The Healing Power of Art
Listen to meditations, reflections, and somatic exercises around art and well-being.
Sep 17, 2021
Art can heal.
Last year CultuRunners kicked off the Healing Arts initiative as part of the World Health Organization’s Solidarity Series of Events, and MoMA launched Artful Practices for Well-Being, which integrated trauma awareness into its programming, acknowledging individual and collective traumas, many of which have been exacerbated by COVID-19. One of the first projects was an audio playlist that included collaborations with a neuroscientist, a somatic experience practitioner, a therapist, a psychiatrist, educators, and mindfulness instructors.
This year, to join with Healing Arts New York, a city-wide activation taking place during the UN General Assembly, we’ve added contributions from five extraordinary collaborators: Christopher Bailey, arts and health lead at the World Health Organization; Rebecca Love, a creative arts therapist specializing in dance/movement therapy; Sabrina Sarro, a licensed master social worker; Atira Tan, a somatic trauma specialist; and M. Reim Ifrach, an art therapist and body liberation activist. I also made a contribution to the playlist, finding connections between Dorothea Tanning’s dreamlike world and my own experiences.
Building off of their lived experiences, professional expertise, and interests, they share ways in which art can be healing. This doesn’t mean that looking at or making art will cure someone of a physical illness or even provide relief of mental health symptoms—it’s not a substitute for a needed medication, surgery, vaccination, or treatment plan. But still, art can heal.
Click on the links below to listen to the audio.
The Monet’s Water Lilies exhibition at MoMA, September 13, 2009–April 12, 2010
Hear Christopher Bailey reflect on his personal history with Claude Monet’s Water Lilies over many decades.
“When revisiting the Water Lilies, in my present condition—vision loss from glaucoma—I slip into a sense of completeness. Surface, depth, and reflection converge, just as past, future, and the present moment become one. And I’ve realized I’ve lost nothing. I feel no anxiety or dread. I simply luxuriate in the joy of color and celebrate this present moment. This to me is the healing power of art.”
Ana Mendieta. Nile Born. 1984
Experience a guided meditation on Ana Mendieta’s Nile Born, led by Atira Tan.
“What I’ve learned in my nearly two decades of work is that the body matters. And the body is key and a vital part in healing trauma…. Our bodies, which are connected to the earth, can be a deep fountain of resources and support when we learn how to access it.”
Sam Gilliam. 10/27/69. 1969
Participate in a guided meditation on color in Sam Gilliam’s 10/27/69, led by Sabrina Sarro.
“I want to invite everyone to pay attention and to lean into the color all around us. Colors that we might not have language for yet. The colors that resonate with us—to really lean into the energy and the language of colors all around us.”
Zilia Sánchez. Antigone. 1970
Participate in somatic exercises inspired by Zilia Sanchéz’s Antigone, led by Rebecca Love.
“The mythical character Antigone, the piece’s namesake, to me signifies and validates the strength and power that bodies have, which come in all forms, shapes, colors and sizes, don’t have to fit into a mold, look, or move a certain way to be beautiful or express themselves.”
Ulrike Müller. Some. 2017
Join M. Reim Ifrach as they share their journey of body appreciation and the connections they see in Ulrike Muller’s Some.
“When I step back from this journey through this piece I see a beautiful celebration of the ‘somes’ of the world. The somes that have curves and the somes that have dark skin, the somes who are not quite one gender or the other, the somes that long to not be confined by the societal image of what a body should be, the somes who will forever play with the lines of gender. When I step back from this journey and I look at this piece as a whole I see me. I see the journey to learning to appreciate my body, the journey to understanding my gender, my queerness, my gifts to the world.”
Dorothea Tanning. First Peril (Premier péril) from The 7 Spectral Perils (Les 7 périls spectraux). 1950
Visualize your inner light with educator Jackie Armstrong and uncover new ways of relating to Dorothea Tanning’s First Peril.
“When I look back at Tanning’s First Peril, taking in the intricacies of the work, I think about entering into a world with curiosity, paying attention to what’s going on inside myself, carefully but assuredly taking a step forward. I’m reminded of Tanning saying ‘keep your eye on your inner world’ as I try every day to move in this world with more presence and full awareness, even at times when I feel unsteady and overwhelmed by it all.”
Art can harness the healing power within each of us and help bring us into community with one another.
In the presence of art, we may experience inspiration, wonder, and even hope; it can spark our imagination, creativity, and thinking. Our internal awareness and capacity for transformation can expand through experiences with art. There are scientific studies that demonstrate how people benefit from exposure to art, as well as social prescription programs in which doctors prescribe museum visits, art classes, and other creative endeavors.
For me, in the beginnings of trauma recovery, art helped me to communicate what I couldn’t find words for and allowed me to be with the painful reality of trauma in a way that didn’t consume me. In living with autoimmune illnesses and chronic pain, art has helped me to be with my symptoms in a different way. The emotional outlet art offers can help dial down the physical sensations, sometimes by simply turning my mind away from them.
Art can harness the healing power within each of us and help bring us into community with one another. When in front of an artwork, we are connected to the artist and to others who have experienced it. And connection, to ourselves and others, is at the core of art and healing. Healing isn’t a destination with a fixed timeline or endpoint but rather a path—or many paths. Just like each visit with a favorite work of art is a new experience with new insights, healing is a journey with possibilities stretching out in all directions.
MoMA Audio is supported by Bloomberg Philanthropies.
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From mindful walks to drawing prompts, we’ve got your guide to activities and ideas for connectedness and healing through art.
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