of the group experience is
camaraderie and sharing,” she
says. “Nobody feels any different
than anyone else.” Keating, who
was diagnosed with MS in 1981,
has coauthored a soon-to-be-published study that shows that
knitting, beading, collage making
and watercolor painting in a
group that is overseen by arts
instructors improves participants’
self-esteem, hope and belief
that they can function with and
control their MS.
People can get the benefits of
socialization in other ways, if art
groups are not an option. Virginia
Phillips, a Valparaiso, Ind.-based
interior designer and painter who
was diagnosed with primary-progressive MS in 1998, uses a
scooter and doesn’t like to drive.
She now relies on her friends to
transport her to places where she
can take the photos she uses as a
basis for her oil paintings.
“We have lunch and a lot of
fun,” she says. Friends also visit
regularly to see her paintings,
and once a week she paints and
interacts with other artists at a
local venue that hosts art classes
and special events.
“I think without the creative
urge to see what’s going to come
out of my paintbrush, I’d be more
in the doldrums,” Phillips says.
“There’s always a perfect painting
out there—I get up every morning
looking for it.” ■
Vicky Uhland is a freelance writer
and editor in Lafayette, Colo.
How to become an artist
Are you interested in art, music or writing but are afraid that you’re just not creative
enough or have too many physical limitations?
Here are some suggestions to help you
overcome those common stumbling blocks.
One of Matt’s
● PLAY AROUND. “I always told everyone I
was a terrible artist and not very creative,
but then I found out I was pretty good at
photography,” says Matt (last name withheld),
who became a shutterbug after being diagnosed with MS
six years ago. “Explore until you find something you enjoy
and that suits you. You might be bad at painting, but have
a gift for sculpting or acting.”
To tap into your inner artist, try a collage, suggests Susan
Gibbons, an artist and photographer in Long Island, N. Y.,
who was diagnosed with MS in 1999. Cut out images from
magazines, newspapers, brochures or fliers and glue them
to a poster board or sheet of paper. “Find a theme like, ‘How
am I feeling today?’ or ‘What will my life be like in five, 10,
● TAKE A CLASS OR JOIN A GROUP. Classes at community
colleges or art studios are good ways to learn the basic
skills that give you the confidence to be creative. Sound
too intimidating? Check with the Society at 1-800-344-4867
to see if a chapter near you has an art therapy or art support
program, or join a community group that specializes in
your favorite creative endeavor.
● READ A BOOK. Art therapist Jennifer Schwartz Wright
recommends The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. It is a
practical, step-by-step guide to discovering your creativity.
● HIRE A THERAPIST. Find certified art and music therapists
through the Art Therapy Credentials Board ( atcb.org) or
the American Music Therapy Association ( musictherapy.org).
● START SMALL. Mary Pettigrew, a poet with MS, says an
easy way to begin writing is to keep a journal. “You don’t
have to be flowery with the words. Even if you watched
TV all day, write that down.” With practice, the quantity
and quality of your writing will increase.
If you’d like to play a musical instrument, music therapist
Donna Washington says the easiest ones to learn are the
tambourine, xylophone or autoharp. If finger dexterity is
an issue, she suggests strumming with a popsicle stick.