Art: A Creative Way to Express Yourself

Written By Aileen Trang

There are two things you should know about me: 1) I love volunteering and 2) I love art. I’m no professional but I’ve always enjoyed mucking around with different mediums and seeing what I can craft.

So when I saw an opportunity to volunteer at a 4-week art workshop for people diagnosed with cancer, I was all over it. The workshop “A Pilot Exploring Expressions of Living with Cancer” was created and lead by Robert Hawke, author and comedian, and Nadine Cross, Research Associate for the York-UHN Nursing Academy. I had heard how therapeutic art can be, but I had never seen it in action.

Artwork by Aileen
In Treatment (January 2013) by Aileen Trang

The tables were covered in art supplies: paints, markers, pastels, water colours, clay, and more. While the room looked inviting and exciting, most people seemed shy and intimidated. They told me they were worried about their artistic abilities and afraid of what the others may think. But as the weeks passed by and they shared more stories of their cancer journey, they became more comfortable sharing their artwork and more confident with what they wanted to do. I also noticed their art work changing. With every session, the art work became deeper, richer and more saturated with themes reflecting their thoughts and how they felt. Even the environment felt different. Openness, a sense of safety and support gradually replace the anxiety and tension.

I could tell that every person in that room loved coming to the art workshop, including the facilitators. Many participants said they felt a thousand times lighter after each session, and that the art workshop gave them what they were looking for: support, friendship, comfort and fun.

The stories I heard and the expressions revealed on the canvases will stay with me for a very long time. I even created an art piece based on a cancer survivor’s description of what it was like going through treatment.

“When you're in treatment, it's like you want to go underground. You don't want to see anyone. You just don't want to do anything. You just want to be by yourself.... It's only when you're better that you want to come out again.” -- Cancer survivor

Art has a funny way of distracting you from your inhibitions. Your hands are at work, your mind is focused on crafting, and you forget your shyness or hesitation. When you start talking about your experience, the words just start coming out and next thing you know it, you’re expressing feelings you were holding in. Art is therapeutic. I got to see it in action.


If you would like to learn more about the therapeutic possibilities of art, visit ART for Cancer Foundation.