BEIRUT: “This is kids' stuff!” is a derogatory label that turns away and disqualifies anyone outside of that demographic by neglecting activities that might interest people of all ages.
This is no longer the case, though.
As stated in a report by the NPD research agency, adults are more drawn to products and activities that are traditionally branded for children like puzzles, board games, cartoons, and most noticeably coloring.
Brought to the mainstream by Scottish illustrator and “Ink evangelist” Johanna Basford, who had her breakthrough in 2013, this fad quickly became an inescapable phenomenon with a record of 12 million coloring books sold in 2015 according to data-mining company, Nielson Holdings.
So why take an interest in coloring? Where's the appeal?
As with everything, this activity means something different to everyone.
For some, coloring makes up the driftwood to cling to in the face of adversity as was the case with 40 years old mom, Leila Halabi who had recently lost her husband.
"It started off as a quick fix that took my mind off of things," she says. "But it soon evolved into a more intricate part of my life that helped me gradually recover one ink stroke at a time."
For 24 year old architect student Yasmine Yaacoub, coloring is a coping mechanism.
"Whenever I feel overwhelmed, coloring provides me with a vault for any pent up frustration," she tells Annahar. "It's like a pacifier for my anxiety that allows me to just switch off," she adds.
A local confirmation of this is coffee shop/atelier Joon on the Mood in Gemmayze, which holds arts nights throughout the week, including a popular coloring night. It is a chill spot for those who wish to relax while having fun.
A study suggests that coloring patrons, or 'colorists' as they like to be called, keep coming back to their mandalas and abstract designs because they find it artistically stimulating and therapeutic.
This has led to the misconception that coloring is part of art therapy.
Founder and senior therapist at Lebanese art therapy center Artichoke Studio, Myra Saad debunks that assumption, asserting instead that coloring is more of a stress reliever than an actual branch of psychotherapy.
“Coloring presents a more feasible avenue for adults who can’t afford therapy and lack the time to pursue a long introspective process,” Saad tells Annahar. “But it’s important to know that the two are very different, though not exactly diverging practices.”
In a position paper, president of The American Art Therapy Association Donna Bettes writes “the AATA Association supports the use of coloring books for pleasure and self-care; however, these uses should not be confused with the delivery of professional art therapy services, during which a client engages with a credentialed art therapist.”
Despite not qualifying as a recognized branch of therapy, coloring does have some healing elements to it, according to Theresa Citerella, a professor at Lesley University, in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
“A lot of my fellow graduate classmates bring these coloring books to the classroom setting as a tool to focus more on lectures,” she explains. “For my internship, I find the clients who are fidgeting and cannot sit still ask for coloring the books in order to concentrate on group discussions. We have several adult coloring books at my site to offer the clients.”
A Medical Daily paper found that focusing on the selected patterns and shapes helps the mind replace negative thoughts with pleasant imagery and colors, even if only momentarily.
Looking at the coloring pages, the study says “should occupy the same parts of the brain that stops any anxiety-related mental imagery happening as well... Anything that helps you control your attention is going to help.”
The other pillar of appeal is the gratification that comes from creating something artistic.
“It has an appeal to people who may want to be creative but don’t think of themselves as artistic.” notes Nadia Jenefsky, co-founder of New York Creative Arts Therapists PLLC.
For a lot of people, coloring constitutes a nostalgic callback to a time of carefree innocence with a flair for the imaginative, but Jenefsky considers the medium too restrictive to be considered artistic. “For children, a lot of times coloring books can inhibit their creativity,” she says.
Some naysayers discredit its validity as a practice decrying it as just another mindless vehicle for escapism.
Author of “The Age of American Unreason” Susan Jacoby, claims that coloring is the latest manifestation of a regressive trend that is reducing adults to ‘kidults’.
“The coloring book is an artifact of a broader cultural shift. And that cultural shift is a bad thing,” she tells The New Yorker.
Yet, that does not seem to turn fans away from the craft.
Creator of the Adult Coloring Club at Dana Point Library in Orange County, California, Laura Blasingham argues “I think people feel overwhelmed with technology and expectations.”
Coloring provides a sense of zen and relaxation.
She makes the case that creating something out of nothing is not the only benchmark for creativity. “With the coloring pages, you have these beautiful templates and you’re freeing your inner artist because all you have to do is choose colors,” she adds.
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