Art as Healing

Awhile back, my aunt Joanne asked if I would consider writing about how creativity helped me deal with losing my sister back in November of 2000, which would be included in the book, Be Your Finest Art, written by Joanne and her art teacher, Dorsey McHugh. While I don’t fancy myself a writer, I have become more open and transparent in talking about my experiences and was up for the challenge. The book came out this summer and you can get your hands on one by following the link above, or even at Amazon!

My portion is part of the “Creativity can be Good for your Health” section of the book. The whole book is a work of art, filled with images of Joanne and Dorsey’s art, and other featured artists.  Here’s my page:

What I wrote:

I don’t know if creativity is an innate or cultivated characteristic.  I do know that what creativity I was born with was nurtured from a young age by my parents and an influential art teacher I was blessed to learn from for 11 years through my childhood.  I also know that at the lowest, darkest times of my life, I have clung to my creativity and art like a life preserver in the middle of a raging ocean, and without fail, it has held me up every time.  I’ve often heard people talk about having pets for their ability to love unconditionally, and it may sound silly, but that is what art has done for me.  Art has always given back to me in a way no human or pet ever could.  

Art pulled me from the depths of what could have been a vast depression after my sister, SaraLisa, ended her life when I was 19.  A sophomore in college, having recently changed my major to art, I poured myself into creative expression as a form of healing for the first time in my life.  For several years after SaraLisa’s death, I was very resistant to traditional counseling; I have later come to realize that I am a very internal processor, one who can sit on my thoughts and emotions for weeks without being able to make sense of them.  In the early stages of grief, often my only moments of great clarity were found through creating art.  In the lowest times following my sister’s death, I sank deep into myself and was often only pulled out through visual expression, writing, and the sheer determination to continue living.  

Throughout the years, many people have told me that something good would come of her death.  Life events of such enormity are never able to be quantified, nor would I ever begin to find equal the exchange of my sister’s life for my expanded artistic repertoire.  What I do know is while my loss has brought me great pain, my pain has inspired multiple facets of creative expression that I may have never otherwise experienced.  

I credit art more than any other one thing in my life for bringing me great healing.  Art has taught me to be gentle with myself, as nothing ever comes out on canvas in the way I imagine it, and I have learned vulnerability by sharing my work with others.  It has also sparked countless conversations and thus forced me to add external processing to my coping skills, ultimately leading me to be comfortable speaking with a therapist.  Healing never happens in a vacuum or through one mode of processing alone, and I believe the proper combination of these is different for each person.  Art is something I take with me wherever I go and I know as long as I have the ability to create, I will feel like a whole person with a world of possibility at my fingertips. 

The image on the right page is a piece I created as a final project for an art class a month after SaraLisa died. It has been adopted as the logo for the Ohio Suicide Prevention Foundation for over a decade now.

It was an honor to be a part of this book and creative process and I’m so grateful to Joanne for asking me to participate.