People are dealing with a lot of fears, frustrations, anger, and angst. Feelings need to get out there and be expressed. That is part of healing. We need time to process all of what is going on now and reflect on the bombardment of grief: personal, economic, the pandemic, racial inequality, the horror of the Trump Administration, environmental, etc. I wanted to see some of the ways that artists responded to the idea of physical, emotional, and spiritual healing. The people who have contributed to this section are artists who have come through trauma and have used their art to help put themselves back together into a new semblance of being whole. Creative people have been given a great gift to assist them in processing, commenting on and reflecting back all that life throws at them.
We will get through this and art will help us do that.
Facing death or the death of a loved one causes psychic trauma. After World War II, psychiatrists studied holocaust survivors and found that there were specific experiences (phenomena) which impacted them. First, the mind shuts down and everything appears white, blank, detached, and floating. Second, is acute disorganization. The mind experiences fragmentation of memories, fears, mixed with emotions of mundane issues from everyday life. Third, the disorganization decreases in time, but vivid memories reoccur, both visual and auditory. These phenomena can also include visceral sensory reactions such as smell and abnormal skin reactions. All these reactions are symptoms of what is called today post-traumatic stress disorder.
The second stage of acute disorganization is most evident in the loss of a loved one. It is like living in a fractured world. One tries to get back to some type of normalcy but there is no going back. Survivors have to create a new normal, which can take a lifetime to achieve. To achieve a “new normal” one must live through being fractured both in the mundane chores of everyday life and one’s professional life, in order to see what the future will be like.
Fracturing of objects that represent memories, dreams, and nightmares are shown in my current work on the pandemic. I worked with fracturing as a clinical nurse specialist. People are embarrassed by it; it depresses them; it is a burden that the mind works on to put the loss into perspective. Using fracturing in my work I hope to show people that fracturing is normal, a part of the process that the mind goes through to survive and to heal.
Often sleep is the only way the mind can heal. Just like a fractured bone needs time to heal, the mind must have time to heal. After losing my oldest daughter at twenty-nine from a brain tumor, I spent a year mostly sleeping. After a two-year war with her tumor, only to lose, I was exhausted, disorganized, totally fractured. I could be functional five hours a day to care for my youngest daughter, but that was it.
As an artist I want my audience to see that fracturing is a normal way to survive and eventually to heal, as we all will after the pandemic subsides.
As an artist and professional caretaker for fifty years, I employ art as a healing mechanism. Art allows people to understand that others experience fracturing and that they are not alone in struggling with the phenomena of psychic trauma. Art focused on traumatic experiences can become a catalyst for healing. After the acute stage has passed, humans bury pain deep in the psyche where it remains unhealed like a cut that becomes infected underneath. Psychic pain like an infection can erupt at any time. Art provides a conduit to release and heal the phenomena of psychic pain keeping it from festering under the surface.
Sharyn Paul Brusie
My personal experience with the virus has helped me to surrender more to imperfection. In this new work, I didn’t set out with a plan in mind. I let the joy of the process take over. Our “scars” in life often bring a newfound strength. If we can learn to have more kindness and compassion for ourselves and for one another, we can heal a lot of wounds.
I find that just the act of going to the studio and making helps me process and release my grief. All of these works are made and finished before I truly realized that they were about loss, and then the titles came to me.
“Driving to Boston twice a month for tests and chemo and keeping everything else going…Bill died July 15, just a few days after his 66th birthday.”
Art During COVID-19 Tilly
So partly you will travel around Tilly inside and out, partly with the theater of imagination. The game has no winners and no losers. You will explore Tilly and her outside and inside world. Some of the buildings lift up and there will be clues in treasure boxes how to proceed. Three people can play. As we build her everything unfolds. I’m thinking a story has started. For one thing, Tilly is so big that the man in the moon sits on her tail. She is Scottie’s friend. The sculpture Scottie rescues children and animals and he travels through time.
I/We started sculpting Tilly two and a half months ago. She is another of our creations’ friends. She is a migrating, evolving amphibian. She shelters children and animals. She has tenement housing on her back which celebrates my late mother’s life. She grew up in tenement housing. They would gather and an uncle played piano and sang. Our Mom thought fondly of those times in her life. On Tilly is a sparrow. “His Eye on the Sparrow” is Tilly’s theme song (sung by Tanya Blount, it’s on YouTube …check it out).
It’s how we have gotten through the separation from humanity that we feel. We wouldn’t be doing as well without art. We/I struggle with public places right now. Lots of angry people.
Tilly, the sculpture, was named after my Mom’s aunt. Tilly reflects working with challenges and overcoming them. I/we wish we could live our life the way the process rolls. I/we try. When I/we are creating we roll with challenges. When we go out in the world, we find it challenging to roll with all the anger. We get triggered and go home and sculpt. When in doubt sculpt. Paint. Make art. Sculpting and painting are our life right now. I/ we just want to die doing this. We would die happy that way…we are ok…back to sculpting….
Made by Miss Staikes and The Tribe
An image can soothe, protect, empower and heal. I learned that when a cancer survivor was helping me deal with my first cancer diagnosis. She told me about “guided imagery” … encouraging me to have a place in my mind, where I could go at will, to be there, rather than lying exposed and immobilized on the gurney, being radiated by a huge, loud, terrifying machine. Eleven years later, a second diagnosis prompted me to paint the image I had conjured up, an act that imbued the image with greater and creative power. When my husband recently received the news that he had cancer, I was able to share the power of guided imagery with him. He grabbed the lifeline and dove deep into the Native American spirituality that he had studied long ago … he found his own powerful and healing images.
My image/painting was born of visits to my grandparents who lived in a lovely wooded area, with soft hills and babbling brooks. I was free to wander alone and discover. In my image, I am seven or so, running through the woods toward a brook, through the trees whose leaves are fluttering in the gentle breeze. When I reach the brook, I tear off my shoes and ankle socks and sit on the rustic boards spanning the brook, dangling my feet in the bubbling water. I raise my face to the warm sun, dappling through the trees and creating sparkles on the water. I sit there in bliss, cradled. I imagine secret benefactors, guardians among the trees, smiling at me, telling me I am good, and fine.
The sun’s rays transformed the radiation treatment into powerful, good, healing beams. Whether we can paint it or not, we can transcend fear and invite renewal with the images we choose for our focus … we can go there, and transform here.