Art in Therapy
Creative expression has always been a central part of how human beings make sense of their place in the world. In non-industrial societies, the arts were usually seen as inseparable from ritual. Malchiodi (2002, p.172) observes: “In this era of high-priced galleries and competitive celebrity artists, we sometimes forget that art’s primary role since the dawn of humanity has been to nourish the sacred dimension of life.” The arts have become dissociated from the stream of life as artistic creation has increasingly become the function of the specialist. In our definition of art, we differentiate “professional art” from “folk art,” “fine arts” from “crafts.” Such distinctions impede the understanding of the arts as a basic expression of human experience.
In traditional communities in India, for example, art is rooted in rituals. The visual and performing arts incorporate rituals to invoke the gods, remove obstacles, celebrate the rites of passage, and mark the turning points in the cycle of death and renewal. In another example, sand paintings are used by the Navajo as part of an interactive healing ceremony including prayers and songs in effect, as spiritual medicine. The sand paintings and chants are considered holy and invite the patient to enter a state of health. In ceremonies of this kind, art is not seen as an object to be hung in a museum; rather, it is integrated into the life of the community
Western culture and its reliance on scientific empiricism has separated and compartmentalized the arts, medicine, and spirituality. Only recently has the healthcare establishment begun to rediscover the medicinal potential of creative expression that traditional societies have tapped into for centuries. All over the world, there seems to be a renaissance creating new partnerships between art and medicine.