The Art of Inner Journeys
‘Untitled,’ by Dr Haya Al-Hossain. December 2003. Acrylic and mixed media on wood. 32”x48” Courtesy of the artist.
There have been many studies on the advantages of art therapy and healing through art. Whether it is by creating it, or being exposed to it, the power of being surrounded by art has been confirmed to be beneficial, especially when it comes to people suffering from PTSD, or psychological issues. Of course it does not mean that further forms of therapy are not needed when art is present, but that along with other forms of therapy, art is an added bonus. Sometimes it can even be the missing component in the process of healing.
On the other hand, there have also been many stories, or romantic perceptions of the mad artist and his or her eccentric lifestyle; the artist as a loner, someone who is in constant struggle for the purpose of creating art.. But as I said, it is a romantic perception or image that came to us through novels and Hollywood films. As an artist, I see myself as one of the most level-headed, “normal” people you could come across. And I owe that to one important component in my life: Art!
I know that this statement might come as odd to some, because of the stereotype of the artist that we are used to, but if you allow me, I will tell you my story and maybe we can find an answer to the idea of healing through art.
I grew up as a daughter of a diplomat. I lived around the world most of my life. When I was a teenager, we moved to a country that left me with profound cultural shock, which also coincided with my young brother being diagnosed with autism. At that time, I was more of an outdoorsy, social butterfly type, but when the above life changing situations dominated my mind and our family, I retreated inwards.
I always loved music so that was my escape, but on my 14th birthday, my parents bought me an easel and some paints. Seeing how much I have changed in a few months, they reminded me that I always loved to draw and paint, so I started painting again.
At first I was clumsy. I just enjoyed playing the role of the tortured, misunderstood artist. I painted shapes and didn’t understand how to mix colors correctly. Slowly, I began to use the time I painted as a ritual. It became almost a daily habit, after I finished my homework of course. Then I learned how to set up the mood; the right music, the right lighting, and slowly I learned some techniques for mixing colors and painting. Something happened inside of me. The emotional struggles that I went through became easier to manage and deal with. My daily life was no longer the hell I had to endure, and soon, I got back to being close to my nature of being bubbly and happy. Using painting during one of the most difficult periods of my life helped me heal and be stronger.
I ended up majoring in Fine Arts in college. During that time, I experimented with photography and sculpture and other art disciplines.
As the years went by, and many art exhibitions later, I noticed an important aspect about my own art, that I would say maybe other artists have; I noticed that when I am going through a tough phase, the art I produce tends to be dark and gloomy, but once I am done with a session or a painting, I feel the relief and clarity of mind that allows me to overcome whatever problem I may have. Yet, when I am in a good phase, my art becomes more neutral, more objective if you will. It becomes an observation of life around me, rather than just a way to release the dark emotions inside of me.
For graduate school, I studied Film production, and eventually I earned a PhD In Film Theory. In film, I found the process of creating art with a group just as rewarding, and just as frustrating at times. But with film, you mix the visual with the audible, the color with the music. You can say what you feel and paint it as well. And with film, you will find many people to share your thoughts and experiences with. But if you prefer to watch instead, there are many films that will touch a person’s heart and mind, and can even be considered a form of healing. If I were to offer one film suggestion about the power of art through an artist’s experience, then I would highly recommend painter-turned filmmaker Julian Schnabel’s “Basquiat”, which follows the artist’s journey within the studios and galleries of New York city, until his death in the late 80s.
If we were to ask how art makes one heal, I would say that it is the ritual, the habit, of allowing oneself time to be alone, to reflect, to look deep within, and to process whatever thoughts that may come. Another reason is that when you are going through that habit and ritual, it becomes repetitive, and there is comfort in repetitive movement in general. It allows the mind to organize, to reassess, to clarify any confusion it goes through. Also the physical aspect of creating something is highly satisfying and rewarding. It is tactile, it plays with your senses and satisfies them most of the time.
Also, art has many forms and genres. Cooking is a form of art, as much as painting, writing, photography, making films, etc. So if you are going through something, and cannot find the time to paint or create, cook yourself a meal, watch a movie, or go to a gallery and look at art. There are many amazing galleries opening up all around Saudi Arabia, so take advantage. As an artist, I will admit that I go through phases when I do not create much art, but when I go through that, I make sure to see what the others are doing, in all forms of arts and disciplines. It inspires me and gives me the motivation to get back to my art. I hope you can do the same.