As a 'retired' psychotherapist I have worked with both children and adults in art therapy, I understand the value of doing art for healing. Children are exceptionally uninhibited and naturally turn to non-verbal methods for expression and making internal changes to places that hurt. With some coaxing, most adults are able to find art process a way to express those underlying places that may not be so conscious, and the process is more gratifying than you would know…unless you have experienced this for yourself.
I remember one little girl who was struggling with self esteem and was being bullied by others. She wanted to work with clay, so I got a gray lump of clay out for her. She began kneading it and said, “this wants to be a lion.” She proceeded to make a lion’s head coming out of the clay. I was amazed that she wanted a lion. Lions are connected to the constellation Leo, to the color yellow, and to the sun. It is linked with the “solar” plexus, which is where the third chakra sits in the energy body., The solar plexus is about self empowerment, healthy boundaries, and ego… another symbol of the sun and lion! This was perfect, as it was just what she needed to develop. Did she realize this? No, it is an archetypal image that appeared just when she needed it. This is the power of healing images, they appear when needed.
But what about that art you look at. Can it also serve as a place of healing? Yes! I remember Jason Horjes, Gallery owner of Xanadu Galleries, wrote that he had spent months of preparing his new gallery to open. The day of his opening happened to fall on Sept. 11, 2001… He said for days no one showed up, until one day, a woman came in and said she couldn't take in any more – she had to have a beautiful piece of art to uplift her spirit, to remind her that beauty still existed in a world of pain. She wanted a piece that gave her this feeling. Most people connect with art that is meaningful to them whether it is self produced or purchased in a gallery.
When I paint, I am usually painting something that has a story that has meaning to me. As an example, I have had wondrous experiences in Sacred Sites around the world, and wish to somehow convey that in my work. In other cases, it can be more of a process painting.
Last summer I was in a very difficult place emotionally having had a cancer diagnosis. I remember little of that summer except for the feeling of being in the underworld, a place of death and darkness. At
the time before this diagnosis, my dreams were screaming at me to try to tell me something was wrong. Receiving this diagnosis, as anyone who has had cancer knows, is a shock. It was devastating news, since I had no symptoms and only found out due to a fluke blood test. ( I am since happily on the recovering side of the diagnosis).
That summer I decided to paint my experience. But, I could only put black paint on an entire canvas. For days I would go into my studio and just look at it. It felt exactly right, as this is where I was living internally. I wondered when I would be able to put more on the canvas, and often thought that I may never paint anything else on it. Then one day, I felt like I wanted to put some source of light, or white paint on it. I just flicked some while and it looked like little dots on the canvas. For some time, that is all that wanted to be on the canvas. Again, I couldn't force anything more, but actually was content to have that be what it was. For me, a little light was emerging into my life. But then the grief hit! Wow, I needed to have lots of drips on the canvas. Red blood (paint) felt just right as I slathered it on the top with a full brush and let it drip slowly down that canvas. Now it was, black, white and red. Perfect. Again, I lived with this painting for quite a while. Then one day I was feeling more hopeful and wanted to add some other colors. This painting is now finished and called “Out of Darkness”. Some of the drips can still be seen in the back ground. I painted gold in a center of a flower- like image to symbolize hope.
I am sharing both these examples with you to show you how art heals. You don’t have to be an “artist” to experience the healing nature of an image. Images evoke inner emotions. They remind us of our ancestors, our loved ones, perhaps a fond memory of childhood. Or they can be healing forces that journal a healing process and may have meaning only for you. Next time you have a chance, I invite you to experience art as a healing, or a way to express an unsaid part of yourself that wants free expression. No critics allowed!