She was an elderly widow who lived alone, except for her alcoholic son who occasionally stayed in the downstairs portion of the house.
One night her son got into an argument with his girlfriend and battered her violently. He had been drinking and tended to get abusive. The mother called 9–1–1 and the son fled in his vehicle before our police officers arrived.
I was a night shift Sergeant back then. I remember responding to the residence to assist the officers on the scene.
The downstairs room where the son stayed was a mess. Liquor bottles on the floor, an overturned chair, dirty laundry. The battered girlfriend had already been taken to the hospital.
As I ascended the outdoor stairs to the main portion of the house I noticed curious little sculptures hanging from strings. The sculptures were abstract spirals assembled with paper, wood, and twine.
“The artist’s world is limitless. It can be found anywhere, far from where he lives or a few feet away. It is always on his doorstep.” -Paul Strand
Entering the residence I observed two of our officers speaking with the woman, who appeared upset and shaken. They repeatedly asked where her son had fled, but she just glanced down and said she did not know.
The silent voice of art
Looking around the living room I noticed a large bookshelf with many art books. I saw more miniature sculptures around the room. A few abstract paintings hung on the walls.
I could sense the silent voice of art. It was all around me. Outside on the stairs. Inside on the walls and bookshelves. The voice was telling me something about this woman. That creative beauty mattered to her.
I knelt down to her eye level and introduced myself as the Sergeant in charge. I told her my first name and said, “There are some amazing little mobile sculptures on the stairs. Did you make them?”
She looked up at me. “Yes,” she said quietly. “And the paintings in here, are those yours, too?” I asked. She nodded yes. “They remind me a bit of Kandinsky,” I offered. She brightened up a bit, pleased that I knew a little about art.
“That is beautiful which is produced by the inner need, which springs from the soul.” -Wassily Kandinsky
I was trying to build rapport with the woman and it was clear that her art was important to her. She was lonely and disappointed in her son. Artwork was her escape and salvation.
Artwork was everywhere in her home. Her eyes would light up when we discussed art. Artwork clearly made her happy and more hopeful. It was a place she could go to take care of herself, create, and feel a little joy.
We talked about art and our favorite painters for awhile. She pointed out a few more abstract mobiles that she hung in the kitchen.
The patrol guys, who often teased me about my “artistic” side, listened intently. They knew what I was doing. Eventually, I steered the conversation back to her son. “Does he paint?” I asked. “He used to a little bit when he was…a boy.” Then her tears came.
I told her that her son needed help and his arrest would give the courts a chance to mandate treatment for his alcoholism. Before long, she relented and told me where he had gone. In short order our officers located him, arrested him, and resolved the incident.
Washing away the dust of everyday life
Jan Komski was one of the first Auschwitz prisoners. He produced haunting drawings and paintings of life in the concentration camp.
No doubt part of his purpose was to capture the atrocities and inhumanity. But being an artist, artwork likely provided a way for him to escape the horrors. To have hope.
“Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.”-Desmond Tutu
Komski eventually was liberated and became a US citizen. He passed away in 2002 at the age of 87. Through his last days he remained alert, lively, courteous, and caring of others. Perhaps artwork was his salvation?
Sometimes artwork is dark and nihilistic, but more often it seems to be celebratory and hopeful. In artwork, we see an effort to reveal beauty, hope, and self-expression from the deepest regions of our spirit.
“Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.” — Pablo Picasso
The healing power of art
In my father’s eighth decade he descended into the fog of dementia. Such a cruel fate. He was an administrative law judge, a bibliophile, and an intellectual. He once told me that people can weather the physical disabilities of aging. But when the mind goes, life loses meaning.
His dementia was mild at first. Forgetting where he parked his car. Getting lost around town. But then reality began slipping away from him more and more. At least he never forgot my name.
Eventually, we had to place Dad in an Alzheimer’s & Dementia facility. I hated seeing him there, but he was safe and my mother could no longer care for him at home.
I visited regularly and began to notice something amazing. Whenever the residents would assemble in the art room, they seemed to come alive. Many became truly absorbed in their drawings, paintings, and creative efforts.
“Art is unquestionably one of the purest and highest elements in human happiness. It trains the mind through the eye, and the eye through the mind. As the sun colors flowers, so does art color life.” -John Lubbock (1834–1913), “The Pleasures of Life”
For the time that the residents were creating art, they seemed…happy. I attribute this to the healing power of art. The same thing happens with sick children in places like Shriner’s hospitals. Give them time to make art and they settle into themselves and are happy for a bit.
That’s probably why The Art of Hope Foundation was formed. As stated on their website:
“The Art of Hope Foundation works closely with the hospital’s Child Life Specialists to develop patient programs that will impact and enrich the children’s quality of life and health. The classes are designed to be therapeutic and fun for the children.”
Click here to see a slide show of the program in action.
The cool part is that The Art of Hope Foundation utilizes original artwork created by the children. Their graphic arts team makes an electronic copy of the children’s artwork.
Products are selected to transfer the children’s artwork onto, such as greeting cards, cell phone cases, ties, jewelry, etc. The merchandise line created from children’s artwork is available for retail or online purchases. Net proceeds benefit Shriners Hospital for Children.
Sick kids are contributing to their own care through their art. How’s that for the healing power of art!
Give yourself the gift of art
Scientific studies indicate that art heals. It changes our physiology and attitude from stress to complete relaxation. Fear gives way to creativity and inspiration.
Art and music change our brain wave patterns and affect our autonomic nervous system, as well as our hormonal balance and brain neurotransmitters. In short, creating art and listening to music is good for us.
You don’t have to be an artist or musician to enjoy the benefits. Some people collect inspiring art to brighten their homes. Others use music to relax and/or improve their mood.
“If you hear a voice within you say ‘you cannot paint,’ then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced.” -Vincent Van Gogh
It’s not surprising that when some people retire, they pursue classes in the creative arts. Working with our hands, and crafting things of beauty is good for the soul.
Clearly, artwork helped the woman I met with the alcoholic son. Artwork helped my Dad and his fellow residents as they navigated the hazy twilight of their lives. And artwork helps sick kids to feel better and have hope.
So consider giving yourself the gift of art, and wash away from your soul “the dust of everyday life.”
Before you go
I’m John P. Weiss. I draw cartoons, paint, and write about life. Get on my free email list here for the latest articles and cartoons.
This post was previously published on Medium.
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Artworks by John P. Weiss