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Art and Expression in Times of Stress

By Dmitri 

Hello again readers, 

Today I’d like to talk with you all about a topic very important to my own mental health care routine and generally very helpful tool in times of stress: vent art. For those of you who have never heard of the term, that’s okay. The definition of vent art is simple: art that is made to let out a feeling. This feeling can be anything really, but the connotation is usually more negative emotions. In this blog, I’d like to explain the purpose of vent art, the importance of expression during times of stress, and give a little tutorial on how to make vent art. 

The purpose of vent art, while somewhat self-explanatory (to ‘vent’ out emotions through art), can go beyond its common internet association of cringy middle school art. When I made the decision in high school that art college wasn’t the right path for me, something about my own art changed. I no longer had the need to perform or create to anyone else’s standards, I didn’t need to push myself to practice when I didn’t feel like it –  I made art for myself. This is when I started really exploring what could be called vent art, creating surreal pieces in response to whatever stress or general negative emotion I was feeling at the time. I dove into genres I had never explored before: horror, classic gothic, and distorted body imagery. When I felt stressed during the college application process, I drew. When I felt powerless trying to figure out what the housing situation for my partner and I would be, I drew. When I felt overwhelmed by crushing body dysphoria related to my trans identity, I drew. I drew what I wasn’t able to express through words to others around me. I drew to take all the awful feelings in my head that I couldn’t understand and spew them onto a canvas. This allowed me to both get those feelings out, further analyze, and try to better understand how I felt. 

With my personal experience on the spectrum, I often find it hard to express to others my emotions in words. I usually need to think about a particular topic for a few weeks before I feel like I can properly express how I feel about it. For very strong and negative emotions like anxiety, fear, or general sadness, waiting weeks to express my emotions more clearly just didn’t cut it. It further complicated things when my facial expressions often didn’t match how I felt. This led to me bottling a lot of stuff up during my teen years. This was a pretty unhealthy habit that I’ve tried to stray from, mostly by channeling my emotions into other forms of expression. 

With the recent development of the COVID-19 pandemic, a lot of us are being forced to change our daily routines. Many college-aged adults are going to be taking classes online this spring term, and some aren’t even going to be taking classes again until September. This disruption, in any form that it may take, is still a disruption that we’re all going to have to learn how to live with. It’s going to be difficult, I know that I personally spent my winter quarter putting so much effort into perfecting my daily/weekly routine, learning good study skills, and trying really hard to make friends. When I got the email that my college’s entire spring quarter would be online, I felt shattered. I felt like I had done so much work for nothing. Motivation, staying in touch with friends, keeping up good grades, and keeping ourselves mentally healthy during times of isolation and stress is going to be a challenge for us all. And while I’m still not sure how to help with all those other things, I can at least offer an outlet to keep up good mental health: vent art. To wrap things up I’d like to share a little loose tutorial on how to get started. First, pick your medium! I know in this blog I’ve been primarily talking about visual art (which in itself can encompass digital, watercolors, ink, pencil, and many other options), but visual art isn’t the only medium of expression. There are various other crafts (embroidery, knitting), musical forms of expression (compose an instrumental work or write a song), and much more (coding, dance, whatever you’re into!).  The sky is really the limit in this category. Next, when you’re feeling an emotion, find a way to express it through your art! Find a color palette that conveys your anxiety, a prose that shows how you feel, a chord progression that emulates your emotions. The biggest thing to keep in mind is that this piece of art that you’re creating is for you and yourself alone. It doesn’t have to be your magnum opus, it doesn’t have to be good in any conventional way. Just let your creativity and emotion flow out of you and vent what you gotta vent in these trying times. 

With much love my readers, stay safe, and happy venting, 

~Dmitri