Art: something that is created with imagination that expresses important ideas or feelings
Healing: to restore and make whole again
Therapy: the treatment of physical or mental illnesses
Art as Healing: My Way
Most times when I explain what I do, I am met with the response, “Oh. You do art therapy.” I reply no, not really, as I do not have a background in therapy. What I do have is over forty years as a professional studio artist.
I know the silent language of art and what it can offer. Sometimes, when words are not enough to express what we are feeling, we need another language. All practicing artists know this, and it is one of the main reasons why we do what we do. Making art helps us discover who we are and supports us as we seek an understanding of our place in the world. I believe creativity is our birthright and should be accessible to everyone. I teach what I have learned through my personal escapades through art. Art has assuaged my wounds and broadened my life.
One of the greatest gifts of my life is being able to teach art as pathway to self-discovery and healing. I am thrilled to be launching my very first e-course, Creating Brave®, this fall. Not only will it enable Healing Icons to reach more people, but our audience will expand to include everyone, not just cancer survivors. We all need a bit of restorative healing from time to time.
I hold the deepest gratitude to Art, for She has led me to places I never expected to travel.
The making, the crafting of art soothes, stimulates, quiets, engages, frustrates, calms and stirs my soul.
That I never know what will come from this process is terrifying and electrifying. It makes me feel alive.
My inspiration flows intuitively from the stuff of life —
Revealing the remarkable within the ordinary,
Leading me towards my truest spiritual self,
Urging me to see the entire world before I die,
Encouraging me to learn deeply from the words of poets and thinkers,
Inspiring me to understand my ceaseless nighttime dreams,
Helping me find the quiet within the roar —
All this intertwines, fueling the images I create.
My marriage of Art and Nighttime Dreams and Travel — these are my Muses
Continually teaching me to slow down,
Pay attention and listen,
Leading me deeper into my inward journey.
How I Got Here
I graduated in 1982 with an MFA in studio art and set out to build my resume, entering juried competitions and seeking gallery representation. In the late ’80s, I had recurring nightmares, so I studied dreams. A two-year dream interpretation certification through the Haden Institute led me to teaching dream-work as a link to creative expression. My dreams reconnected me with some childhood memories.
When I was 10, I lost my 6-year-old brother to brain cancer. It was a devastating loss for my family and me. Over many years, I found that the visual arts provided the language I needed to heal, but making art alone was not enough. My healing journey took me across the world, studying Mexican death traditions, Jungian psychology, Tibetan mandalas, and expressive writing. Healing Icons® weaves together my life experiences and professional art techniques into an interdisciplinary approach, using art as the vehicle to promote healing to those whose lives have been impacted by cancer.
Art Therapy: Their Way
Therapeutic uses of art have existed for quite some time, having roots in the field of psychotherapy. The history of art therapy is quite interesting, intertwining the fields of Arts and Healing, Expressive Arts Therapy, and Creative Art Therapy. These are professional fields that are licensure-based in clinical mental health counseling with specializations in art therapy, dance therapy, expressive arts therapy, and music therapy. Most clients come to a mental health professional with a problem to be remedied or fixed. A purposeful use of the arts in intervention, counseling, psychological therapy, and rehabilitation has been hugely successful.
I have the utmost respect for the art therapy field, and several art therapists have influenced the evolution of my work as an artist and a teacher.
Over 20 years ago, when I was feeling antsy in my work and those nightmares were in full swing, I stumbled upon the work of Peter London. His book, No More Secondhand Art: Awakening the Artist Within, helped me see art as an awakening instrument of personal, spiritual transformation. Shaun McNiff‘s books Art as Medicine: Creating a Therapy of the Imagination, Art Heals: How Creativity Cures the Soul, and Trust the Process: An Artist’s Guide to Letting Go rocked my world. My relationship with art profoundly changed because of these authors! This was not the stuff that I got in my Master of Fine Arts academic education. Deep down, I knew that art was my teacher, my guide into the mysteries of life, but I needed an outside voice to reassure me.
Healing Nuances: Spiritual vs. Psychological
Artists know that the healing, the understanding, comes from the artistic process as well as sitting with the “product” when it is completed. When inner things are not quite speech-ready, the symbols, colors, textures, and images within our creations gently lead us into what we are ready to hear. In my dream studies, we were encouraged to celebrate the nightmares because it meant that our unconscious was nudging us toward something we were ready to hear. Nudging us toward our own revelations. Nudging us to understand ourselves in a deeper way.
Usually within an art therapy environment, the therapist interprets the client’s work. The art work created is a wonderful tool for the therapist to use in fine-tuning the diagnosis and “fixing” the psychological problem.
Reflecting on what is created is very cathartic, but I leave the assigning of meaning to the creator. In my world, the art I create is the teacher. If I slow down enough, sink into my intuitive self and trust the growing relationship between what is created and my still, small voice within, magic happens. I see myself anew.