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home > writing > art and education > the healing power of art

"Once we create imagery that honestly represents how life feels from the inside, there is a deep sense of personal empowerment and a new degree of private certainty as a result of having finally touched down to the original bedrock of our original self."
Peter London, No More Second Hand Art

My Joy
Anitra Redlefson
Oil on Canvas, 2001
Click for Detail

Art Heals
"Do you believe that art can heal physical and/or emotional wounds?"
"Have you ever experienced this?"
I not only believe this, I know it.

In 1991 I attended a workshop conducted by Lucia Capacchione, Ph.D, author, workshop leader and creator of the Creative Journal method. It was the first time in my life that I felt I had a means (the Creative Journal method) for self expression and healing. Being mostly right-brained, I had always felt an isolation and insecurity about being "different"; from Lucia I learned that right brain functions were equally important to our life as the left brain ones. With this new freedom, I left the corporate world (in which I never did "fit", causing depression and low energy) that same year, after 23 years, and began a new life.

On a more personal level, creative journaling and art have enabled me to heal wounds from my childhood and issues with my parents; I have used it to sort and sift through issues of self esteem and competency, and I use it every day in coping with and understanding my feelings and emotions and in considering information upon which I base my decisions and actions. I feel very fortunate that I have had the opportunity to learn the language of the right brain, including art, for it speaks the truth and links me to closer to God.

A Sharing of Thoughts
The Creative Journaling process (Lucia Capacchione, Ph.D) brings together writing (left brain function) with imaging (right brain function) for whole brain communication. This is accomplished by using both your dominant and non-dominant hands for writing and imaging. The dominant hand is the one you normally write with, the non-dominant hand is your other hand. Luciaís research shows that, right handed or left handed, writing and imaging with the non-dominant hand gives greater access to the right hemispheric functions like feeling, intuition, creativity and inner wisdom and spirituality. When a dialog occurs between the left and right hemispheres of the brain, both emotions and thoughts are more fully expressed and understood.

Just to illustrate, try this exercise (from: Living With Feeling: The Art of Emotional Expression, Lucia Capacchione, Ph.D., Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam, 2001):

  • Using a pen, pencil, markers, whatever, and, using your non-dominant hand, scribble, draw, doodle or make marks on a piece of paper.

  • Then with the dominant hand, write down words that express how you are feeling.

  • Reflect on the process; what did it feel like to image with your non-dominant hand, what emotions did you experience? How are you feeling now?
As Michael Samules, M.D. explains in his book, "Creative Healing" (Harper, 1998), right brain activities such as imaging, music, and dance change us; researchers have proven the altering of brain wave patterns, changes in our autonomic nervous systems and changes in our brain neuro transmitters. The tri-brain theory (developed by Dr. Paul MacLean) also explains that such right brain activities take place in the middle, limbic system of our brain which serves as a communicator between there and the inner, reptilian brain and the newest part of our brain, the outer brain (the neo-cortex "thinking cap"). Thus, the information is "holistic" and complete.

Interestingly, the earliest form of communication was visual and non-verbal; evidence of this are cave wall paintings and old stone age artifacts. Even today we see this evidence, for before children learn to write, they draw. Drawing or visual expression is something we are all born with; it is our birthright. No one had to teach us to draw when we were little, we just did it. We all have this innate ability; just like each of us have the ability to crawl, then to toddle and then to walk. Just imagine if when you were a baby, you thought: "Oh, I canít walk; I canít learn to do that; it looks way too dangerous, what if I fall and hurt myself? Nope, it is much safer on all fours, I will not walk." Luckily, that doesnít happen and we all learn to walk!

In most cultures children continue to draw and create freely with no preconceived notions of failing until they begin school, where they first begin to experience the emphasis and rewards for left brain thinking (language, math and sequential logic.) By the time most of us reach adulthood, we all favor left brain reasoning and logic, slighting and even abandoning our feelings, images and intuition. (Imaging includes: marks, colors, drawing, doodling, etc.) We are all born with the innate ability for imaging!

How did this emphasis on left brain functions occur? One reason, as Leonard Shlain writes in his book, the "Alphabet versus the Goddess: The Conflict Between Word and Image" (Penguin Putnam, 1998) is that the agricultural preliterate cultures were principally informed by holistic, right-brain modes that venerated the Goddess and the feminine values and images; it was writing, particularly the alphabets, that drove cultures toward linear left brain thinking. And, as Lucia writes: "Neglecting the nonverbal language of the right brain leaves us emotionally illiterate."

Sometimes it does take a tragedy, a wake-up call, for us to reach out to a different place, a different mode of thinking, to go where we are not accustomed, where the territory is unfamiliar. This past week, one of my colleges wrote to me that she honored her desire to createóto cook, to make art, to fashion things. She said she has experienced a peace and healing. I felt a need to paint; I placed myself in a sacred space where I could be receptive and open, without expectations. I am just guessing that these open spaces that I created were filled with something that cannot be put into words, but can only be felt. And it feels good.

"Once we create imagery that honestly represents how life feels from the inside, there is a deep sense of personal empowerment and a new degree of private certainty as a result of having finally touched down to the original bedrock of our original self."
Peter London, No More Second Hand Art

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