Recently, a person contacted me via Facebook and asked a very potent and thoughtful question:
What is your view of art as a healing medium? How did you get into Healing Art? Any books, thoughts or recommendations?
This is a question with a rather long answer, since it has been a circuitous path in my case so I thought a blog post might be appropriate. My path to healing art began four years ago in a Women’s Writing class that is offered each summer as part of the North Omaha Summer Arts program. One of our classes featured art journaling, something I had never heard of prior to that time. We collaged, painted, wrote words and created vision board for our journey.
That introduction could not have come at a better time. I was experiencing health crisis after health crisis and was deep in the throes of a long depression. As a trauma survivor – child abuse, domestic violence and sexual assault – my mental and emotional pain manifest in physical pain. I had lost one ovary to endometriosis and the same thing occurred again 9 months later, with lots of hemorraghing and trying to prove that a hysterectomy was “medically necessary”. My doctors were not listening, in spite of the fact that I am an articulate woman. So I took to my journal again and created a visual diary of my pain, frustration with trying to navigate the web of insurance, multiple phone numbers for doctors and what my pain looked like. My therapist and I discussed what the images represented.
In the beginning, art therapy or healing art, was a lifeline and coping mechanism. As I healed, it became a part of my self-care as well as a creative medium to explore my thoughts, feelings and technique. I am a self-taught artist and the page or canvas is a non-judgmental place to speak and listen. Art is a two-way dialogue with the soul: The surface speaks as much as it listens. Every line, color and choice says something about the artist.
There is something sacred about taking pen to paper, brush to canvas or words upon floating breeze, listening to our spirit voice and moving in the direction it leads. When we listen to that voice, we learn where love lives.
In the years since that first appetizer, healing art has become a way to address pain, depression and so much more. I address the need for social change with line, color, motion, words, camera lens, words and through strength of spirit.
I have taught healing art to mental health consumers, trauma survivors and dimentia patients. In the early years of my healing art career, I approached local non-profits and offered my services on a volunteer basis. I wrote curriculum and measured the self-reported stabilization of participants, many of whom stated that journaling was more therapeutic for them than talking with their therapists or self-medicating. Each week, I would begin the class with a writing exercise called “What’s Right With You?” This exercise is based on a post by my good friend Jason Kowing, who gave permission for me to use the concept in my classes if I reported back how it went. Jason’s life-changing post can be found here:
The value of this exercise, as I explained it to my students is that it encourages us to look beyond current circumstances to find some good. I said “It takes absolutely no courage whatsoever to bitch about things. It takes courage to look at the good.” I also gave participants the freedom to just write “This is stupid” if they were unable to think of anything good and asked the other participants to share things they felt were right or good about the person who felt stuck.
I began showing pages from my journals in local art shows and replicating some pages onto canvas. My work has been featured in survivor art shows, galleries, the Creative Mental Health Guide UK, our state mental health institution and much more. Past issues of the Creative Mental Health Guide can be found here: http://www.creativementalhealthuk.com/emag.html
Art heals because it is expression. It does not need words, though it can include words. Color theory speaks – color has energy. Symbolism speaks. Lines speak and imagery. Each piece captures a moment in time and either releases or holds as a treasure what our Spirit voice says. Art speaks when we are unable. Color speaks when we are broken. There are no rules, though the critics would like to convince us otherwise. Even “ugly art” has a purpose. It is a release. Art creates peace, opens dialogue and is an act of rebellion. That is the healing power of art as a medium.
Thank you, Leah, for asking the question and for giving me an opportunity to reflect and share this creative life.
I have found many resources helpful along the way:
- The first is to surround myself with creatives – online art groups on FB, artist coops in my hometown, writing groups, spoken word venues, etc.
- Your own curiosity. Write a letter to a body part. Create a coat of arms that includes elements that move you. Not a family coat of arms – YOUR personal coat of arms.
- Online and live art workshops. I highly recommend Stephanie Gagos’ workshops because Stephanie lovingly encourages participants to dig deep. Stephanie’s classes can be found here: http://tinyurl.com/pt32v3p
Flora Bowley is another artist who inspires me to be free in my creative process. http://braveintuitiveyou.com/
- The Art Therapy Sourcebook by Cathy Malchiodi is a magnificent source for healing art exercises and ideas. http://tinyurl.com/ouw3gb2
Square The Circle: Art Therapy Workbookby Rebecca Bloom Atr-Bc Lmhc http://tinyurl.com/o5u98es