How Art Builds Resilience

By Rachel Simko

The mystery of why or how one child may rise to succeed while another succumbs to emotional turmoil and academic struggle has frustrated many a parent and caregiver for countless decades.

We have since come to refer to this ability or inability to suffer and recover as “resilience.”

What is Resilience?

Being a popular buzzword might incline some people to roll their eyes at it. But the idea of resilience is not a new one, it is simply the identification that there is something critical that certain people, growing and grown, may be lacking and may need to develop.

Resilience is defined as the capacity to recover from difficulties and is understood within the social sciences as “the process of bending and rebounding to overcome adversity.””(Hunter, 2001, p.172.)  In the fight to ensure that our children are receiving the best preparation possible for life, in addition to the myriad of subjects and skills they already need to master, how can we nurture this vital trait in the hopes that it will one day manifest as behavior?

The answer may lie in the Art room down the hall. How can the practice of art breed resiliency?

Creativity and Risk

The act of making “art” is synonymous with creativity. Creativity is the occurrence wherein something new and somehow valuable is formed. Experts are arguing that that valuable “something” is not necessarily tangible. Consider the action of taking a lump of clay, a ball of mud that has no apparent purpose or reason, and transforming it into a pot, a plate, a model of an animal, a flower, or the simple joy of discovering the abstract space formed by closing your fist.

When we engage our creativity, we are taking a risk. We risk failing. We risk exposing our deeper selves to others. But each time we do it, it becomes a little bit easier, a little less daunting. Like learning to walk, each small failure and recovery teaches us to stand, and also to be unafraid of falling in the first place. Most crucially, it trains us to try, to experiment, and to dare- to embark into a place where the rules have not been determined.

In virtually all other subject matter, what is right and what is wrong, are fixed and concrete. Grammar and arithmetic, are not up for debate. History may be getting longer, but the events that took place aren’t open to imaginative interpretation. Music cannot easily be performed or appreciated without skilled technical execution.

At its best, resiliency amounts to adaptation and flexibility, the awareness or instinct to reshape ourselves, our behavior, or our environment in response to change. This is the very definition of what it is to make art. The action of creating something where before there was nothing, of taking tools and materials that by themselves are static, and then experimenting with them, daring failure and frustration, challenging your senses and abilities to at once solve a question and also discover what that question is – these things are not only the very core of resilience, but also of courage.

Use Your Imagination

It was Einstein who said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress, giving birth to evolution.” In our world today it is increasingly rare to actually spend time imagining and creating. So much is already done for us. Entertainment is preprogrammed and even our craft supplies are prefabricated with directions included. The search for information, which might once have been a quest that led us from a library to interviewing an expert, has been reduced to a two-second search on Google. Our imaginations don’t stretch far because they don’t have to.

Engaging in making art is engaging in a journey of exploration without limits. It challenges our perceptual abilities and our imagination, it hones our fine motor skills, our observations, it boosts self-esteem and instills a sense of capability when faced with material and situational challenges. Like MacGyver with a paperclip, when presented with lemons, we make lemonade. When faced with the rubble of a collapsed structure, we see fresh building material.

In art, obstacles become the opportunities that inspire us to get up and try again.

About the Author

Art Teacher/Mentor

Rachel Simko is an Art Teacher/Mentor at Fusion Academy Tysons, and also serves as Fusion Academy’s National Department Head of Visual Art.

After completing her foundation year at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, NY, Rachel transferred to MICA, Maryland Institute College of Art, in Baltimore, MD where she graduated Cum Laude in 2006 with her Bachelors of Fine Arts and a major in Illustration. In the years immediately following college she worked as a Freelance Artist and Designer, spent time at a ceramics studio, a professional framing company, and eventually became a Lead Teacher at a private studio in Bethesda, MD. Throughout these experiences Rachel was always seeking ways to serve others, including teaching art classes at a local women’s shelter and organizing a fundraiser art show to help fund relief after the 2010, BP Oil Spill.

In 2011 Rachel joined a mission organization, packed up her belongings and her cat, Samson, and moved to Quito, Ecuador. While there she traveled between cities and communities and served as a ministry site coordinator, organized and taught arts and crafting classes in low income rural and urban communities, offered after school art clubs, painted community murals, and tutored at risk and former street youths (and also learned Spanish.)

Five years later she and Samson returned to the DC area and in August 2017 was very excited to be invited to join the Tysons Fusion Academy team! Rachel loves all forms and methods of art and especially enjoys learning new techniques and skills, experimenting with new materials and helping others to discover and embrace their personal and unique creative voice. When she’s not making things she spends her time writing, reading, being outdoors, running, biking, learning about astronomy and science, following politics, hanging with friends, and a billion other things there isn’t space for…