What I learned from Art
Hannah Yates, Division 3, College senior #ws17e-s1d3

I fall in love differently. I fell in love for the first time when I was five. That was the year I received a box of art supplies as a Christmas gift. I still remember opening up the box, the colored pencils, paint, paintbrushes, and sketchpad beckoning to me, foreshadowing a lifetime of passion soon to come. I did not know it at the time, but this simple gift of art supplies would provide me with an immeasurable skill set that I would carry through every step of my life.

In the beginning, I was no Picasso. My brush strokes were messy, and I struggled to stay within the lines of my coloring books. Bob Ross made painting look so effortless and I often grew frustrated when my amateur “happy little trees” did not look exactly like the ones pictured in the VHS tapes I watched on repeat. I persevered nonetheless, and eventually my artwork began to resemble the visions in mind. I was hooked. I began drawing everything in my surroundings in the hopes of honing my skills, which I soon found extended beyond technical drawing and painting methods.

I have found that art allows me to connect with individuals who are unable to communicate in typical manners. Sometimes an art project takes longer that expected, or the path I usually take to complete the piece is blocked, and I have to find another route to my goals. Similarly, communication between people often has interferences, and art has provided me with the ability to overcome those interferences.

Art has taught me patience. This past year, I facilitated a reminiscent therapy group for older adults with dementia living in a retirement home. We spent many of our sessions completing art projects, such as painting and drawing. All of the residents held careers as artisans earlier in their lives, as carpenters, seamstresses, and painters, among others. Dementia causes a number of complications, including peripheral vision loss, a loss of fine motor skills and difficulties completing tasks that were once easy. Although the group members once spent their days creating works of art independently, dementia stole that independence. The residents took a long time to complete the activities, and they required a lot of assistance from me, but the extra efforts were worth it. The art triggered memories for the residents, and this typically nonverbal group of individual became quite animated as they shared stories of their pasts.

Art has taught me the importance of nonverbal communication. In the summer of 2016, I had a social work internship at an orphanage in Winneba, Ghana. While my time in Ghana was unforgettable, the journey home proved to be exciting as well. An eight-year-old refugee from Mali was flying unaccompanied to the United States and she was assigned to sit next to me. Normally, when children that young fly unaccompanied, a flight attendant looks after them. In this case, there were no flight attendants available due to an airline strike, and I ended up looking after her. Unfortunately for me, she did not speak a word of English, only French. My French skills are abysmal at best; so verbal communication did not seem possible. The young girl noticed my journal and pens sticking out of my backpack, and gestured to me for permission to pick it up. I handed her the journal and she began drawing. Through her drawings, she told me her story of leaving Mali, and shared her excitement about moving to the United States.

Although our interactions were wordless, we learned a lot about one another.
Art has provided me with skills I use in my everyday life. I have developed a lifestyle of discipline, and I always strive to improve myself in every way I can. My experience using art to communicate with others has taught me that everyone has a story to tell, and I have the ability, the passion, and the patience to walk with them through their experiences
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