More and more these days, the practice of art is being discussed in terms of its therapeutic value. I’m currently reading a fascinating book called ‘Your Brain on Art’ by Susan Magsamen and Ivy Ross, about the neurological impact of artistic activities and how the emerging field of neuroaesthetics can help transform traditional medical practices for the benefit of us all. I do feel though that as important as all this work is, it’s starting to seem like we’re losing sight of the fact that art is more than just therapy.
Art is not therapy per se, although it has therapeutic value. Just as mindfulness is not therapy, but clearly has many therapeutic benefits.
When I studied sculpture and printmaking so many years ago at Bath Academy of Art in the UK, I did so because I loved making art. It was (and still is) a huge passion of mine. Likewise, through the many writing courses that I took. I loved making things, writing about things and people, and exploring my relationship with the world and myself through the things that I made or drew and wrote about. I didn’t do any of this for the therapeutic benefits that might result. Sure, there were many times that I felt creatively blocked and when it’s difficult to circumvent such a block, it can be very frustrating. Would therapy have been helpful? I would say not. The process of being blocked is very much a part of the creative journey. Without the block, the recognition of the block, and the effort required to transcend the block, creativity can easily slip into amorphous banality. The block can often be the flint that sparks the flame of creative dynamism.
This block-induced frustration is born out of the fact that artists are fundamentally creative beings not functioning at that moment within their creativity. Perhaps art therapy can help us understand our blocks, but it doesn’t help us get past them in a creatively meaningful way.
“Therapy aims at disarming emotion, placing wounded emotions “in perspective.” Art, on the other hand, uses wounded emotions-or any other fuel handy-not to alter our perception of an existing outer reality but to alter that reality through a reality we express. Handel’s complex, ecstatic, exultant, and conflicted feelings and perceptions about God created The Messiah. The Messiah, in turn, helps others to understand God…