Does art heal? Does it facilitate healing for the viewer or the artist or both? What do you consider the healing power of art? Is it something you think about as you create or as you view art? Or can you feel it?
There is no question in my mind that art provides a valuable source for healing. I have heard many stories and witnessed how paintings have impacted lives. What is your experience?
As a painter, I experience it often, sometimes with intent and other times it shows up unexpectedly. “Let the Caged Bird Sing,” a recent abstract painting, surprised me mid-way through the painting process with its emotional content and healing power. I am going to share my process as to how this transpired.
As many of you may know, I begin a painting by choosing its color palette. Red is one of my favorite colors and since it had not been a dominate color for awhile, I chose it to be main color for this painting. By the way, I had no intent for this abstract painting other than to make red my dominate color.
In the far left image, I started with colors of coral, green-yellow and dark green because I knew they would work with the reds I would apply later. A napkin with a bird and leaves was also collaged in. Next I turned the board and began adding my pinks, oranges and reds. By the way, I was not trying to protect the bird with my random paint strokes and splatters. In fact I was ignoring it. Blacks, whites, greens and more texture were applied and are visible in the third image above. (To see these painting stages in a larger format, click the image, then scroll down the page to find larger images of them.)
At this stage, the painting wasn’t “speaking” to me, though I knew it would soon. I didn’t have any strong emotional connection to the painting, which was fine because I was enjoying the process and liking what was happening. I thought about stopping at this point because some artists would consider it finished but I didn’t.
What is the Healing Power of Art?
Meanwhile, turmoil was happening within my family as we dealt with my 44 year old alcoholic nephew. Other family members – a parent, uncle and sister – were venting their anger and failures at him. I was getting both angry and deeply saddened as I realized they have little compassion or love for him. They were also not owning up to their responsibility in the situation.
Did I think this personal scenario would have an impact on my painting? It never occurred to me consciously, even while I added darker and more intense colors, as evident below. You can see the next couple stages of the painting process.
As I continued to turn the board and search for its meaning and message, I stepped back and re-discovered the bird. I was quite surprised by what I saw. Suddenly tears started flowing as I realized how the bird was trapped. It became the symbol for my nephew.
The more I painted, the more I could feel the contrast of love and anger — the symbols of red — begin to dissipate within me and I felt the possibility of shaking off the negative messages while seeking ways to help my nephew ‘sing.’ It took some challenging artistic problem solving to bring out the bird — to let it sing among the trees and the chaos. The healing power of art had manifested.
One more surprise: when I went to varnish the finished painting (see below), I suddenly remembered that red is my nephew’s favorite color, which made me smile. I do love how the universe works.
As a viewer, I do not expect you to see or understand the meaning of this painting. However, I do hope that you can feel the emotion, the passion and perhaps see something totally different from what I see. In fact, what do you see? This is one of the many reasons why I love to paint.
Do you believe any healing took place while “Let the Caged Bird Sing,” was being painted? How have you experienced healing power of art?
In addition to healing, what else does visual art bring to the world?