Friday, September 19, 2008

Art as Healer

Neil MacDonald

I have a confession to make. I still get a kick out of getting down and dirty with anything resembling goopyness. Whether it's Playdo, cookie dough, or good old-fashioned mud from the garden, I'm in heaven. Not that my creative urges are expressed through the medium of art - my inner editor continues to slink in the room whenever it sniffs out a primal urge to throw paint on canvas - but there's something...well, fun about letting go of my daily to-do list and allowing the kid in me to play.

My daughter and I took a beginner's art class together last year. We chose to do this because as grownups, neither one of us had dared to bare our souls on paper via the paintbrush. But there's something exhilarating about throwing on an old shirt and letting the paint fly. (Literally. I went through three of my best pants before finally realizing paint is like a heat-seeking missile homing in on 'dry-clean only' fabric.)

It turned out to be not only a wonderful mother-daughter bonding experience, but a golden opportunity to recapture a little of our childhoods. In short, we had fun. After we were able to escort our Inner Saboteurs out the door, we relaxed and let go of the outcome. It didn't matter that we didn't create works of art fit to hang in the National Gallery of Canada. We felt an immediate sense of fulfillment, and a desire to try more new things.

In the same way, art therapy is a healing, creative process for the intellectually disabled. According to the Ontario Art Therapy Association, "art is the tool for communication, self-examination and healing. As well, the creative act, in itself, can be healing." To immerse oneself in the creative process is to open a portal to another world, where it is easier to express one's feelings. It's a safe place, and just as music therapy is used to increase self-esteem, communication skills, and social interaction, art therapy is another tool used by a skilled therapist to encourage the intellectually disabled to explore their inner world.

"Some remarkable art has come from people with autism of all levels. They can communicate fluently what is hard for them to put into words." (See Daniel Muller and Adrian Tarpey, for example.) announced their 1st Annual Art Contest last week, for any persons with an intellectual disability living in Ontario. As I read that "judging by the Awards Panel will be chaired by Andrew Hamilton, Canadian landscape painter," I imagined what it would feel like to give the Inner Editor the heave-ho and submit one's work to the scrutiny of others. Exciting, exhilarating, powerful, I thought.

By encouraging the intellectually disabled to explore their creativity through art, and therefore giving them a place to heal and grow, we are giving them an opportunity to dare to dream.

For more information on art therapy, go to: The Canadian Art Therapy Association
Art Therapy in Canada
Re-Visioning Therapeutic Services
Art Therapy & Autism
Autism Teaching Tools
Kerry's Place Autism Services
Art Now for Autism


Gordo said...

I believe that almost anything, non-chemical, which allows us to deliberately escape from our normal activities of daily living provides an opportunity for refreshing self-discovery.

Maureen Lee, how wonderful that you shared reciprocal self-discovery in a bonding experience with your daughter! A wise, old, philosophically inclined friend opines that "Pleasure shared is pleasure doubled. Trouble shared is trouble halved.”

If the IDEAL ART Contest is anything like the IDEAL Poetry Contest, refreshing self-discovery will result for many hundreds of persons with Down syndrome, Autism, etc. Keep up the great work.

Maureen Lee said...

Thank you, Gordo, for your insightful comments.

I encourage anyone who is feeling shy about exploring their creativity to 'buddy up' with another person. You're right, "pleasure shared is pleasure doubled."

Ideal-Way is excited about their 1st Annual Art Contest, which ends in December. For more details, please go to

FAB said...

Art is powerful therapeutic tool, it is a powerful tool of expression and it's just fun!

The provider I work for has an art exhibit and shop and some of the work is amazing! I'm happy to work for a provider who takes this seriously as a form of expression and also helps people make money from their talents! That's a much more fun job than being shoved into a "workshop"!

Maureen Lee said...

Yes, art is a 'powerful tool of expression,' and above all, the key is to have fun! The moment it becomes just one more task to be completed, the passion that fuels the artist, and allows him or her to scale new heights, is stifled.

And being 'shoved into a workshop' is a sure way to accomplish this. Thanks for your insightful comment!

Theresa in Whitby said...

I not only believe, but know, that art is a wonderful way for persons with intellectual disabilities to express themselves. In the work I do, I have seen art ranging from simple pencil drawings, doodling to oils on canvas which all look like incredibly fine works of art.

The IDEAL ART Contest sounds interesting. Checked out the Ideal-Way website. I was very impressed. Will get out the word.

Gregory said...

Absolutely awesome!! Art has always been a big part of my life. And to see it spreading to include those who are not accepted into mainstream society is great. Good luck with the IDEAL Art Contest Maureen. Will we be able to see these great works of art?

wblmom said...

It's not exactly that I am shy of art or my creativity, it's more like "What in the he.. is that, I just made" I love art, I just super suck at it.
I have always wanted to take a pottery class though, so maybe some day I can and will and can actually make something that resembles something. :)

Maureen Lee said...

Thanks, Theresa, for checking out the website, and for passing on the word!

Yes, Gregory, the winning entrants will be displayed in The Varley Art Gallery, sometime in the New Year. I will be giving more details as the contest draws to a close, which is in December.

I agree with you, wblmom - it certainly can't hurt to try new things, even when we look at the results and think, ""What in the he.. is that, I just made"! I've found, though, that the most important thing is to have fun, even when we're not thrilled with the outcome!

yvonne said...

I encourage wblmom to gain comfort from the proverb: "beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”

it is said that one man's meal is another man's poison so, perhaps, wblmom, you may want to think in terms of … one woman's "What in the he.. is that, I just made" is another woman's "great art!"

Steph in Oakville said...

Just love your blog. And I love reading the varying comments. Continue doing what you do best Maureen. Wish you and your org much success.

Maureen Lee said...

Well said, Yvonne! And thank you, Steph, for your words of encouragement!

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