Caring for Mental Health Through Art with Doug Shaw

This week, I am joined by a dear friend of mine, Doug Shaw, who is a visual artist rooted in music, self-care and speaking truth to power. Doug runs an award-winning project called “We Are All Artists,” which encourages community engagement through workshops, pop-up exhibitions and a weekly free art drop, where he hides a piece of art in his neighborhood for strangers to find.

In this episode, we discuss the importance of prioritizing mental well-being and self-care, Doug’s passion project that transformed a community, and the importance of embracing our own creativity. I hope this show inspires you to pick up a pencil, brush or whatever creative tool you want, and get to creating something new. As Doug argues, we’re all artists, whether we share that art with the world or not.

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Well-Being is for All of Us

Birch Tree painting by Doug Shaw - mental health

Well-being should be for all of us. But often, men are left out of the conversations about mental health and well-being. Doug Shaw is no stranger to prioritizing his well-being. Before the pandemic even started, Doug sought counseling, and he says it has transformed his relationship with life, work and everything in between. When reflecting on the impact of counseling, Doug said, “It’s definitely connected me more closely with my creative practice, as well as just enabling me to move more freely through time and the life that I‘m having. I still get stuck from time to time, but much, much, much less often.” We all can benefit from counseling, and Doug’s focus on his emotional and psychological well-being has enabled him to take control of his artistic career.

A Creative Project That Changed the Community

Four years ago, Doug started creating art and hiding his pieces in random places around his neighborhood, with no intended recipient in mind. His mission of creating art for himself and strangers has provided an outlet for him to work on his own well-being. Before starting formal therapy in recent years, Doug used art as a way to explore his emotions. “I didn’t realize it at the time, but I think I’ve often used it as a form of therapy in and of itself,” said Doug.

Sharing his art with the local community has been transformative in ways Doug never imagined. Reflecting on the impact of the project, he revealed that “it transformed my relationship with this geographic community. It transformed my relationship with my practice.” Speaking with Doug, I was struck by the beauty of a piece of art popping up unexpectedly and reminding us of our own innate humanity. The finders of Doug’s art have also been moved. Over the years, he has received countless notes of gratitude and appreciation for the project.

Sparking Creativity in Others

Wolf howling at moon painting by Doug Shaw - mental health

Doug has always been interested in what makes people tick. Once he saw the impact his art was having on his community, he had a realization. “Artwork has a way of helping us all realize that we’re all looking at the same thing, but we’re all thinking or feeling something different.” This led Doug to start encouraging people to experiment with the artistic process and embrace their own creativity. Besides, Doug says, “It’s all in your head. You’re an artist. You’re a good artist when you make somebody else experience or feel something deep or unexpected.”

So how can we learn from Doug and prioritize our mental and emotional well-being? Doug’s advice is to “just pick up a pen and, for goodness sake, try it.” I know what I’ll be trying this week. I hope you can join Doug and I in creating something new for yourself and sharing it with others when you’re ready.

People in This Episode