood out to me as she combines iconic imagery from Māori visual arts with hints of Australian Aboriginal painting techniques, designs and colour palettes. The high-contrast landscape background of the painting below reminds me of my hometown. The way the stylised figures interact seems to represent the way I feel about the painting.

Art is good, Painting by Moana Munro

At the top of the stairs, presiding over all of the other work, was a painting of a tuatara by Wairarapa artist Sam Te Tau. I fell in love with him immediately. I say ‘him’ because in my mind, the painting is of Henry, the oldest tuatara at the Southland Museum and Art Gallery in Invercargill.  Henry is thought to be at least 150 years old. The painting is huge: about 5 feet tall. The tuatara looks as though he is about to crawl out of the canvas, prehistoric crest and all. Within the spots on his skin, the artist has included enchanting patterns like circles and korus. I can’t really explain it, but just being in the presence of this painting makes me happy.

Art is Good. Sam Te Tau, tuatara

When you see a painting you love, you feel good.

You are present, appreciating what’s in front of you. You connect with the artist, who may never meet or know you, and the artist’s influences, colours, shapes, ideas… this connection is powerful, and is what makes art so meaningful to me, and so good for me. Connecting with people, connecting with myself, and connecting with the real world is the cure for what ails me.

A big thanks to Emma for writing this post. If you have an art related piece of writing that you think would be of value to my audience. Get in touch. 

In her own words

Emma Lord is a work in progress. She loves learning, creating and sunshine. She lives in Hastings with her cat Galileo.

1 thought on “Art is good for you

  1. Tena rawa atu koe e te hoa piri pono, e Emma. He rawe hoki o korero mo “He pai te mahi toi maau”. I too felt or feel the the joy of art . This year has been a year of discovery of varying art forms from learning ukulele to painting with acrylics to making the occasional flax bouquet. I loved your comment about being pakeha and the connections you feel for this land. Tangata whenua status can be acquired through building connectons. Thanks for the article.

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