By Prapti Mittal
The Art trend in 2015 took a controversial turn with the introduction of colouring books for adults that claimed to be Art Therapy. There have been prolonged discussions on how far this is true. You may be able to find a huge lot of proponents of these books, who will go to ends to tell you how much these have helped them. But there are also established Art Therapists who will tell you a different story.
One of the biggest steps to our understanding of Adult Colouring Books is to acknowledge the difference between Therapy and having therapeutic value. While Therapy is the treatment of psychological stress and/or disorders, having a therapeutic value is only one of the components that make up a complete therapy.
While colouring books can take your mind away from the troubles at hand, they don’t completely equip you to face those troubles in ways to preserve your mental health. If you are facing increased pressure in your work environment because of an approaching deadline, it is obvious that you cannot take your mind off it and it will stay there till it has not passed. But say in that time of virulent madness, you can get a half hour of quiet- where the activity in hand requires so much concentration that your mind cannot think of anything else; wouldn’t we all like that?
That is not to say the colouring book has healing powers – it hasn’t made you into a person who copes better with strenuous situations, it hasn’t made your boss a better person and it hasn’t made you complete your work in the time frame given to you. So why exactly are these Art Books so famous and why exactly in 2015?
Johanna Basford, The Secret Garden
The answer may not be as stupefying as one might imagine. They are in many ways similar to the plethora of children specific undertakings that are being absorbed by adults- videogames, mini golf, adult cartoons, comics and superheroes. So the question is why? There are two corresponding reasons for this development- one emerges from the need to achieve something and the security that this provides. For every achievement to unlock in the Real World, you need to wait for months or even years and the time between the start and the end is full of anxiety and self doubt, so much so that when the end product arrives, we are not even excited, just glad it’s over. A colouring book is very similar to a video game, where each page represents one level. Once you complete a level, you gain a sense of accomplishment in a matter of probably two hours.
The second reason is the power of concentration required on Activity Y that helps divert mind off Activity X, and oh the many possibilities there are within Activity Y. These books give respite from the everyday collective of grey concrete and shiny glass. The Real World is given to us in a specific form and we have to take it as it is. We can’t question it and we can’t alter it. After a while, people start looking for alternatives that are within their control, some might start going for a jog every morning, others might start smoking. But Adult Colouring Books are the very antithesis of reality. The designs in these books not only challenge the aesthetic sensibilities of the user, but also challenge the adult view of looking at things. The themes are fairy-tale-like and take you away from sights of everyday living. The designs are intricate and give the consumer a sense of creating beauty. It has been refuted as a creative process by opponents because it is not their own designs, but it can hardly be refuted that not everyone is an artist capable of creating art from scratch. This is probably why colouring books come in handy- they are easy! They give a sense of fulfillment on looking at the outcome, without doing the laborious job of applying your brain on conceptualization. (That is not to say one should take these colours that we have applied to these designs and put them up for exhibition.)
The 2010 decade has especially tried its best to fight and overcome the “MNC mindset” as can be seen in the establishment of small and large start ups throughout the world and a change in the work environment of small and middle scale companies. Office spaces have become freer and more enjoyable- from a few bottles of beer and a foosball table being part and parcel of the “New-Age Offices”. This is probably the reason that people are ready to acknowledge that they are under stress, they are not taking it for granted that adult life has to be monotonous and incapable of any enjoyment. We also see people approaching psychiatrists and psychologists for mental health, and within this, art therapy is also a recognized means. It is however important to note that it is primarily in USA and Europe that “Colouring books have realized their true potential, and they are still to gain popularity in Asia and Africa and it seems 2016 might be the year for them here!”
Thus, it comes as no surprise that artists like Johanna Basford created some of the most popular Adult Colouring Books has sold two million copies till now and the publishers say they can’t keep them printing fast enough! From tattoos and doodles to birds, dreams and vintage designs, there is an adult colouring book for everyone to choose from.