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This is the third of our 3-part series on Art As Healing. You can find previous segments here Part 1: Creativity & Birth, and Part 2: The Value of Spontaneous Drawings

Studying drawings within a therapy context reveals an inner self that “knows” in a way our conscious self does not always recognize. If we respect that process, it can be a source of growth and healing for ourselves and others.

Art As Healing Trees
Trees, by Todd Trapani

Perhaps one of the most interesting parts of my experience with the subtle aspect of drawings lies in exploring them with people who are doing long term inner work. I have been privileged to share many different journeys through client’s paintings and drawings and have watched with awe as healing occurs through artistic expression. In this type of work, as Jung said, the symbol often leads the way as a healing agent.

Opening Door

Art As Healing Open Door
Open Door, by Emre Can

In one workshop the participants were asked to do a drawing following a short meditation that illustrated a current challenge in their life. One woman drew herself sitting in a wheelbarrow in front of a brick wall. As she began to discuss this image she stated that she had always let others define her direction and “push her around” (note the language) and felt she was also a dumping ground rather like the wheelbarrow, though she had not had that thought as she drew it. At this point in her life she was a successful medical professional but felt she was going nowhere. Driven by her parent’s and others’ ambition and her need for approval she had achieved the goals of her profession, but to what end? And what about the brick wall? It was solid, built of large stones but not too high and it did not stretch across the page. The symbol that presented itself got her attention.

As she began to work with her image and become familiar with it, the first thing she realized was that she needed to get out of the wheelbarrow and take charge of the situation. When confronted with a brick wall it does little good and a lot of damage to beat ones fists against it! As she looked at her picture longer she began to think of other solutions. She could take it down stone by stone, she could find a path round either side of it or even climb over it with help. But what lay on the other side? As we explored this idea she began to understand she was afraid of the unknown, of what might be on the other side, and from there came to the conclusion that she may have built the wall herself for protection. Obviously this one drawing gave her much food for thought and made her aware of different options. In this way a symbol from the unconscious led her in a new direction. By bringing an unconscious symbol to the light of awareness, we are able to look at the choices it presents and make more conscious decisions which is very self-empowering.

Access The Unconscious

In my own personal experience, making time for my own painting is essential to my peace of mind and keeps a balance in my life. While I have painted many landscapes over the years, in the past six years I have also used an indirect approach to my work which accesses unconscious material. Laying down some basic washes I create abstract shapes with no conscious idea of subject matter. When the preliminary washes are dry, I then look for images in the abstract forms and develop the painting from this point. Often it begins to tell me a story and evolves from this point. This has connected my therapeutic and art backgrounds with some interesting results. My new series is called “Inner Journeys, Other Worlds”. It embraces both personal and collective issues such as the journey of the feminine and concerns about the planet in transition.

The Need For Healing Is Ever Present

Deepak Chopra MD speaks of healing as a loss of fear and movement toward wholeness. (It is interesting to note that Webster defines the word whole as healthy and the words whole and holy have the same root). In the search for wholeness as we journey through life, art is a wonderful, powerful and healing tool for self-expression and for deeper understanding. Beyond our limited horizons, the discovery of the power of our own symbols leads in turn to the appreciation of art and symbols that have charted human evolution through the ages.

There are no borders in art. Language barriers disappear. When visiting Russia and later China in the interests of citizen diplomacy, I met with fellow artists. In both countries I did not speak the language and they had limited English, but we were able to communicate with simple drawings on scraps of paper, and we had fun. We are linked cross culturally through images and symbols across the globe. Maybe we should try using crayolas to heal the world!

Article by Margaret Carpenter Arnett BSN ATR, artist and art therapist with 30 years’ experience. Find out more about Margaret’s work at MargaretCarpenterArnett.com

Epilogue by Stephen.SoulDuster: My Leap of Faith

Leap Of Faith I Leap Of Faith II
Leap Of Faith I Leap Of Faith II

I painted “Leap of Faith I & II” at a crossroads of my life, when I made the conscious career choice to focus on art. The two paintings were done a few years apart. I am astonished to see how different they came out. “Leap of Faith I” was drawn right after I made the big leap. As you can gather, I was excited but very cautious at the same time, surveying the landscape constantly. Few years into the change, I, not knowing it consciously, was truly able to make the leap by jumping into the unknown and ready to explore whatever it is ahead of me.

The unconscious had spoken.

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