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The Healing Power of Art

There is evidence that engagement with artistic activities, either as an observer of the creative efforts of others or as an initiator of one’s own creative efforts, can enhance one’s moods, emotions, and other psychological states as well as have a salient impact on important psychological parameters.” (Stuckey & Nobel, 2010, p. 254)

As artists, we have the unique ability to touch people through music, mixed media, performance arts and other mediums.

Every year, at the end of September, our town has a fitness run to raise money for Breast Cancer. My husband and I are long time participants of “Relay for Life” and have seen first hand the way cancer affects the patient and the ripple effect it causes.

I was recently speaking with a friend who was waging her own battle, and one of the things she mentioned was how her Art helped her and her family through the process. Art has always been my “go to” to help me through any emotional stage in my life and I was happy to see that research backs the healing power of art.

“Art therapy, commonly defined as expressive therapy that utilizes paints, markers, clay, etc., is generally divided into two general types: one is the creative process of art making causes inherent healing; and the other is the finished product provides symbolic communication.” (Makin, 1994)

When faced with a major illness, sleeplessness, restlessness and depression can occur.

Many times, depression is the culprit that begins our undoing and investigations show that positive activities not only stop the cycle of continued depression, they help build self esteem, and, with the addition of a social aspect, they help make a connection with others.

Art is also mood elevating. Participants report a feeling of calmness, energy, optimism, a sort of looking-forward-to-see where the project goes, and creativity. By engaging in Art, we can escape for a bit but also take away a feeling of satisfaction and create some long range goals.

One of the activities we do for Relay is to create some artful bags called luminarios that are placed on the field and dedicated to individuals in our lives that have encountered cancer. When we set up tables and engaged caregivers and family members in the art of making the bags, they shared stories, compared treatments, remembered highs and lows and talked about how much they enjoyed making this small token of affection for them.

Using color to heal.

Colors used in art can be extremely expressive and you may find yourself attached to particular colors at different stages in your healing or treatment. By embracing the colors that attract you and using them to express yourself with your art, you can be expressing inner turmoil and releasing some of the anger or helplessness that disease brings. I know that my friend said originally she painted in red, feeling agitated and angry and as her anger lessened, she turned to orange and yellow. She gravitated toward grey and blue when her depression was at its height and then found herself using other hues of these colors when she began to feel more in control and calm. The transition from dark blue, more relaxing, to more of the turquoise blues created a more soothing feeling. Blue is known for lowering blood pressure, fevers and calming tempers.

Traditionally the color associated with Breast Cancer fundraisers, Pink is known for joy and youth. The color invigorates and is the best color for healing from grief. It is no wonder there are so many campaigns that use this color.

As an artist and teacher, it makes me happy that I can touch so man y people through my art and create healing , but you can also make a difference with your own art. If you are unsure how to help in your own community, you might offer one of your own art pieces in an online or silent auction, sponsor an art event, hold an art “camp”, or offer to take care of someone’s children during treatment (of course, have a few little art projects handy!)

Because engagement with creative activities can contribute toward reducing stress and depression these activities also serve as a vehicle for alleviating the burden of chronic disease. As psychologists examine how the arts can be used to heal emotional injuries and alter behavior and thinking patterns the extent to which art therapy is sustainably health enhancing is an important area for public health investigation. With the relative ease of engagement and the limitlessness of creative expression, art therapy can be used to increase understanding of oneself, development of self-reflection, and capacity to reduce symptoms. (Stuckey & Nobel, 2010, p. 254)

I would love to hear how you use your art to help others. Share on our Facebook page-you just might touch someone today!

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