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Online Art Therapy Helps Cornell Students Cope With Isolation

Updated: 7/14/20 - 2:32 PM

TOMPKINS COUNTY, NY (WSKG) - The Yellow Paint Society is an art therapy group that has started online sessions for people coping with some big issues. During their most recent online session, participants made art while talking about racism and the Black Lives Matter movement.

The group was small, five people, from various races and ethnicities.

Alizeh Khan started the group last year because making art helps her de-stress. She thought it might help others, too, especially after having been shut in by the pandemic.

"So many things happening in the world, with  COVID-19 and then [the] Black Lives Matter movement and just, so many things have been impacting my mental health," Khan said.*

Khan is a rising senior at Cornell University. She said finishing the semester at home with online classes was a real struggle and creating art sometimes helped relieved the pressure.

Khan named the July sessions The Underpainting Series.

"The Underpainting Series is basically just talking about these events and how they impact us, but, it's really just a casual conversation. It’s not, it’s not a lecture. It’s not a formal discussion. It’s just people talking about how they feel," Khan said.*

Khan and another student guided the session with questions or by sharing their feelings and worries.

As participants create art, the session flows between talk and silence. Sometimes, a speaker will interrupt their work. At other times, they offer advice to each other on how to address a particular stress or worry.

People talked about feeling overwhelmed, as they learned how structural racism impacts so many aspects of everyday life. Some shared their struggles talking to family members and friends about racism on a personal level. They also talked about worries that after college, racism might prevent them from pursuing their desired careers.

At the end of the hour-long session, participants held up their artworks on screen for others to see, and talked about what they made and what it means.

Khan said other sessions this month will be about the affects of COVID-19 on their lives, the climate crisis, and media representation.

Full disclosure: Cornell University is a WSKG Underwriter.

*Quote edited to enhance clarity.