Art is healing. And it is NOT optional.
I needed some time for healing. It wasn’t planned, but I took the months of December and January off from my work and my daily living practices to heal. I didn’t finish- meaning- I am not healed. But then again, there is always suffering to be had and with suffering comes healing, so there is always healing to be done. I will never truly be finished. I will never truly be “healed”. But I am ready to come up for air again. To resume life and to grow and expand and create and connect. So hello. I missed you. And thank you for being patient with me.
Turns out, I’m not entirely ready to share everything. I thought I was. I had written something, something very detailed about what happened and why I needed to heal, but I couldn’t get myself to press send to you all. I’m not sure why. It’s probably for the same reason that I’m not entirely sure why everything happened the way that it did. Sometimes we look for an explanation that just isn’t there. Sometimes it’s best to just let the universe run its course.
Or maybe it’s because I’m really not ready to play big- with my business, with my story, with life. I know I want to. But it’s kind of like when you’re bold enough to dive off a cliff into a pool of water. And you make it right to the edge and you just can’t jump. It’s not because I’m scared. I do not give fear full credit here. Fear is a visitor of mine, but he does not live in my house. I haven’t jumped because I just spent my whole life walking up that cliff. It was really a steep cliff and I’m tired. And I’m not entirely sure I’ve even made it to the top. I need to rest first. Regroup. I need to take that next step on my own damn time. You would too.
But when I’m ready to jump- to share it all- you’ll be the first to know. It’s worth knowing. Maybe you’ll see your story in mine.
Instead, I will share what has been the most powerful lesson for me this past month: Art. It is healing. And it is NOT optional.
I had forgotten the role of art in my life until I really needed it. Until one emotionally dark weekend in December had my partner pulling me out to go see the Banksy exhibit at the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco. Thank god he did because for one night I exited my reality and entered into another. Which is exactly what I felt when I viewed this piece:
And after visiting the exhibit I was inspired and reinvigorated and renewed. Viewing art is like reading a book or putting on a costume- you can temporarily forget who you are and become immersed in someone or something else for a while. But when you come back, when you finish the chapter of the book or take off the costume or exit the art gallery, you don’t entirely go back to who you were before. You are a bit different. A bit transformed. A bit better.
That’s the power of art. It changes you. It reflects you. It lessens the intensity of your emotional pain by reflecting it back to you, by showing you that you are not alone. Someone else gets you so much that they were able to accurately reflect what you are feeling into a photograph, into lyrics, into a sculpture, into a painting. Art moves you. And in moving you, it moves your emotions out of you, so they no longer stay buried in you, so they can release and transform into a new type of energy. Some people get this release from physical exercise. Some people get this release from substances- like alcohol or drugs. And some people- all people can- get it from art. Viewing it. Creating it. Immersing oneself into it. Appreciating it.
You see, the reality is my pain is your pain. This pain I am speaking of - the story I have not yet divulged- is your story too. It’s your pain too. Whether you experienced it or not, you have the capacity to feel it. Whether you want to or not, you already feel it. Emotions, as we know, are contagious. But just like my suffering is your suffering, my healing is your healing. This is what I am finally understanding about how the world works. While we do not get to choose the pain we inherit or the experiences we must endure, we must choose what we do with them. And nothing is a choice. But nothing doesn’t get anyone anywhere. Pain accumulates like plaque on teeth and it transmits from one to another like the common cold. And similarly, healing is a collective effort. Two years of social isolation, decades of divisiveness and othering, centuries of racial trauma. We ask ourselves, how do we possibly move forward? We face our pain. The pain we inherited, the pain we have endured and will endure in our lifetime. We don’t do it privately; we do it openly and courageously and sometimes even publicly. We heal collectively.
And so, I suggest art as the healing practice. So maybe you don’t need to spend endless hours shopping around for a therapist that will take your insurance- as I have done plenty of times before. Or maybe you do. Therapy is good. But maybe you can just start with a ticket to your city’s museum. Ask for a discount. There’s always a good discount to be had at a museum. Or maybe you can walk to the nearest art store and buy some pens. Go for the expensive ones. It’s worth it. Join me as I finally learn how to sketch the fashion visions in my head onto paper.
(This is my attempt to learn the work of Fendi and Chanel. Not bad, right?)
Whatever it is, make sure you share your art with others. Healing, like I said, is a collective effort. You never know if what you created will move someone else, will empower them to face their pain, or will enable them to heal.
And then as I was writing this, I had forgotten that one of my favorite positive psychology authors is Alain de Botton and one of my absolute favorite books is Art as Therapy (2013). de Botton says it best:
"A knife is a response to our need, yet inability, to cut. A bottle is a response to our need, yet inability, to carry water. To discover the purpose of art, we must ask what kind of things we need to do with our minds and emotions, but have trouble with. What psychological frailties might art help with?” (de Botton, 2013, p5)
I have trouble sleeping at night. Reading poetry before bed helps. I have trouble managing my own anxiety when my partner is stressed. Cooking helps. I have impostor syndrome all the time with my business. Writing this blog helps. I get depressed from time to time. Walking into my closet and putting together new outfits helps. A lot. :)
So why is it that we feel like the arts are a luxury? A nice-to-have but not a necessary-to-have? Something reserved for the wealthy or the retired or the super cool celebrities? Why is it that schools have defunded the arts? That there is no affordable housing for the artists of our cities? That governments and institutions pour money into science and technology, but it’s private donors who give to the arts out of charity?
I recently went to the Lego art exhibit in downtown San Francisco. Several pieces moved me (like this one below):
And then I came across this quotation: “Art makes better humans, art is necessary in understanding the world and art makes people happy. Undeniably, art is not optional” (Nathan Sawaya, 2021).
Yeah, that’s right. Art is NOT optional. Art, like food and shelter and belonging and meaning, is part of what it means to cope with being human. So I ask of you: How will you participate in the arts this year? What will you go see? What will you create? What will you share?
de Botton, A. & Armstrong, J. (2013). Art as therapy. Phaidon Press Inc.