Art Therapy?….


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Madonna and child

 An email reply to a friend:

  I read emails such as your’s very closely, and usually twice. 

  To me, they are ‘things in themselves,’ like a tree, bird, flower or animal in the woods. That is, not to be explained or judged, just to be appreciated and perhaps celebrated. That should be the genuine artist’s attitude toward Life, reverent and celebratory. Ideas are nothing; Life is ALL there is!

  So I’ll begin this little song with a definition from the New Oxford American Dictionary (“what the hell!” I hear you say):

  “Therapy: A treatment intended to relieve or heal a disorder.”

  Ok then, what is ‘art therapy’ and what could possibly be the disorder it intends to relieve or heal? 

  Personal disequilibrium? A poor upbringing? Family trauma? Societal imbalance? All of the above?

  And then in the studio we talked briefly of a renewed interest in psychedelic therapy; can there be a connection between the two kinds? 

  Certainly, I’d say. 

  So again, what is the ‘disorder’ these therapies are intended to relieve or heal?  

  Hmmm, you’ve made a transition from Environmental Studies to Art. Can that be less a radical shift of vocational emphasis than a natural growth and maturity? A sort of natural and organic flowing, from say out of the playful innocence of childhood into our modern world’s unbalanced obsession with science and reason and then back again to a more integrated relationship with nature and the language we humans use to celebrate it: Art? 

  Sounds like it to me, and especially when you tell me of the magical and transformative power of a now forgotten line by good ole James Joyce. For that is exactly the journey he underwent and writes about! For him too the poetic purity of childhood was stunted and distorted by educational indoctrination. For his artistic soul too the challenge was to break from the norms, customs and teachings of his age and recapture the innocence, purity and play of childhood. 

  Could it be that we all today more or less suffer the same stunting and distortion of soul, and hence require therapy of one form or another? 

  On my long voyage (from my fourth year of mechanical engineering at Concordia University in Montreal to now) I’ve had on many occasions met and befriended ‘artists.’ Many have run the gamut from mildly disturbed to radically messed up. Along the way a notion occurred to me: “Artists, heal thyselves!” 

  Ok, new tack, 

  “… [L]ife is like a current passing from germ to germ through the medium of a developed organism.”—Henri Bergson, Creative Evolution

  Very Zen.

  Read it a couple of times, then imagine the countless Madonnas and Childs as well as the innumerable examples of mothers tending their young throughout the vast animal kingdom (plant kingdom too, only the mothers aren’t as actively solicitous). Isn’t what is passing between mother and child—and what a deeply religious icon of art it is!—the ‘current’ Bergson writes of in the above quote? Mother a fully developed organism and the child a developing one, the ‘love’ passing between them a byproduct or expression of the current? I’ve called this definition of Life ‘The Great Passing Through.’ The child in his or her turn will perhaps participate in this ever ongoing current. Perhaps, I say, because these days there is much confusion. 

  Can Art’s true role be to remind us of this largely forgotten current of Life out in the world and more importantly within and indeed constituting the very essence of ourselves? Hence in a confused age the need for ‘art therapy?’

  Uh oh, gotta get ready for work. Ain’t that how it goes? The interruption of the Sacred Flow by the demands of our modern world? 

  Ah, but that is part of the Play too, isn’t it? 

  I suppose I could have been playing with watercolours rather than writing this. But aren’t they pretty much the same? Sort of like the innocent play of childhood regained? 

  More Play!

Post Script for this blog:

The crowning irony of all the Joycean teaching and scholarship that has gone on for a hundred years is that it is all precisely what Joyce rebelled against and left, and subsequently wrote about!, in order to become the artist he became.