The Healing Power of Art
Illustrations Shannon Steed Sigler
(page 2 of 4)
After Anna Halprin was diagnosed with cancer, she developed a “psychokinetic visualization” process to approach her treatment holistically.
In the 1970s, the Marin County, California, artist became a pioneer in the expressive arts healing movement. Her cancer went into remission, and she created the Tamalpa Institute, a movement-based approach that integrates dance, visual arts, performance techniques and therapeutic creative practices.
In a chapter of Halprin’s book, Dance as a Healing Art, Dr. Mike Samuels wrote, “Art and healing are lovers, tied together with a silver thread.” When dancing or imagining a dance with healing images, Samuels wrote, the “body actually changes its physiology in response.”
Samuels teaches Art and Healing at San Francisco State University, Institute of Holistic Studies and John F. Kennedy University’s Arts and Consciousness Program. In 1990, he founded Art as a Healing Force, a project devoted to healing with creativity and making art.
“When you see a stick in the road, and you think it’s a snake, you go into fight or flight,” Samuels said. “Your heartbeat speeds up. Your stomach tightens. An image in the brain affects every cell and hormone.” Alternately, when we dance without inhibition, the freedom of movement opens energy channels in our bodies.
LEFT Girl in Green, Gay Bawa Odmark, from the Ganges Series, photography and mixed media.
RIGHT Threads of Identity, Gay Bawa Odmark, stitched mixed media on panel.
Whatever chases the demons. Out of chaos comes creation. Ketchum artist Gay Bawa Odmark believes that when “all is lost, there is still a need to create.”
Odmark discovered her creative side growing up in war-torn northern India (now Pakistan), where as a child she witnessed extreme violence. She saw horrors, like severed limbs on the streets, and it was in art classes many years later that she put those images to rest.
“Dark images started coming into my canvas,” she said. “Art was the only way—painting those images that came in front of me. I went back to creativity. I was very sick while I was doing them, and I healed. It was my therapy. There’s an addictive aspect to it.”
Based in Ketchum as a working artist for more than 20 years, Odmark has also volunteered as an art teacher at the Silver Creek Alternative School. She watched students find their artistic voices and, most importantly, be proud of their achievements.
“One after another, when they did art, they changed their brain structure,” she said. “They became more focused.”
As she nurtured others, Odmark’s firsthand knowledge of suffering and resurrection came full circle.