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