Great minds have often sung paeans to the therapeutic power of art. In the words of American philosopher-writer Susanne Langer, art is the creation of forms symbolic of human feeling, while Pablo Picasso believed art “washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life”.
The healing capability of art gets wholesomely explored in art therapy. On August 8, at 9:30am at Warwick Hotel, Qatar Expat Women is hosting what promises to be an insightful talk and Q&A session ‘Art Therapy: A World beyond Creative Expression’ by Doha-based artist, art teacher, and art therapist Savita Jakhar Gandash. Community caught up with Savita to know more about the many facets of art therapy:
What is the starting point of your journey in art, and therefore art therapy?
Ever since I was a child, my parents would always find me drawing, colouring, and painting on a level that was rather advanced. As I was born in the small village of Mohanbari (in the North Indian state of Haryana) that lies on the remains of an old civilisation, visual arts was part and parcel of our ancestral rural culture. My inspiration, therefore, is firmly rooted in Indian heritage. We have a tradition of painting on walls and floors on auspicious occasions such as festivals, marriage celebrations and other gatherings. The various names for this art form and similar practices include Kolam in Tamil Nadu, Mandana in Rajasthan, Chowkpurana in Haryana, Alpana in West Bengal, Aripana in Bihar, Chowk Pujan in Uttar Pradesh, Muggu in Andhra Pradesh, Golam Kolam or Kalam in Kerala, Mandala in North Eastern states and so on.
It is considered auspicious as it signifies showering of good luck, prosperity, beauty and spirituality on the house and in the family. Use of art in healing has been well-known since a long time. The traditional arts of India have ancestral roots as healers. My deep interest in visual arts prompted me to join art school but my parents wanted me to be a doctor. Although I pursued my graduation in Science, I knew I didn’t have passion for those subjects. I attempted the Bachelor of Medicine entrance exam twice but didn’t succeed. It was at that point that I decided to be an artist and did my Master of Fine Arts.
What really got you interested in art therapy?
While pursuing my studies, I used to hold art classes at various children’s institutions. During these workshops, one parent pointed out the healing quality of my paintings. That’s why I became especially interested in ‘Healing Art’ or ‘Art Therapy’. Since there was no way to pursue Master’s degree in India in Art Therapy back then, I began exploring this field by reading blogs and studying Hogan S and other eminent art therapists. That journey is still continuing. I am amazed at how creating art not only allows for emotional expression, but also exerts such a powerful impact on an individual’s psychological health.
How does art therapy help people heal?
Art has the potential to transform lives, and often, in profound ways. When words are not enough, we turn to images and symbols to tell our stories. And in telling our stories through art, we can find a path to healing, recovery, and transformation. Simple art activities like drawing or clay-sculpting can be very soothing and allow one the means of expressing the effects of trauma even after therapy ends.
The right side of our brain is responsible for creativity, art, music, etc., whereas the left side, the analytical side, is the centre for science, math, speech, etc. Usually, a trauma blocks those speech facilities in the brain. Very often, clients are unable or unwilling to talk about their trauma.
So I ask them to draw something. What they draw, and how they draw something is important. Kids, especially, usually draw X-ray houses, which is very useful, because it allows us to get a peek into the dynamics of the family. This is when magic happens. You point to the artwork and ask, ‘Who’s this person here? Can you tell me about him?’ and the kid might say ‘That’s my father.’ And that’s where the conversation kicks in. That’s how art therapy ‘breaks the silence’.
So it operates on the inherent power of visuals?
Yes. A picture can tell a story about our internal life that can’t be articulated in words. Simply put, art therapy helps trauma victims reconnect with that image-based part of the brain, a process which calms the parts of the brain that have been overworked by trauma.
Personally I use lot of Mandala drawing and painting for healing. I find them to be the best expression of the inner self to lend insight into ourselves and promote healing. The shapes and colours you create in Mandala art therapy will reflect your inner self at the time of creation (Mandala means Magic Circle in Sanskrit). Your instinct and feeling should inspire and guide you through the process of creation.
Ultimately, you will be creating a portrait of yourself just the way you are when creating the Mandala. So, whatever you are feeling at that time, whatever emotions are coming through, will be represented in your Mandala art therapy.
Personally, in what
way has art therapy helped
It has helped me in several ways. Every creative person encounters a phase when ideas seem to run dry and inspiration for art is sorely lacking. However, I never stop creating. My creative process is like a river; a wellspring of energy that is profoundly healing and transformative. Art therapy has really helped me grow and learn new things about myself. It has helped me make the changes I need to get better.
What sort of emotions and experiences does art therapy make one undergo?
For centuries, people have been using the arts as tools for healing. I believe that our feelings and emotions are a source of energy that can be channelled into the creative process so as to be released and transformed. The creative connection is a process that brings us to our inner core or essence which is our life energy. Art therapy helps one process emotions and feelings that one is struggling with, so that he or she can begin healing.
As I mentioned before, art therapy gets a person to communicate in a different way. Our visual memory can access our subconscious and our deepest thoughts. More specifically, there is evidence that engagement with artistic activities, either as an observer of the creative efforts of others or as an initiator of one’s own creative potential, can enhance one’s moods, emotions, and other psychological states as well as have a salient impact on important physiological parameters.
Can people who have no prior skill or interest in art try art therapy? What’s the best way to get started?
Absolutely, everybody can try it. Every one of us is creative. It is only as we get older that we feel that our creations are somehow flawed. We are taught in school about the procedures of art and are marked on the outcome, but scribbles and fingerprinting are highly undervalued tools when it comes to trying to create freely. There is no aesthetic value in art therapy. It is the process, and the ability to find images that mean something and help work towards personal understanding, healing and growth.
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