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How to set an ‘art trap’ in your home that catches creativity when your mental health needs it most

Kells McPhillips

Kells McPhillipsApril 22, 2020

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Photo: Getty Images/Ryan J Lane

Eat, Pray, Love author Elizabeth Gilbert has become famous for debunking the “Eureka!” moment in artistic expression. Gilbert believes that creativity stops by when we’re already knee-deep in hard work, not at random, but that doesn’t mean you can’t set up your space to be ready for invention. While on lockdown, the best-selling writer has been setting “art traps” around her apartment—and she wants you to do the same.

“I have decided that during quarantine, I don’t need my table for food. First of all, I’m alone so, I’m not making meals for people. And I can eat my food out of my lap with a bathroom towel over my chest as a bib, eating cold spaghetti and watching episodes on my iPad of The Great British Bake Off just like a normal human,” says Gilbert. “So I decided to turn my table into what I’m calling an ‘art trap’.”

“I decided to turn my table into what I’m calling an ‘art trap’.” —Elizabeth Gilbert, author

Despite the name, this isn’t a physical trap that snaps down on you as you turn the corner, forcing you to watercolor or knit. It’s basically a creativity corner filled with art supplies that you never put away in drawers—and Gilbert’s is filled with paints, pastels, and pristine sketchbooks. “I’ve been doing a lot of painting and drawing lately. I don’t do it every single day, but I wanted to set an art trap which means I set it up so that if inspiration hits, I’ve got everything I need immediately on hand,” says Gilbert. “I never put it away and there’s a fresh piece of paper there. If art comes, I’m going to catch it!”

A practice like this can be powerful for those who find themselves wanting to create on a more consistent basis, but it’s also a really big win for your mental health. “Prescription creativity” has been on the rise in recent years, particularly in the United Kingdom, as a recorded way to manage anxiety and improve overall quality of life. And, in a time when loneliness has become pervasive due to social isolation, expression has been found to help quell those feelings, too. So if you feel just plain good when you slide a pen across a piece of paper, there’s a lot of psychology pointing to why.

Gilbert’s chosen form of creativity (apart from writing, of course) consists of grabbing a paintbrush, but your art trap can take any number of forms. “The idea is to tempt learners to try something they might not have thought of otherwise, to nudge them into sampling a new media or tool, to bypass the decision-making, or set-up, that might prevent some from getting down to it,” writes Nan Hathaway, MEd, art educator and teacher who originally coined the term. “It’s about removing barriers and sparking interest.” Whether that means origami, creative writing, or basket-weaving for you, claim one corner of your home as yours—and only yours—and let it be a great big artistic mess.

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