Stewart Hill: On art in recovery


I am inspired by art and I am alive because of art. I want to be a professional artist and Walking With The Wounded has funded four art courses for me this year to help me become the best artist I can. This will provide the foundation for my future independence and their continued support, in addition to this initial funding, will make me realise my aspiration. I am lucky enough to be a team member taking part in the Walk of Britain, but also a beneficiary of the charity. I see, first hand, what the charity does for our wounded and benefit directly.

Why art?
I suffered a Traumatic Brain Injury in 2009 while on active service in Afghanistan. My impairments have altered my life irrevocably. Everyday functions, like decision-making, became problematic; functions, which, at the time, defined me in my career as a British Army Officer, and which were at the core of who I was as a person. I spiralled into depression.  Until that is, I became interested in painting and drawing as a form of self-therapy.  On being discharged from the Army in 2012, I began to value more and more the enormous sense of achievement and satisfaction that creating art brought me, its restorative and healing powers.

My artistic journey
My artistic journey has taken me from a chance encounter with an inspirational artist, to a painting holiday in Majorca, to a few life drawing classes in London, to exhibiting my work at numerous UK theatres as part of the touring play The Two World’s of Charlie F, winning the Templer Award 2013, Associate Membership of the Armed Forces Art Society and not forgetting becoming one of Turner Prize winner Grayson Perry’s subjects for his critically acclaimed “Who do you think you are?” exhibition, in a work entitled “Line of Departure”, at the National Portrait gallery (a work and title incidentally, I was honoured to learn, he took inspiration from my own story and art work).

All of these experiences have brought me into contact with a myriad of positive and inspiring people, who have provided me with creative guidance, thought provoking comment and conversation, increased technical skills and knowledge, critical feedback and hours of pleasure.

Art stimulates the creative and emotional parts of the brain. It is right brained focused and deals with feeling, imagination, creativity, holistic thinking. Depression and other debilitating, negative thoughts arise in the right side of the brain, the emotional level of the brain. I contend the most effective way to treat this is by counteracting with positive right brain activity.

For me, art provides a positive focus and innate sense of purpose. The means to escape from unwelcome thoughts and any uncomfortable feelings of mental “overload”. To just ‘be’ in the present.  Art lets you escape from your mind, back into the world around you, focusing on the canvas, person or landscape in front of you

  • Art stimulates the creative and emotional parts of the brain.

Creativity grows the brain.  It builds neural pathways. Depression and other debilitating thoughts arise in the emotional part of the brain. Art creates positive thoughts (joy, happiness, fulfilment, achievement, worthiness) leading to positive results (enthusiasm, calm, well-being, ease, energy, love) proving, in my experience, to be a great way to counter negative thoughts (judgment, unworthiness, mistrust, resentment, fear) and negative results (tension, anxiety, alienation, anger fatigue). Negative thoughts are exhausting and prevent the mind from using the thinking level of the brain (information processing, memory, executive functions, attention).

  • Art is non-rule orientated. It can be enjoyed without judgment.

It is an activity that needs few resources and is open to all who are willing to try.  An activity enjoyed on one’s own, building self-sufficiency and self-worth, or within a group, building relationships and countering isolation. It aides concentration, giving you back total control in one area of your life, in the comforting knowledge that in this artistic world of endless possibilities, “mistakes” are not only allowed but help build your understanding of your own skills and move you forward in your work.

  • Art gives you, literally, perspective on the world and yourself. 

You learn that what was once “dead” space between and around an object becomes as important as the object itself.  You begin to appreciate & find beauty even in the dark corners of a room, the distortions of a seascape, see colours in a landscape you hadn’t noticed before. Crucially, this newly acquired way of seeing the world, allows new ways of seeing yourself and others. It has allowed me to see beauty where I hadn’t seen it before and has developed into a spiritual understanding and love of all things.

Creating art has brought me positive feelings of enjoyment and mental calm.  It has given me a lifeline into a new world where I feel valued and challenged.  I am proud of my achievements in my military career, and am equally proud of what my personal artistic journey has brought me.  I feel confident my artistic endeavours will continue to support my mental wellbeing into the future. Creativity is a truly sustainable and life affirming resource within us all.

“You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.”
Maya Angelou




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