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The Healing Power of Art

Art is a powerful tool in the healing of the mind-body language.  Medical science has proven that making art, drawing, painting, sculpture and collage, has a healing function that reduces the physiological stress triggered from a cancer diagnosis.  The immune system then has a chance to heal and work at it’s best to relieve pain, heal depression, and raise the spirit.

We can see the joy in our students’ faces when they complete a painting or become immersed in the wonder of doing an art piece.  We’ve seen patients come in to our class with fear and uncertainty on their faces.  We usually have a project that we do with newbies, which is to picture their cancer, pain, etc. and draw it on a piece of paper.  They can pick a color that to them signifies their discomfort or fear.  After they draw it out on paper, we tell them to crumple it up, tear it up and throw it in the trashcan.  Now they are ready to begin to see what art can do for them in their road to healing.  Every time we have done this exercise, the response has been the same.  The look on their faces has changed, and they are more relaxed and ready to go.  As they start their art piece, you can almost feel the joy in the room.  Now the body has a chance to lower blood pressure, release muscle tension and get the immune system working again.

I have seen firsthand the healing power of art with my husband and his fight with cancer.  As a caregiver, art has helped me as well.  Negative and fearful emotions of a cancer diagnosis within the family can torment the mind, damage the body, not to mention suppress the spirit.  If we can express these emotions through color, form, shape, and image, the path is cleared for the healing to begin. 

Art also can help with other diseases, namely Alzheimer’s disease.  My mother died a few months ago from Alzheimer’s.  As her caretaker, watching the decline of her mind and spirit was extremely emotional.  When we began to bring her to our Art for the Soul class, she blossomed and opened up.  Art became the best medicine for her.  Emotions were in check, blood pressure was lowered and she had a new purpose and joy in her life.

Cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, PTSD, mental health issues, and other health problems can be helped with the powerful and simple tool of making art.  The statistics for dance, music and art therapy are all the same.  They are all tools for healing, but with art, there is the drawing, painting, sculpture, etc. that can be viewed everyday with a reminder of the good feelings that came of doing it.

In our program, Art for the Soul, we use a quote from Picasso, “Art washes away from the soul, the dust of everyday life.”  It still has meaning today especially in the work that we are doing at the Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center.

- Rolanda Engstrom