Why Art Heals and Moves us from “Survive” to “Thrive”

Healing Bridge

Healing Bridge

I recently wrote about how the brain responds to trauma and abuse. Survival instincts emerge and one of the repercussions is the communication between the brain hemispheres lessens.

We move from holistic integration to fragment-ous snapshots of people and events, as the brain’s focus restricts and constricts, eliminating in order to focus on the task at hand- surviving.

This is why abuse and trauma survivors can recount events with an almost rote tone, as they make a list of violations they have suffered. In such instances, the left-brain, the one that reads like an instruction manual, dominates. A to B to C, and the sequence continues.

What is severed is the connection with the right brain. The one that gives the story context, emotion, and nuance. This is why in awakening from abuse and trauma, people may be super-sensitive to smells, touch, position of items and so on.

These are often referred to as “triggers”. These are the cues and clues the right-brain is tracking to give context to its version of the story of what happened.

It is not healthy to have the brain split in this manner. One-half handling some details disconnecting from the other half handling other details. So, how do we fix this?

Art…art…and more art… I do not mean necessarily drawing or painting. I mean “art” in its truest sense- anything beyond the constrained linear. Storytelling is an art, as is journaling, as is painting, as is drawing, as is collaging, as is composing, as is poetry writing and on and on and on.

Why is art so important?

Art creates the bridge between the right and left brain. You can not create art without both halves communicating. If you only use your left brain, your writing will read like a set of directions. If you use only the right brain, your work is filled with nuance and context and moves absolutely no where.

And this is why art heals so beautifully.

Art forces us to tell both sides of our stories – most importantly to ourselves.

Please don’t say to yourself, “Well I am really not artistic.” Seriously, I draw pictures where the primary shape is a heart. It seems to be the limit of my abilities, but that does not stop me from expressing.

There are many ways for you to use art to heal: write, write, and write some more. You are storytelling to yourself and others as you do.

If drawing really freaks you out, get out old magazines or find images on-line, print them out and make a collage. Cut out words and phrases that mean something to you. Let your right and left brains talk and see what is woven between them.

Or try an art therapy book- Drawing from the Heart by Barbara Ganin is an excellent choice.

You were meant to thrive in this world and you can only do that when you are intact- let art be your bridge to wholeness.


16 thoughts on “Why Art Heals and Moves us from “Survive” to “Thrive”

  1. Kim this is wonderful and right on!
    in several areas of exploring healing modalities I’ve explore just the things you have written about here. I recall in particular an exercise just as you state…

    “get out old magazines or find images on-line, print them out and make a collage. Cut out words and phrases that mean something to you.”

    the exercise, during a workshop, was to create our dream of what we ‘see’ for our life; it was amazing! I created a large poster and EVERYTHING on that poster CAME TO BE within one year! I recall, now, also, that during that ‘workshop’ a younger woman said to me, towards the end of the workshop, that she ‘wanted to be like me’. That surprised me of course. She said, that as she watched me during the 2 days all she saw was my self-assuredness. I ‘assured’ her that I had been feeling lost and very unsure of myself. I also thanked her and gave her the encouragements that she craved and needed.

    some years ago I began to play with pastels and have found that I like that medium…I believe you use pastels. Well, as it happened I had to make a physical move and packed all those art materials away…they are still packed! Other stuff got in my way, preventing me from unpacking those boxes of art materials. Yes, I have every intention of going back to them, but in the meanwhile…

    my semi-precious healing jewelry business has kept me busy along with my yoga practice and Sanskrit mantras and drawing and coloring mandalas, and learning more and more about ancient Goddesses and on and on…there’s a vast world to explore…

    I’ve found your book a wonderful aid, as a tool, for calming and centering myself, when I feel agitated. So yes…art, art and more art.

    • Thank you for your wonderful words and insights. You so “get” the journey of awareness and healing. I love the simple “dream images” that you describe related to the workshop. these things can seem so simple, yet they can be profoundly transformative. And, yes, you are are correct. I use pastels and LOVE them. There is something to touching that almost pure pigment that provides a way to the art like no other. I think stones/jewelry making are so holistic. You are using so many energies, colors, and shapes- just beautiful. thank you for sharing this journey and showing us that it can take all/any forms at all/any time.

    • You and your comment were on my mind this evening. I love others who broadly work with the healing energy of art. I wanted to thank you for the comment about my book as well. It lifts my Spirit to hear such words. thank you.

      • your welcome, Kim and thank you!
        I view myself as very fortunate to have been given, in this life, the ability to appreciate art, in all it’s forms, and have it in my life..! A very basic healing that anyone can do for themselves would be to SURROUND themselves with whatever makes them feel joy and peace; whatever makes you feel happy is the beginning of healing. From all I’ve seen of your art I knew that your book would be one of healing…that’s why I sent one to my daughter (she sometimes forgets that she has the ability to heal herself). Thank you for putting your art and poems together!

  2. Your heart images might seem simple, Kimberly, yet time after time they catch my eye on the Reader board and I feel instant comfort. We can survive without so many of our body parts–machines can make most things work. But a heart? The care of a heart, physically, spiritually, emotionally–what machine can manage all that’s required to take care of that? Your heart images definitely brings healing to me. I’m thinking about taking up some sort of art study myself. I’d like to do something besides write–but I guess it’s the only art form I know right now. It brings healing, too.

    • Oh, yes, writing is a huge healing force. Definitely a right brain/left brain activity. that is why so many of us are drawn to it. I really think any art therapy is wonderful. It doesn’t matter the form or materials. My inner artist loves good ol’ construction paper. I really must thank you for your kind words about my heart images. That means the world to me 🙂

  3. I have always believed that there is something healing about doing art or writing. I have not understood the physiological basis of that experience, but I have believed it. Thanks for providing some explanations for why that might be!! Kim

  4. Thank you for this article and insight Kimberly! I have for years been very interested in art therapy, I did creative workshops with children with different mental challenges (I’m sorry if this is not the right word to use, but I don’t know what is the right word in English) in Norway, and it just worked wonders for them, the children just lit up! So this article was perfect for me!! Thank you! 🙂

    • I loved your comment. “mental challenges” seems like a very appropriate phrase to me. I feel art can heal all of us- especially the art we create ourselves. Please keep doing your incredible work. Your Angel drawings stay with me, long past the time I am no longer looking at them.

  5. I adore your heart art on your page Kimberly. It reflects your words beautifully because you write from your heart. I totally agree with you about the importance of using art as part of healing. Anything that keeps us in touch with our creative side is good! Great post!

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