In 1990, American Artist hosted an “Art and Healing” conference in New Harmony, Indiana, in partnership with the Society of Layerists in Multi-Media and the Robert L. Blaffer Foundation. Several hundred artists came together to consider how creating art helped them address serious health issues, the death of family members, or their own mortality. Some participants were cancer survivors, some were grieving over the violent death of a child, others were trying to make it alone after losing a partner, and some were struggling to complete a creative project before they died. The participants were addressed by physicians, psychologists, artists, and scientists who believed that making art can be one of the most effective ways of developing a positive attitude that might help people survive longer than statistics would otherwise indicate.
Although we haven’t dealt with this topic since our report on the New Harmony event, the issue of art and healing continues to be discussed by artists profiled in our magazines. They often point out that finding ways to express pain, anxiety, sadness, or loss in works of art can be an enormously helpful process. Pictures and sculptures can become permanent records of the artists’ life in all its dimensions because the pieces are physical expressions that can be shared with others, thereby helping them. Even when some people have lost physical capacities, they can participate in a creative activity that doesn’t depend on having perfect sight, complete motor skills, or extensive training. If they can push paint around on a sheet of paper or issue commands to a computer, they can express what they are feeling. That is one of the goals of being a creative person.