Art as Healing – Transformation of Interior and Exterior Life
Against the backdrop of climate change, viral pandemics, complex matrixes of systemic oppression and political revolutions––not to mention personal relationships, work/life balance and health issues––it can be difficult to maintain mental peace. In the wake of industrial-capitalism and later, the isolated connectivity of social media, mental health diagnoses and substance abuse cases have sky-rocketed, with suicide rates at a 30-year high. Depression, anxiety, and emotional or physical disconnection are commonplace afflictions in our modern societies. Yet with talk therapy and psychiatric prescriptions now becoming more accepted into the mainstream, we might ask ourselves: Is there another solution?
As explored in writer and philosopher Alain de Botton’s book Art as Therapy, “art is a vehicle through which we can do such things as recover hope, dignify suffering, develop empathy, laugh, wonder, nurture a sense of communion with others and regain a sense of justice and political idealism.” Art can inspire, but it can also help us cope with the conflicts and confusions of daily life and locate spaces of community in dislocation.
Since antiquity––from the ancient wall paintings in the caves of Laas Gaal in Somalia, Cueva de Las Manos in Argentina, and Leang Timpuseng in Indonesia, to the physical effects of the Greek Tragedy, to the socio-political impact of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, to the healing shocks that Picasso’s Guernica triggered––we are reminded again and again of art’s psycho-social and holistic importance. In the tradition of Western descriptions of aesthetics, however, this effect is often denied, while other cultures maintain the productive blurring between art and shamanism. How we can overcome our dualistic ideas of “beautiful” art and physical wellbeing, and what we can learn from shifts in art and culture today? Art’s therapeutic ability can allow us to follow intuition and channel mental energy towards inquiry, creativity, and gratitude. Furthermore, its ambiguity can help identify difficult emotions, which is often the first step in healing from trauma.
History reminds us of our innate inclination towards healing through art, but as we look ahead, we are also met with newer technologies to improve our mental landscapes, including chromatherapy in light art, binaural beat therapy (sounds and music that trigger specific brainwaves and relieve anxiety), and sensorial/experiential installation art. What is the relationship between our emotional, physical and mental experience in art, and how important is this dialogue? What happens when different senses are triggered? Some artists are engaging with these questions through interdisciplinary approaches to healing; Jeremy Shaw, for example, explores the cross pollinations of science, psychedelics, and spirituality to reach transcendent experiences of body and mind. As art continues to move away from the white cube space and into the streets, these integrative modes will be pivotal to the healing of interior and exterior spaces and will depend on the collaboration of practitioners from various fields.
As we endure the intense growing pains of societal progress, artists are often called to act, to dance, to paint, to sculpt, and to articulate obscure emotions felt by the collective. As curator Elvira Dyangani Ose once said, “Artists are public intellectuals,” and while this is true, they can also be public feelers, champions of vulnerability, who can inspire audiences to dive into their own interior lives and begin to address internal conflicts. As more and more scientific evidence arises around the reality and lasting effects of epigenetics, the study of socially inherited modifications in gene activity, art––due to its reflexive ability to connect the macro and the micro––can also serve as an essential tool in healing intergenerational trauma.
In our vision of a sustainable and creative future, the Wellbeing City not only gives space for wellbeing through design, architecture, and other aesthetic elements, but also creates and maintains resources for people to feel safe, inspired, and recognised. It points its inhabitants towards art, while also empowering them to take part in creation and collaboration. We know that the architecture and design of our environments can greatly affect our moods and mental health. Thus, art can serve as a powerful portal for healing and shaping new spaces of free thought and connection.
1. How can architecture and design create public and private spaces of healing? 2. How can we experience art, both together and alone? 3. How can triggering our senses aid in our collective healing? 4. What are the concrete examples of communities or initiatives using art to address mental health issues and socio-economic disparities in urban landscapes? 5. What innovative technologies could aid in effectively deepening or catalysing experiences of healing? 6. What are examples of artworks that inspire you? 7. In our cities, what aesthetic or organisational elements are detrimental to mental health? What solutions could be implemented to address them? 8. How does art heal? 9. What community resources should the Wellbeing City have to ensure the emotional wellness of its inhabitants? How can these resources be integrated into its design?
Mikolaj Sekutowicz, CEO and Curator, Therme Art (Co-moderator)
Roya Sachs, Curator and Artistic Director Riya Hamid, Visual Artist, Model, Writer Lilleth Glimcher, Artist, Director, Curator & Organiser Claudia Paetzold, Curator and Artistic Director Sissel Tolaas, Professional InBetweener Lucia Pietroiusti, Curator of Serpentine Galleries
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