Can art be used as an alternative practice to traditional methods of healing? Consider this: An abstract or landscape can, in effect, transport a person to a different location other than, say, a doctor's office. And some believe that color has a direct effect on certain "energy lines" of the body to heal specific ailments. But when it comes to art, is it really healing in nature or does it simply just provide a calming and soothing environment for the mind? Can art really heal your illnesses? Some say yes. But whether it's the teachings of ancient healing practices or the soothing effects of color and techniques, art can provide a healing of the mind. And with all the unwanted side effects of traditional medications, why not turn to art as a healing power?
"The artwork distracts the patients, forcing them to think about something else" (other than the pain they may be experiencing in therapy), says Valerie Hopkins, owner of Hopkins' Fine Art. "And with all the illnesses going around throughout the world today, we have to surround ourselves with beauty."
Hopkins, who for three years has partnered with Paul Gleason, a physical therapist and owner of Physical Therapy Complete, Phoenix, AZ, had a severe accident several years ago and had to go through physical therapy to heal. As she was working with Gleason, Hopkins noticed the walls had beautiful colors painted on them, but there was no artwork anywhere. She realized that if she had beautiful artwork to escape in, it would help distract her from the pain she was going through with each session. Gleason was inspired and the two began their partnership thereafter. Hopkins uses the artists who she represents in her gallery and rehangs Gleason's "gallery" about every three months.
"Art provides an interesting topic for conversation and gets patients' minds off their injuries for a few minutes," says Gleason. "It's a good way to connect with patients."
Although Gleason isn't sure if art in and of itself provides healing, he does believe the atmosphere and bright colors that art adds to his office space stimulates his patients' overall sense of well-being and hopefulness.
"I believe art opens the mind to new possibilities, creates energy and optimism, and provides comfort to the soul," says Gleason. "We hope that the combination of our hands-on approach and unique environment helps motivate patients to work hard on their therapy. And I do believe that their attitude and effort creates a huge difference in the results they achieve."
Hopkins believes that there isn't one given style, technique or subject matter that pertains to therapeutic art. The only condition is that it must allow the mind to escape, sending the individual on a "healing journey into the painting." The artists whose works hang in Gleason's office include Nancy Ortenstone, Keith Bennett, Gary Leonard, Rey Isip and LauRha Frankfort. Using all originals, Hopkins only brings in eclectic art, with the majority being abstracts, figuratives and landscapes.
"Because artwork is so subjective, there are no specific colors or materials that are more healing than others," Hopkins explains. "Everyone feels differently and it aU depends on the patient. I know from my own experience, it all depends on the day or their state of pain."
Weighing in with a different opinion is Paradise Valley, AZ-based artist LauRha Frankfort (known as LauRha). After studying Medical Qi Gong, LauRha says there are specific colors and materials that correspond to the healing process. (On Feb. 4, Hopkins and LauRha are planning a one-woman show and reception for the first time in Gleason's office, where LauRha's paintings will become permanent fixtures.) Qi Gong, meaning (Qi) energy (Gong) work, is an ancient Chinese energy healing theory that has been used in China for more than "5,000 years and is the granddaddy of yoga, but strictly medical," LauRha says. It is a self-healing art that combines movement and meditation, with visualizations employed to enhance the mind/body connection.
The world-renowned Grandmaster Hong Liu, a Chinese physician and one of nine Grandmasters in the world today, taught LauRha this practice. Master Hong has astounded Western physicians by treating ailments ranging from obesity to terminal cancer and was trained at the most prestigious hospitals in China, as well as the home of Qi Gong Master Kwan. Based in Los Angeles since 1991, Master Hong teaches Qi Gong and natural healing seminars throughout the United States as well as abroad, and is the first person to fully integrate extensive apprenticeships in both Eastern and Western medicine.
"Color stimulates people more than we know," says LauRha. She explains that in Qi Gong teachings, colors aid in the healing of both emotions and the "Yin Yang body organs or energy lines" associated with them. For example, white/silver colors heal grief and sadness/lung and large intestine; yellows and golds heal stress and worry/stomach and spleen; red expresses joy and excitement/healing the heart and small intestines; blacks and deep purples heal fear and depression/kidneys and the bladder; and green heals anger and frustration/liver and gallbladder complications.
In addition, the teachings of Qi Gong incorporate rive elements or materials into the theory of healing the "energy lines" throughout the body, and include metal to heal lung and large intestine complications; earth to heal the stomach and spleen; tire for the heart and small intestine; water to heal the kidneys and bladder; and lastly, wood for the healing of the liver and gallbladder. LauRha teaches us that you don't have to necessarily use the tangible elements to get the desired effect, but using the associated colors in your painting will evoke the healing power.
"The theory states that certain colors provoke feeling and when those distinct colors are positioned on specific parts of the body or its 'energy lines,' it promotes healing associated with that particular system of the body. My art is similar to acupuncture," LauRha explains. "It is amazing because patients suffering from certain illnesses are drawn to the corresponding colors that help in their healing processes without even realizing it. People look at my art and don't even know its healing."
LauRha goes on to say that in her teachings, the figurative is very therapeutic because of the energy lines coursing through the body. Abstracts are also therapeutic in nature because the colors and motions in the artwork evoke soothing vibrations. And landscapes are healing because they can be calming and incorporate the theory of the rive elements. Nevertheless, LauRha says that "most art is therapeutic. Any art that makes a person feel good is therapeutic in nature."
