Toward an Art of Medicine

There is nothing more treasured among the remnants of any culture in history than its art.

We value art as among the most valuable of any culture's legacy.  You could actually hold something in one hand that is literally priceless.  If you were handed something like that what would you think about? 

Unfortunately along with that high valuation comes the inevitable association with compressing great wealth into small packages.  This leaves us with a tendency to think of great art more on the lines of something absolutely untouchable that only the elite get to see– like a pile of diamonds– rather than with something crucial to every human life– like clean water.  (If you don't believe me just try to kiss the Mona Lisa and look where you end up by the end of the day!)  As an artist who believes that the real value of art lies in the intimate theatre of one single soul's relationship with the work; and one who thoroughly delights in people touching my art, I find this extremely sad.

And so great art is largely displayed according to the values of security against theft and destruction instead of those of meeting the needs of people who crave its deeply powerful energies. Perhaps this is inevitable in a capitalist society, but does that mean that capitalism must ignore the spiritual power of art?  How wonderful it would be if that power could be unleashed and utilized for the purposes of solving real contemporary problems.

For our culture, which associates art more with luxury shopping than war or medicine, it is hard for us to sense the true power of art and therefor to imagine how it could transform society.

 Israeli soldier in Gaza

I envision art's power being used for healing, for intance in the situation of a community crisis.  

still from  Mirabai's Mountain 

Emergency Art Response- 

Imagine a certain town struggling in the aftermath of a horrifying terrorist attack.  The community is suffering a horrendous loss.  Perpetrators are in jail, the wounded are in care, the casualties have been mourned and buried.  Counselors and clergy people have set up free services for anyone who needs them.  Victim’s families have been comforted and coddled and fed and have told their stories and shown photos of their loved ones to the world’s media.  Now they are left to put their lives back together, angry, empty, wounded and doubting a humanity that has hurt them but that they must still live with now that the interpersonal bonds that bind humanity together have been shattered.

I envision another wave of assistance after such a crisis: the provision of art specifically geared to heal those shattered relational bonds.  This would consist of perhaps several levels of Arts Medicine that could be set up in communities most directly hit by a crisis.  (I am ignoring for the moment the whole community of sympathisers around the world, who through their own empathy, have also been wounded.)  Unlike the stage given to art in our normal experience in which art is a commodity to be purchased and the artist is a kind of cult star, this situation would require that the nature of art be adjusted in presentation so that, for example:

• focus is on the participant’s process rather than the artist’s performance
• there is no solid beginning or end- one can come and go as they please
• applause is not appropriate (could be substituted by the “silent applause” of waving the hands.)
• artworks would be headlined rather than artists. Artists would be identified but only as secondary to the art.

The Emergency Art Response might consist of any of a number of levels of service to the victimized community.

We are united by grief.
        Art is the opposite of violence.  

Art builds up, synthesizes and strengthens relationships.  When we have an international crisis or a flood has wiped out a town, we tend not to send in the
clowns– or the poets for that matter. 

But even among aspects of positive, constructive responses we tend to apply, there is another crucial quality that continually serves to raise good art above so much of human discourse.   Art is fundamentally different from these other valuable tools in that by definition good art is never forced or insisted upon or even pitched.  Art is offered, as a gift.  The only way that art can be used as a weapon is if it wielded overhand.  It is like an ear, in that the ear is useless to cause injury but crucial for healing. 

This is why I believe art could be so effectively utilized for addressing critical human problems.   I don't believe art has to be relegated to the “...and Entertainment” section of the newspaper.  I see no reason it shouldn't be on the front page, as in “History Forgets Franco's Reign of Terror after 50 years but Remembers Picasso's Guernica Forever”.  One of the places where I believe art can be immediately utilized in this way is with healing.  Even very well-intentioned attempts to help wounded people- from homeless people to starving war refugees– often can come across as unwelcome to the victims, with tragic results.  There is another way.

"Word Made Flesh Made Word"  1:20, 2005

Healing art can be introduced to suffering people not as medicine (“line up for shots”) but as an invitation to relax (“come sit down with your friends and see a movie”).  Like the beautiful door of a great cathedral it can be admired and contemplated on its own, or, if the viewer wishes, it can be opened to reveal a new world of possibilities beyond.

Every time there is a tragedy in the news I think of this.

people of every age. 
We all suffer.  We cannot choose whether to suffer, but we can choose to whether to suffer alone or to suffer together. 

Art is a messenger of hope.  But true hope is only available only on the far side of grief.  Art ushers us gently into the presence of that which can release the pain within us.  Rather than attempt to leap impossibly into hope, art helps us honor our grief with an immensity that can only come of compassion--suffering with, which implies "you are not alone".  Its transformative power comes not so much from what happens onstage through its subject matter, but through our awareness of who else witnesses life's drama offstage, in the theatre seats beside us.   Our natural desire to commune with each other– to come together into community--can overcome any mere act of destruction.

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