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The healing power of visual art

The healing power of visual art

Jung’s notion of the purpose of imagery and symbolism in his understanding of the human psyche, and how this information was conveyed through art, the stories, both pictorial and prosaic is illustrated in The Book of Lambspring (Gillabel). The story and illustrations (or, emblems, as they are called in the Alchemical vernacular) in the manuscript are one of discovery in which the narrator “Lambspring” guides us through a series of metaphorical dramas with the intent to connect to archetypal material within the viewer, producing transformation. For instance, in one of the plates or emblems, a King devours his son, who is then reborn. 

These opposing forces of life and death are resolved into a higher state of being or unity, which is the rebirth of the new king. “The thesis is that Nature is returned unto herself with a higher gift and more sacred warrant…” (Waite). The goal of the process again is one of healing transformation, for the visual drama again excites the same processes in the viewer by appealing to the archetypal system within the viewer’s unconscious. This is a form of resonance discussed earlier as theorized by Hirsch: the “Visual contact with them (the emblems) stimulates the process they represent. In other words, they “evoke subconscious forces into dynamic, conscious activity” (Miller).

Two of the main practitioners whose work has been central to this paper, and who figure prominently in the world of healing through art, both came to be launched into this work through experiences of serious physical illness which they healed through their respective disciplines. Gilda Yelin Hirsch, whose work and theories of visual perception has been discussed earlier in this chapter, was given a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis with paralysis on the left side of her body, and Anna Halprin, whose work as a dancer, choreographer and healer figures prominently in the chapter in this work on healing and dance, was given a diagnosis of ovarian cancer which she brought into complete remission through a combined practice of dance and visual arts therapy.

Hirsch’s method of dealing with the problem was to have two canvases of life-sized proportions made upon which she painted, within a traced outline of her body, her impressions of those areas of her body where she felt there were issues. In her own words: In Through Generation I worked into the physical aspects of my body, trying to locate and separate areas that were distressed” (Hirsch). The effect of her work put her back on the road to health: as I delved visually into the tangles of my body and psyche, I emerged well (Hirsch).

Ana Halprin’s experience with illness began when she made a drawing of her body, and tried to dance the drawing, as was her normal practice in creating her improvised works. She found she was unable to create a dance based on the drawing, and finding this strange she examined the drawing more closely and found she had drawn a dark circle in the pelvic region. So being suspicious she decided to see a doctor, and she was found to have ovarian cancer. She was treated medically, and was cured. However after three years the tumor returned and she was given a negative prognosis. So Halprin decided to deal with the problem through visual art and dance, making drawings which she thought reflected her emotionally and spiritually, and where they might manifest in the body, and then working on healing problems in these areas through the expressive dance. Halprin’s cancer went into remission, and it has been thirty years since she was first diagnosed. She attributes her healing to her work with visual art and improvised dance.

In society as well as for the individual, visual art plays a vital transformative and healing role. According to theories of vision, harmonization or resonance can be achieved between the visual object and the viewer. For the individual and society, it can be theorized that to experience beauty is to experience the harmony fomented by this resonance between the perceiver and the perceived, for the object is perceived as form, and “form” (Hirsch) is usually the aspect of the medium wherein beauty lies in visual art. The reproduction of our internal symbols into our external environment has a balancing and healing effect on society, when these forms are reflected in art and architecture around us, forms with which we live each day of our lives. It has been shown that cultures under evolutionary stress, such as those in the Paleolithic Age, may deal with their insecurity by reproducing symbols of the unconscious in order to retain a sense of familiarity and assuredness in their environment.This is an obvious situation where visual art is balancing and healing mechanism for society.Visual perception of these reproduced symbols has also been shown to be a partner in the process of individuation. Since individuation is the process whereby one becomes a more healthy and whole being, the proper use of visual art in social and environmental settings can bring people together in ultimately more constructive, healthy and mature (holistic) relationships. (with minor editing, from chapter III, “The Healing Power of Visual Art”)

Source:
Steven Lewis Malski [a.k.a. Steve Malski Niles] (2018) The Power of Art in Healing and Transformation, Ed. Nour Nouri, Pashmin Art Publisher, pp. 75-77.

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