Bernice K. Leader, the principal of Leader Associates, an art consulting firm to corporations and health care facilities, agrees. She chooses the art for her clients based on its aesthetics first and foremost and not necessarily for its soothing colors because "art in certain health care departments may be inappropriate for others, depending how it will impact the viewer or patient. I choose art that passes my criteria for excellence and then I try to subject the art with my ideals of life-affirming, organic, serene or stimulating images, all depending on the decor, the department's function and the goals of the principals."
Leader specializes in art consulting for health care facilities and has worked with several hospitals in the New York and northern New Jersey regions. She uses a lot of prints by the radiographic artist Steven N. Meyers in hospitals, particularly in radiology units. She also chooses art that stimulates pleasant memories, such as a vacation or a family pet, for geriatric wards. Other artists she suggests to her clients include Scott Sandell, Sharron Bliss, Elizabeth Ginsberg and Patricia Nix.
"Art is a thing of beauty that is beneficial to patients because it can provide stimulation or an escape from a frightening situation, all of which can be therapeutic," Leader says. "I believe abstracts or organic pieces with cheerful colors are more beneficial than soothing colors."
As a lyric artist and founder of Lyric From My Art, Jeff Montaigne suggests most art can be soothing because it impacts the viewer in different ways, depending on how it stimulates personal memories or how it creates connections in a person's life. Montaigne creates commissioned artworks that spell out the lyrics of songs that speak (or sing) to the buyer, such as a couple's wedding, engagement or anniversary song.
"When you stop and freeze the lyrics, and turn them into a work of art, they have a way of soothing."
When it comes to Montaigne's artwork, buyers go through a process that involves selecting the song; providing input on its significance to their lives; and suggesting colors, all of which adds to the impact of the work on the buyers' lives.
"Then when the work is complete and it's hung in the home, they're emotionally connected with it because it's now a part of their lives," says Montaigne.
Glass artist Marlene Rose-Coates says her buyers feel a connection with themselves and her art. "When people view my work, I am often told that they feel a 'certain aliveness' inherent in the work itself. Art often evokes a calming and emotional response from the viewer."
Her goal as an artist is to "inject life" in whatever it is that she is creating. She wants her artwork to come alive and reveal the truly unique source of life energy in each creation. Rose-Coates hand casts each piece from molten glass and incorporates relics of modern life into the sculpture. She describes the process as a "dangerous dance of creation" that reflects in her finished works.
"The glass immortalizes a glimpse of something fleeting beyond the moment, taking that moment and freezing it over," she says. "My artwork is kept moments, shards of what I have seen, unnamed emotions, visions, concepts and memories. They call back to me things beyond themselves."
Art can be just as healing for the creator as the viewer. And according to the Mundelein, IL-based American Art Therapy Association, Inc., "The creative process involved in the making of art is healing and life-enhancing. Through creating art and talking about the creative process with an art therapist, one can increase self-awareness, cope with symptoms, stress and traumatic experiences, while enhancing cognitive abilities and enjoying the life-affirming pleasures of artistic creativity." Art therapy is a growing field and an effective treatment for the developmentally, medically, educationally, socially or psychologically impaired.
After LauRha's room passed on, she used her paintings as a form of art therapy. She was suffering from the pain of losing her mother and painted "Breathe in the Universe," using the color white and positioning the figure in a Qi Gong healing exercise. Today, LauRha suffers from gallbladder complications, and now uses white birch (wood) canvases that she sands down and stains before she paints with greens and yellows to heal her. "It just makes me feel so good" she says. "Green sooths me. I see spring green leaves in my heart. I just know I am healing myself and it may be a bit of preventative medicine as well."
"Color combinations can be pleasing and can express a range of emotions," says Walnut Creek, CA-based artist Sharron Bliss. "I love color and the effect it has on me, and I appreciate that collectors often have a strong emotional response, indicating to me that my artwork communicates something of what I'm feeling and experiencing as I create it."
When Bliss sits down to paint, she goes through her meditation practices first because "it clears my mind from any outside factors," she says. "My meditation is expressed through my painting; it is not in my mind, but in my physical being. It is such a physical experience that flows through me onto the canvas. The physical being tells me what to do. I'm expressing the unknown to the known. I'm connecting with a place outside of myself and making it visible on canvas."
Because it is comforting to her, Bliss paints leaf and floral imagery in nature. Her work is carried in many hospitals and health care facilities across the United States.
Art, in and of itself, provides an environment that is comforting, soothing and in some respects, healing. It takes the viewer to a different place, allowing them to let go of pain, stress, grief or other disconcerting emotions that they may be experiencing.
"So much of healing is in the mind and what you take in with your eyes," says LauRha. "The power of the mind is healing."
For reprints of this article, call 800-867-9285, ext. 503.
* Hopkins' Fine Art, 480-488-2282, www.hopkinsgallery.com
* Paul Gleason, 602-264-5323
* LauRha Frankfort, 480-488-2282, www.laurhacreativeartist.com
* Master Hong Liu, 626-445-4284, www.qimaster.com
* Bernice K. Leader, 973-696-1836, www.leaderartconsulting.com
* American Art Therapy Association, Inc., 888-290-0878, www.arttherapy.org
* Jeff Montaigne, 516-644-5726, www.lyricfrommyart.com
* Marlene Rose, 727-709-2620, www.marleneroseglass.com
* Sharron Bliss, 925-944-6366, www.blissarts.com
Lyndsey Walker ABN Assistant Editor…