By Ryan Farrell, Staff Writer
Art is becoming well known for being an effective therapeutic method. Reaghan Smith, an art education major who is focused in community arts, believes that this method is effective for people affected by mental illness.
Smith has always been attracted to sculpting, which is what she is primarily known for. In a previous summer, she had a collaborative piece featured in the Westbrook Library. While she doesn’t spend a lot of time in the studio due to her major, she isn’t short of experience.
Smith has been taking classes at USM since 2009. She discovered her passion seven years ago when she found the potential that mediums such as sculpting can bear. She said that her “creativity was heavily encouraged by the art faculty in place.” Smith also said that she credited a part of her revelation to a 3D design course. This class was taught by Duncan Hewitt, a long-time faculty member. During her time in his course, she learned that 3D art is much more expressive than two-dimensional mediums.
“It’s so much more open than you could ever imagine,” Smith said.
While Smith has been exploring ceramics these past two semesters, that isn’t where her specialty lies. Her main craft is known as fiber or soft sculptures, which have many different variations. The pieces are made up of fabric, wool and weaving.
“I found that I kept gravitating towards things that are more natural, like how some people are attracted to creating metal work,” she said.
Smith only uses metal as either a frame or an installation.
Many of these materials take awhile to process, but she involves herself in all aspects of the production. This includes gathering wool from a local farm, building her own spinning wheel and creating her own weaving and yarn. Smith described a specific fleece she created by repeatedly mixing white and grey wool in order to craft a white and grey gradient appearance. She said that these handcrafted products are much superior to mainstream alternatives. Even though the creation can span over multiple months, Smith feels that the end result is worth the wait.
A goal of hers is to express realism through her work. She mentioned one piece of hers that demonstrated her understanding and appreciation of realism. The sculpture was a chocolate mold of an apple and it was painted with colored sugar icing in order to give it a rotten appearance.
Smith was captivated by the contrast of the piece, since a confectionery delight has been made to look incredibly repulsing. This illustrated how the visual of a piece can speak to the viewer and that different contexts can affect the overall message.
“After that apple-chocolate piece I did, I started really thinking about why I do the things I do in art and how to get more specific about what I do with them,” Smith said.
Another function of her work is that it provides a sense creative expression. Smith stated that her work is not only personal, but it is also a method of self reflection.
“It’s really nice to be able to just sit down and work through things without words,” said Smith. “I’m not just creating a beautiful thing, I’m working through a difficulty that I have.”
Even though many of Smith’s pieces are visually appealing, this isn’t her priority. Her pieces’ representation is of utmost importance since there is usually a lack of control associated with the visual. Even though they’re bound to receive multiple perceptions, Smith takes pleasure in seeing the emotional reaction, even if it isn’t her intended reaction.
In the coming years, Smith wants to work in the art therapy field, specifically to assist people whose lives have been affected by mental illness. Her goal is to eventually work in a wellness home.
This small group bases locations out of vegetable farms and it utilizes outdoor therapeutics, like planting, or working with farm animals. Smith first learned about these when she applied for an internship at a wellness home in North Carolina.
“It was a wonderful place. It opened my eyes to how healing doesn’t have to be in a hospital,” Smith said. Unfortunately, since she relocated, she wasn’t able to attend. However she eventually hopes to explore a similar opportunity again so she can show others the power of expression and perception.
By Asha Tompkins, Arts and Culture Editor
She’s seated in front of a giant sketch pad with a permanent marker in hand and a swarm of thoughts in her mind. After a timeless instance of attacking the paper, she takes a step back. All of her troubles are manifested into a visual story. Her art became a part of her.
Junior Cosette Holmes, an art history and art education major found that her love for art began after receiving an easel as one of her first birthday presents. However, this early-on exposure didn’t have a significant impact until later in her life.
“I had a teacher in high school that I didn’t take any art classes with, but she was one of the art teachers there and she spread so much compassion and love through her art,” said Holmes. “That’s always been something that I admire about her and it really affected me in a way in how I view art.”
Her art takes many different forms, whether it be painting, sculpture, writing music or theatre art, Holmes finds the beauty in it.
“The different forms of art that I’m involved in and create all impact each other,” said Holmes. “One example of that would be that I love listening to music and creating art based off of how the music makes me or someone else feel, or even combining music with theatre, that’s an interesting art form.”
Holmes said that “even the idea of performance of theatre and acting” inspires her art pieces and “makes it all melt together.”
In order to get her creativity rolling, Holmes takes a piece of paper, regardless of whether or not it has marks on it, and then splashes, mixes and spreads colors across it, not worrying about what the finished product will look like.
“Just think about expression. Instead of being nervous about your art being good enough, do what your hand feels like doing. That’s a strange way of putting it, but I think that everyone has that creativity and that natural artist inside of them. You can really let yourself be free with it,” Holmes said.
To Holmes, a big aspect of making art is the fact that artists are able to share their different perspectives of the world with other people.
“Everyone sees the world in a very individual way, and I love to share my individual way of seeing the world with other people.”
Holmes stated that “it’s important for people to remember that everyone is an artist.”
“There’s no distinction – I don’t think there should be a distinction between someone who makes art professionally, someone who doodles, or someone who makes jewelry or someone who makes quilts,” said Holmes. “All humans are artists because we all create constantly.”
She learned that concept at the beginning of her artistic career and allowed it to shape her own art.
“Last summer, I was bored and I sat down in front of this giant sketch pad,” said Holmes. “I had a lot of things that I was dealing with and processing through.”
Someone had suggested that she try and process those emotions by expressing them through her art.
“I always kind of had trouble translating the emotions that I felt from different trauma, with depression and childhood abuse and things like that,” said Holmes. “So, I took a permanent marker and started destroying this sketch pad. I ended up with this piece that really expressed part of my emotions and part of how I look back on some of the trauma from my childhood.
After looking at the finished product, Holmes realized that she could almost have a conversation with her piece.
“That really opened my eyes to how powerful art is for me, and how effective it is for people to really deal with pain,” said Holmes. “That’s something that I work through with my art now, something that fuels some of my art is just processing through pain and finding the beauty in life, despite the pain.”
Holmes made stated that letting go is most important in finding her creativity. If she holds onto expectations for herself, then the art won’t “become what it’s meant to be.”
“For other people, especially sketchers and people who are really into drawing, they might have a specific plan of exactly how they want things to go,” said Holmes. “It probably works for them, and I’m sure it turns out beautifully, but for me, it’s just a little different. It’ll be different for everyone.”
But that difference is what helps Holmes find the beauty in the art. Someone might look at her piece and not understand how it came to be, or what it represents. But, she knows. The art is a part of her, and it will always be a special relationship.