The artist Kandinsky said, “Color hides a power still unknown but real,
which acts on every part of the human body.”
Following the fires that brought numerous fatalities and ruin to thousands
of homes and businesses in Northern California, many artists throughout
the area turned to painting and photography, sculpture and poetry to
relieve some of the suffering they experienced either by losing all they
had or by knowing those who did. Throughout the area, like the toxic smoke
that hung over the area for weeks, there has been a palpable sense of
The first art show at the Santa Rosa Arts Center, “Healing by Art: After
the Fires”, brought out many feelings from local artists: Sadness, grief,
anger, confusion, but also hopefulness.
Mysterious and mythic works made the large crowd on opening night whisper
and wonder at the scope of the impact the fires had on our community. By
the entrance, an assemblage of burned wood and melted plastic had the look
of a heart-broken relic, but inside the gallery, high over the photos and
paintings of things lost and places damaged, hung a large heart-shaped
collage that gave the room a sense of healing and positive energy. A quilt
with a heart at the center hung on the wall, warm and inviting. An open
suitcase with pencil and paper inside let people leave memories of
feelings and reactions.
It has been known for years that art and music put a person in a different
brain wave pattern. The arts affect a person’s autonomic nervous system,
hormonal balance, immune system, and brain neurotransmitters in positive
ways. So, in other words, art heals.
When listening to music or observing art, every cell in the human body
benefits. There are changes to blood flow to all the organs. Perception
of the world brightens along with an increased sense of hope. Research
shows people engaged in creating or observing art find relief from pain
caused by stress. Sadness and depression are lessened.
Artists know the delight they feel when struck with a creative idea. They
turn their attention inward and become distracted from the world outside
their creative mind. They may be expressing grief and loss, but the
process of doing so lends a sense of relief. Like crying, painting and
drawing, dance, music, and poetry give the artist and the art observer
expression and greater understanding of the depth of their pain.
Putting a traumatic event on canvas or paper often produces a sense of
control. Distressing emotions flow out in the open where one can observe
and deal with them. They are no longer hidden; perhaps blocking recovery.
I was fortunate enough to have an artist friend who is also a psychiatrist
attend the show. I asked him what he saw in the paintings. And his
impression, one, he admitted, was his own interpretation, was of depth of
thought, belief in the positive and the desire to heal, to overcome, to
make whole again. Going from painting to painting, he offered
interpretations of what the artist might be trying to express. He pointed
out the light in the distance of a small piece that showed a meadow
unaffected by the heat of the fire. “There it is!,” he said, “Belief in
“The main thing (in creating art) is to be moved, to love, to hope, to
tremble, to live.” ~ Auguste Rodin
Jain Pollock Fairfax, Psy.D. 4/17/2018