Art As Healing

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by Andrew Dean

Art and healing in life…. You will surely agree, constantly requires healing and respite; a pause from the stagnation of daily routine, emotional distress, anxiety and depression, and unreleased trauma from past experience. It is human to want to feel better, to find relief.

If you are an artist or an art lover, you will also agree that making and viewing art fosters well-being. Art is an outlet, an asylum in which the subconscious can be explored. It has been for centuries. The world’s oldest surviving hospital, Spedele de Santa Maria in Sienna, Italy, was decorated with some of the greatest artists of the 15th century upon its establishment because civic leaders at the time believed that art could heal by bringing inner peace and spiritual balance to the sick and the destitute. By taking care of the mind and the soul, art can help heal the body. Which in today’s extortionately stressful world, is becoming more important than ever. According to the CDC, the pandemic has been the source of new or worsening mental health challenges for millions of people around the world. A recent survey revealed that 40.9% of people between April and July 2020 reported at least one mental or behavioral health condition — anxiety, depression, trauma-and stressor-related disorder, or even increased substance abuse.

The world-renowned Cleveland Clinic in Ohio has a massive art therapy program for patients and hosts regular exhibitions in their space of some of the art world’s most notorious artists. Backed by extensive research, they have concluded that art provides “a calming atmosphere for patients and their families.”

As a part of our mental health focus on our blog this month, we decided to ask some of the artists in our current exhibition at Agora Gallery, Introspection: Outside the Picture how their practice of art relates to their own mental health or that of others. Our goal is to emphasize the strong connection between art and therapy and the important role of artists in the healing process of our soles. We are honored to share their empathetic and candid responses with our audience.

Artist Veronica Keith describes the benefit of entering a flow state as she creates her work. Contemporary psychology suggests that entering the state while creating art is as beneficial as meditation. The figurative and expressive painter’s practice often reflects her emotional state, particularly when she encounters stress. She states:

“The work allows me to relinquish control exposing things going on inside, things buried far below the distractions of daily life. There is something that happens, where you either have anxiety about stuff or other things are going on in your life. Or as you are working on a piece, you run into the same kind of hurdles. Just things that crawl through, as you are starting to develop.”

Keith intends to force the viewer to pause and contemplate the emotion with which it was created. Each piece is a captured jumble of feelings, and yet a place of safety to explore what is bubbling just below the surface. It is in these moments of contemplation that a piece can speak honestly to the viewer, and allow them to relate the emotion to their experiences.

Uncharted by Veronica Keith
Uncharted, Acrylic on Canvas, 30″ x 72″ by Veronica Keith

Similarly, Aigerim Bektayeva’s work is a process of self-healing. Faced with her daughter’s medical challenges, Aigerim turned to her work to seek balance. Feeling taxed and constantly stressed due to her daughter’s unresolvable health issues, she has used art as an outlet. Aigerim recall’s that the process of painting a portrait of her daughter was not just a distraction but an act of therapy:

“I imagined her healthy and beautiful, creating through forms of a positive outcome of the situation, and thus she herself got out of the crisis state.”

Artist Riccardo Bartoli’s work is a chance to evade our world; to escape, even if only for a moment. Whenever he feels overwhelmed by the chaos of living, he dives into his truest dreams and fantasies through paint. He escapes one reality by creating another.

“When I paint, my mind is free from any interference of any kind. Colors, shapes, where the objects are going to be, are the only things that occupy my mind.”

Impressione Di Primavera (Spring Impression), Oil on Canvas, 19.5″ x 27.5″ by Riccardo Bartoli
Impressione Di Primavera (Spring Impression), Oil on Canvas, 19.5″ x 27.5″ by Riccardo Bartoli

Painting is respite, allowing the mind to relax and leave behind worry and struggle. His practice, his color, allows him to detach from stress; to find relief. “Art is something that, when used properly, can convey any kind of emotion, from joy to extreme sadness.” Bartoli seeks to spark joy and happiness activating the senses, offering an escape from the insipidity of life.

Milana Alaro‘s work is personal portraying intimate parts of her subconscious and her most deeply felt emotions. Milana has always painted as a passion. She states:

“My passion has stuck since I was a little child, and could not imagine my life without it. My practice has become my therapy. A safe place, taking a brush and pencil, making marks and creating something”.

Purple by Milana Alaro
Purple, Gouache on Paper, 15.5″ x 12″ by Milana Alaro

Milana’s work is about the process. Her work is about thinking without attaching too much meaning. Her work allows for thought and emotion to be processed while detaching to find clarity and some inner peace.

“I could feel very bad emotionally but instead of lying, and crying, and thinking about it and making everything worse I could just paint it and process it.”

David Lionheart’s work and practice are rooted in overcoming trauma and adversity. He channels his experiences and abilities through a non-profit he founded, Play for Your Freedom, a charity for Veterans. His work and dedication, in general, seek to help people trying to overcome trauma one positive interaction at a time.

“I’ve lived through some things that had a big influence on me, but I was suppressing them from a very young age and I never fully processed them, to share feelings and to open up. I started to become more vulnerable and started to peel back some of the layers of some of the things that I had experienced.”

David Lionheart’s work and story embody the miraculous transformation art as therapy can have. His roles in life led him to often focus on the well-being of others, in trying to “pump everybody up and save the day,” in trying to make a difference and solve problems for others. When looking out for the well-being of others it is not uncommon to avoid uncovering “what was going on with me, inside of my head.”

Heart of Gold by David Lionheart
Heart of Gold, diptych, Acrylic & Mixed Media on Canvas, 48″ x 96″ by David Lionheart

When creating art as an active practice, whether intending it to be therapeutic or not, artists find that they receive answers, clarity, and ultimately a release from burdens that bear on them. Artists show us the healing effect of art comes from sublimation when mental energy is redirected from trauma and stress. Making and viewing work transforms emotion, peels back layers of the subconscious, replaces anxiety and stress with positivity.

Looking to develop your artistic career and build a presence in New York City and worldwide? Book an online career development consultation meeting today.

Many of our most celebrated artists in history have struggled greatly with mental health issues. Search the two terms together, and you’ll find the names of many famous painters that struggled with mental illness; Yayoi Kusama, Frida Khalo, Edvard Munch, Vincent Van Gogh, and Pablo Picasso, to name a few. These artists allowed their mental health challenges to become a gift for the world. By understanding this, we are able to look beyond our challenges and connect to something bigger than ourselves.


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