This week, I had the opportunity to moderate a panel discussion on Art and Healing at Art Center Sarasota as part of our Art for Social Change series. I was amazed by the size of the crowd who spilled into the gallery — our largest audience yet for one of the discussions. This was a strong indication that the arts community and the healing professions are longing for a forum so that they can come together.
As I mentioned during the discussion, I was introduced to the power of the arts in the healing process one evening at a gallery in Spanish Harlem about seven years ago. On a whim, I hopped in a cab with a friend to attend a gallery opening. The gallerist hung children’s drawings on the walls with little description. While I was peering inquisitively at one of the drawings, a gentleman came up behind me and asked whether I knew what the drawing was depicting. My American eyes saw only a drawing of a man and woman holding hands until the visitor in the gallery told me that the man in the drawing was leading the woman off to be raped. I was aghast in disbelief that a child had drawn such a horrific act. The next drawing seemed to me to be a beautiful, multi-colored bonfire until the man explained that it was a book-burning. Slowly, my eyes and my mind adjusted to the iconography of what I was seeing. The man at the gallery and his friend were both Darfuri refugees, and they gave an impromptu talk to the gathering. I first learned of the genocide in Darfur on that night. (I have since had the opportunity to bring another set of Darfuri children’s drawings, which have been introduced into evidence at the International Criminal Court, to USF Sarasota-Manatee. We have a permanent display of ten of these drawings on the 2nd floor, should you wish to see them). These children found an outlet to express the anguish they experienced as first-hand witnesses to the horrors of genocide; and their drawings have helped educate the public for whom such matters seem only a very terrible dream.
Tuesday night’s panel included two practioners and an advocate of art and healing. They work with diverse groups of people, including those who are seeking greater clarity and creativity in their lives; people who are suffering from Parkinson’s disease, cancer, and other diseases; as well as those who have experienced trauma in their lives. In addition to explaining how the process of art and healing can work, we got into a philosophical discussion about the fact that in a materialistic culture, in which we are driven by a profit motive, we often lose our ability to access our creative spirits. This can, in turn, lead people to close off from their own emotions, resulting in unhealthy patterns of life and ultimately, in some instances, to a decrease in our overall physical well-being. We also discussed the process of creating the art which helps us heal as well as the importance of the outcome, that is, the work of art itself. There is no denying the power of the arts to help change our mood and our spirits, as well as to help us deal with difficult topics. Regardless of whether we create the work of art or appreciate the work of art, the therapeutic value exists.
For example, this past Saturday evening, I attended a Rogers and Hammerstein concert. Among their most famous songs is “My Favorite Things,” which I sing to myself to lift my spirits and the song did just that at the recent concert. It’s good to take a moment to really think about the beauty and the simplicity of the lyrics, “When the dog bites, when the bees sting, when I’m feeling sad, I simply remember my favorite things, and then I don’t feel so bad.” As our panelists said, there is something that happens on a cellular level that transforms you when you journal your thoughts or pick up a paintbrush, a camera, or a musical instrument, or when you just let go and sing. You have the opportunity to turn off your busy mind and access your soul. We connect to our core essence and that which makes us human.I am pleased to report that the evening generated so much interest that Art Center Sarasota has decided to host a day-long workshop in December devoted to Art and Healing. I will continue to blog on this topic, and I hope it will inspire you to share your thoughts.