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.