Art therapy and the colouring book trend

Art therapy is often mentioned as a remedy for a stressful and busy life. Creative activities can be suggested as solutions for anxiety and depression; encouragements to find and express our inner creative genius. Now, colouring books for adults are now the new trend.

Art therapy and the colouring book trend

It is now become very rare not to come across colouring books in a bookshop, but online too. They are among the bestseller books on Amazon and several articles suggested them as ideal gifts for Christmas 2015. Secret Garden, one of the most popular adult colouring books, was published in 2013. Since its first appearance three years ago, it reached a wide public and together with similar books become a new trend. They are so popular that the "colouring-in devotee" was introduced among Guardian's Modern Tribes. Such widespread success is an impressive result, but it does not consequentially imply the validity of what is promoted as a therapy.

Two elements are revealing within the marketing strategy of these books. The first is that they are conventionally called colouring book for adults. The reference to adulthood is used here to give a new meaning to what once was considered a children activity. Therefore, one is encouraged to colour as something that also adults can and should do. The second, instead, establishes a connection with childhood. There is an encouragement to go back to it and embrace an artistic spirit supposedly lost with adulthood.

What differentiates the two periods? It is mindfulness. Leave your problems behind you, take a moment for yourself and colour the book. The Mindfulness Colouring Book: Anti-stress art therapy for busy people is one of the most popular books on Amazon. It is the first in the category Self Help Stress Management. Its description says "A pocket-sized anti-stress colouring book". Every singular aspect here, from the title to the category used to classify it, is proposing it as a legitimated therapy. It is the easy way to face complex problems. It can be easily bought online. It doesn't require specific abilities to colour. It can be easily used and carried away whenever there is the desire or necessity to do a creative activity.

Colouring books for adults have a large group of enthusiasts. They defend colouring books as an effective therapy and believe in the creativity involved with the activity. It is not only colouring inside the lines. Beneficial effects are discussed and related to two keywords: relax and creative spirit.

However, the promotional discourse behind colouring books is not so innocent. It is a powerful discourse which takes advantage of the audience's weaknesses. The sociologist Frank Furedi writes that they are advertised not only as "a pleasant distraction" but as what "allow you to get in touch with your real self". It is promoted as a "panacea to existential problems". Presenting them as therapeutic tools increase only confusion and illusion. To differentiate become often tricky, especially when it is complicated by a complex discourse which provides easy solutions.

This is why is so important to make distinctions. Enjoying colouring drawings is perfectly legitimated, as long as it is not forgotten what this is all about. Colouring books are nor an innovative therapy, nor a new concept. They show how much we can be vulnerable and fascinated by easy answers. Get creative, but mindfully.


Elena Losavio

Elena Losavio Contributor

Elena is a recent Master's graduate in English Studies. She writes about theatre, film and contemporary art. She is specialised in women's roles within media and the arts, and she creates A View from the Other Side, a monthly column on this topic. She occasionally writes short stories about her wanderings in Asia and never says no to new adventures.

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  • Sally Trivett

    On 4 January 2016, 15:14 Sally Trivett Voice Team commented:

    This is a really interesting point, I struggle a lot with stress and find my colouring book often helpful in dissipating that. Whether it's a distraction or mind clearing device, it does work for me. I think that's where a distinction can be made, I believe it's about individual usage - if it works for one person then great, if it doesn't work for another then not so great, but it's still working for the first person. The difficulty comes when it's advertised as a 'cure' for stress, or something like that, in which companies are exploiting the possible benefits of the act of colouring, and indeed an individual's stress levels.

  • Jo Nead

    On 16 January 2016, 19:56 Jo Nead Contributor commented:

    I agree Sally. I think this is a great article Elena, and personally I'm a great fan of my (new) colouring book! I find it mainly useful for just having some quiet time, but I know it can help people with stress issues. Having said that, I also think that as well as the difficulty that comes with advertising colouring books as stress relievers, I reckon they're missing out on a market who aren't all that stressed, but are just looking for some creative down time. However, I'm loving that it's once again socially acceptable for me to have a colouring in book!

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