How Art Heals 2 by Jain Fairfax

The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.”   Mark Twain

As I read the words of Mark Twain, I realized art, in its many forms, can also be the friend  who cares; the friend we can turn to either in our own minds or the minds and hearts of other artists.

We have all experienced change in the last few months. We have felt

ourselves tested. Some of us have had our lives radically altered, and all

of us are dealing with the fires’ outcome. Art reaches out in a powerful

way to express what change does to one. Looking back at the landscapes we

have enjoyed, we can remember a peace we may not have fully appreciated.

By painting it out, letting others see a place and a time we loved or were

impacted by fills some of the longing for what is lost.

It has been over 7 months since the October wildfires ravaged Northern

California, but many of us still jump at the sound of sirens

they howled

day and night during the days of the fires. We smell oak leaves burning,

and instead of enjoying the scent as we used to, we shudder and are

momentarily back in the thick haze of October 2017. The sky becomes red,

the air is unbreathable, our hearts race. Our healing is not complete. We

still need the “friend who cares”.

But healing is not done like a slide downhill to the green grass at the

bottom.  It is done in small, uneven steps. Some are slower and more

difficult than others. It is not an easy path, but some of the steps are

being taken. And although there are many internet pages on what areas are

cleared to build on, where houses and businesses are being planned, how to

get through the maze of organizations, government offices, attorneys, and

inspectors, the process leaves those who have lost everything frustrated,

impatient, angry, and feeling hopeless. They wonder if they will ever

again have a place to call home. And it leaves the onlookers who hurt for

them wondering how to help.

That is when we, as artists, can be the “friend” who stays and cares.

First, our art helps our own spirit begin to recover from the pain we have

all experienced, then, as we gain strength, hope, and relief, we can

express our understanding to others who badly need a moment or two of

understanding, connection, and support.

I believe, we as artists, reach out with images, with feelings and with

sensations that help us overcome challenges. The viewer sees the emotional

impact, the growth or change, and both can be healed.

Jain Pollock Fairfax

How Art Heals by Jain Fairfax

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 future.”

“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

KRCB 91FM Interview 3/6/18 Healing By Art

Local radio station, KRCB 91FM interviewed Simmon, Jain Sibert and Barbara Goodmen about the Healing By Art exhibit currently at Chroma Gallery, sponsored by Santa Rosa Arts Center. It aired a few times during Morning Addition and All Things Considered on March 6 and here is a link to it.