In review of the crazy year that was 2017, I’ve been thinking a lot about my art and why I create it. I’ve read and reread over my previous blog entries here on Muddy Colors, as well as many, many of the others posted by other contributors. And in doing that, as it almost always does, I am driven to search for more answers, more enlightenment and a better understanding of the why’s and how’s of everything in which I invest my time. In that quest, I have managed to stumble onto a number of interesting perspectives and a treasure trove of intriguing research.

Inherently, of course, I was drawn to research on the arts. More specifically, on the healing qualities of creating art. I know that most, if not all, of the contributors on Muddy Colors probably understand the concept of the healing properties of creating artwork, as do the majority of those who visit this site. There is a level of emotional release, peace, accomplishment or exultant triumph that is achieved at the culmination of creative process. So my purpose here is not necessarily to preach to the choir. The challenge instead—and a good one to put in place for the new 2018 year—may be to share some of what we as artists enjoy with the rest of the world, who often claim to be “artistically disadvantaged”.

One might wonder where I’m going with all of this. Well, that would be a good question. The idea springs from encounters I’ve had at least once at every show, workshop, lecture or presentation that I’ve ever taken part in.

Invariably, I am always asked how I got to be “so creative”, or told, “I could never be an artist”, or “I can’t even draw a straight line to save my life”, or something along those lines. My first response is that I can’t draw a straight line either, sometimes even with a ruler—but that’s beside the point. What follows that silly response is something that I think everyone should hear, and I try to always tell them this:

Everyone should create art.

Okay, so you’re just going to have to run with me on this for a minute. I’m an artist by trade. It would seem counterintuitive to tell everyone to try to do what I do for a living. Why would I want to initiate more competition than I already have? Yikes, I shouldn’t go there, you say. Yeah, you might be right. But that’s not what I’m going for here.

If I go back to my previous evaluation about myself and the other artists who congregate here, it would become immediately apparent the reasons why everyone should create art. Every human, regardless of his or her level of artistic prowess, should be able to achieve emotional expression, peace, accomplishment and exultant triumph—or the innumerable other emotional byproducts—that come of creating.

I’m not saying that everyone should make their career as an artist. I would like to think there’s proper reasoning behind having a portion of the population be physicians, electricians, bankers, plumbers, and even fast-food drive-through attendants. What I am saying is that there are significant, even powerful reasons for encouraging the creation of art by all people. One of these reasons is particularly important to me—the healing power of creating.

This isn’t a new concept for most artists. Most of us already understand it. Much of the rest of the world has yet to discover this though, and when I’ve had the privilege of realizing that in other’s lives, the light that it turns on in them is phenomenal. It’s not that they end up producing a masterpiece. They may not have even accomplished much more than a few stray brush strokes on a stretch of canvas. But what I’ve found to be true is that creating art produces vulnerability, and where vulnerability is allowed in a safe environment, encouraged and affirmed during practice, psychological healing begins to take place. And when healing begins to take place, balance begins to be restored in the soul, which leads to greater self esteem, which further leads to increased freedom to accomplish and to become something more. All good, right?

I’ve recognized this phenomenon within my own creative process. If I allow myself mentally free movement during creative development, only pulling the gathered emotions, concepts or revelations together in the end with technique, the result is far more intuitive and powerful than if I attempt to manipulate the process. It then becomes a way for me to heal hidden wounds, work through burdensome experiences and grow positive attributes in myself. I am the patient and the creative method the physician.

Art Therapist, Shaun McNiff, wrote of his observations in his “Art Cottage” healing facility that, “empowering the patient artists as decision-makers and creators increased their sense of belonging and responsibility. …Creative transformation was stimulated by a “social ecology” involving flexible and open interaction, listening, the sharing of decisions, learning from mistakes, trust in people, and a pervasive sense that process was more important than the goal itself.”

To Touch A Star

It can’t be overstated that encouraging creativity, often exemplified in the producing of art, results in more positive social interactions and the accomplishment of higher ambitions. Whenever I’ve participated in workshops including “non-artists” who are there to create for the first time, I have witnessed this to be true, so long as they allow themselves to be actively lucid in their approach.

McNiff goes on to state that, “We are discovering that not only will the medicines of art flow through every life situation but that the conditions of healing and treatment vary according to environments and the requirements of the people involved. Art adapts to every conceivable problem and lends its transformative, insightful, and experience-heightening powers to people in need. The medicines of art are not confined within fixed borders. Wherever there is in need, art presents itself as a resourceful healer.

…The core process of healing through art involves the cultivation and release of the creative spirit. If we can liberate the creative process in our lives, it will always find the way to whatever needs attention and transformation. The challenge, then, is first to free our creativity and then to sustain it as a disciplined practice.”

Of course, art does not profess to rid the world of suffering and wounds, nor are artists always healed people. Instead, art does something with those wounds because it realizes that the soul is lost when afflictions cannot be put to good use. Creativity engages breaking points and fashions fresh life from them. Art shows how the difficulty can contain its cure if channeled into life-affirming expression.

Nietzsche wrote in “The Birth of Tragedy” that when we are faced with the most dreadful circumstances, “art approaches as a saving sorceress, expert at healing. She alone knows how to turn these nauseous thoughts about the horror or absurdity of existence into notions with which one can live.”

Fallen II

So I return to my challenge: that we make a little bit more time for those whose paths we cross to encourage creativity, the creation of art—in whatever form that may take—and the healing of souls.