London-based landscape artist Oliver Maughan reflects on the relationship between painting and practicing mindfulness
Throughout 2020, as we faced Covid-19 and its subsequent worldwide lockdowns, many of us were forced to slow down. Sheltered indoors for most of the year, there was little to do or see. With the recent resurgence of government restrictions and stay-at-home orders, we are having to slow down yet again.
As a landscape painter, parts of 2020 and 2021 posed problems as I could not get out and an about to paint scenes from life. Like almost everyone I had to adapt my practice to what was possible and legal at the time. However, when my frustrations or anxieties become overwhelming, I find myself reaching for my paintbrush.
Whenever I begin to paint, I am transported to a different world. No longer bombarded by image overconsumption and digital overload, painting provides me a solution to the heightened anxieties from the complexities of life. Painting allows one to slow down, to fully observe and be in the present moment, witnessing, and deliberately translating what is in front of them.
Contemporary culture seems to drive an ever increasing pace of life. Technology puts the world at our fingertips and we’ve become accustomed to instant gratification. Spurred on by our media-based culture, individuals are constantly on the go, racing towards the future. Taking time out purely for reflection can be frowned upon.
Just as it seems life cannot move any faster, however, we are starting to push back. Yearning for a slower pace, individuals are prioritizing their mental health. Putting aside the distractions of our current day, we engage in mindfulness exercises to cultivate inner peace. Whether it’s via meditation, hiking, or painting, these relaxing hobbies offer us a break from our hectic lives.
As a result of two years of intermitted lockdowns, many have struggled with their mental health. According to the Mental Health Foundation, since the first UK lockdown in March 2020, adults have become less able to cope with the stress of the pandemic, and suicidal thoughts have become more prevalent.
With our isolation and lockdowns increasing and exasperating existing mental health issues, leading professionals are encouraging others to seek help and use this downtown to prioritize their hobbies and wellbeing.
Painting has helped me to develop focus, discipline, and awareness of the present moment, all of which I feel have a positive impact on my mental health, but it has also improved other aspects of my life. According to Harvard Health, “creative activities, [such as painting,] can relieve stress, aid communication, and help arrest cognitive decline.” I find this true, as when I have achieved this inner peace, I am reminded of my priorities and reset for the future challenges I must face.
As our world adjusts to this new shift, we are reminded that the only constant thing in our life is change. Coping with and embracing this change is a crucial part of living in the 21st century. As we continue to prioritize our mental health, we become experts in the art of mindfulness, shaping our world for the better.