Innovating Through Artistry

Craving Voice Art Project for Social Change Part 1

In Uncategorized on May 5, 2009 at 11:14 pm


The following article is a explanation of the use of a painting used to facilitate healing. The specific focus is on a single painting: “Craving Voice,” which was created at a moment in the past as a way to express the forces at work in the experiences of addicts at a treatment center. The painting is described through the artist’s narrative of the creative process, reported feedback, and behavioral changes noticed in participants by the artist. These observations are then related to previous research and theories in psychology, particularly from a humanistic perspective. This reflective analysis helps clarify which elements are effective for healing. Such elements include: communication, empathy, respect, and increased access to information. In addition, the subversive nature of art, which makes it a useful method of social change, can in itself effect healing. By using art to express that which is unspoken, the unconscious of the addicts and the collective unconscious of the system that treats them is revealed.

“That is exactly how I feel,” says a 34-year-old man in work clothes who sits across from me as I take a sip from my morning cup of coffee in a small drug clinic. He is looking intently at the painting on the wall.
“Who made that?”
“I did,” I reply.
“You did?” he says incredulously.
“About us,” he persists.
We sit for a few moments appreciating each other before we continue with the counseling session.
Brief exchanges analogous to this contain what many therapists work to achieve, the seed of trust. Trust is one of the many healing effects that were created through the project called “Craving Voice.” The elements of the project that helped create the potential of this moment will be discussed in the following article.
In this project, I used the process of interviewing to gather information about a small population of opiate addicts in recovery.  This information was used to create a painting that was later displayed to the entire community of the clinic.
The process used in this project is not unique to this particular example. Nayo Watkins, an artist, creates theatre scripts from community stories, which are put on by community members to increase awareness of relevant issues (Hamilton, 2000, para. 6-7). Although Watkins’s medium differs from the one I used in “Craving Voice,” both the process and the effects are similar.
Other artists, who have also used art to create social change, include Lucy Lippard, Susan Lacy, Luis Valdez, Amiri Baraka, Karen Finely, Adrienne Piper, Adrienne Reich, and Alice Walker. Each one of these individuals believes that art is his or her most effective means of communicating with the public about social issues. Anthologies such as Reimaging of America: The arts of social change (O’Brien & Little, 1990), Mapping the Terrain (Lacy, 1995), The Subversive Imagination: artist, society and social responsibility (Becker, 1994), and Mixed Blessings (Lippard, 1990), all describe the work and opinions of these artists. These books also illustrate the work of groups who use art to effect social change. Some of these groups include: Gran Fury, the entire cast of characters that helped produce Eve Ensler’s Vagina Monologues (1998), The Gorilla Girls, the production crew for The Laramie Project (2001), Raging Grannies, and Bread and Puppet. These groups work together to effect social change. For example, the Raging Grannies use song and humor to protest social injustices. Larger organizations — for example, Arts for Democracy and the Community Arts Network — are designed to develop projects, promote artists, and support research in the use of art for social change.
Art that is made to effect social change and art made to effect healing are not necessarily one in the same. Art created to effect social change is not always useful to effect healing. Sometimes, art projects of this nature are more like ripping the scab off of a cut. Other times, they are the punch to the stomach of the neighborhood bully. These pieces effect change through art-induced wake-up calls posed as confrontational visions. This is not to say that art projects that effect social change cannot be healing, or that the previously mentioned artists and groups are not related to healing. They quite frequently are. However, this article is not designed to debate which projects are considered healing. It is designed to increase understanding of how projects of this type might be successful in effecting healing, and thereby, how they might be understood and utilized by the psychological community.
As mentioned above, change cannot be directly equated with healing. I change my socks. At a certain point, this might become a healing event, but most times it remains just a change. Healing implies, in the words of Maslow, change that is “growth fostering” rather than “growth inhibiting” (Lyons, 2002, p. 626). Another humanistic psychologist might articulate healing as one becoming more of oneself and therefore existing more fully in the world (Rogers, 1977). Art that heals, by this definition, would have to facilitate a change in an individual or a group that makes the individual or the group become more fully itself and part of the world. Understanding the healing elements of an art project that creates social change can both increase the effectiveness of this type of action, as well as offer the psychological community one more method of supporting positive change.
Some artists whose contributions have shown that they have made healing the main emphasis of their work are Gabriella Roth, Anna Halprin, Alex Grey, and Ilchi Lee. Suzi Gablick in her book, The Reenchantment of Art (1998), critiques the practices of the art world and discusses alternate methods for the creation of art. She included descriptions of art projects that are intended to heal which exist throughout the United States (Gablick, 1998). Organizations such as The Arts in Healthcare, the Survivors Art Foundation, and Arte Sana, in addition to websites such as The Healing Arts Network, attempt to create opportunities and promote the work of healing artists. For example, the Survivors Art Foundation creates opportunities for artists, while attempting to support survivors of sexual abuse through works of art. The Survivors Art Foundation is an example of how art that effects social change can be healing. Change is effected through the awareness generated about sexual abuse by the foundation. However, survivors of abuse, through the creation of art, receive healing benefit. Healing is extended to other survivors of abuse when viewing the art. The chain of healing is continued through the support the foundation gives to other healing artists to continue their work. Despite the effectiveness that has been demonstrated by groups like this, I have yet to see psychologically based literature that examines this type of work and the artists who do it, even though projects of this type have been documented in other branches of thought, particularly within the field of sociology (Mittlefehldt, 1990; Petty, 2001; Swartzman, 1998).
The psychological community’s contributions to the study of the arts are diverse in form. Many influential psychologists have discussed aspects of art and creativity (Freud, 1989, p. 436-543; Kris, 1962; Maslow, 1954, p.158-168; May, 1975, p. 36-94), but few have discussed its potential as a healing agent. Jung is by far the most notable. Jung’s inquiries, which covered both active imagination (Jung, 1997) and extensive observations on the nature of symbols, including the function of myth (Jung, 1964; 1990), were explorations of art as a potential healing agent rather than art as a diagnostic tool. Art as a diagnostic tool, grounded in theory, based on determining dysfunctional elements, was a more common approach of psychologists such as Freud and Kris (Freud, 1989; Kris, 1962). This diagnostic perspective can still be seen in portions of the practice of art therapy.
Theories such as those of Jung, May, and Maslow, developed the two branches of art-as-therapy known as expressive arts therapy and art therapy. The philosophical and theoretical orientation of expressive artists makes their work useful in understanding the healing effects of a project for social change. The expressive arts are well represented by names such as Sean McNiff, Natalie Rogers, and Michael Samuels. Each, from his or her own perspective, helps to define how art can be used as a therapeutic process. McNiff’s (1989) origins in depth psychology, Natalie Rogers’ (1997) grounding in humanistic practices, and Samuels’s (1998) medical orientation influence each one’s view on how the expressive arts can be used to heal. These expressive artists also contribute to the broader picture of the usefulness of art as a therapeutic modality.
Both May and Maslow stressed the importance of creativity as an essential ingredient of human growth (Maslow, 1954; May, 1975).  Marc Runco and Steven Pritzker contributed to this area by defining the elements of creativity in their two-volume work Encyclopedia of Creativity (Runco & Pritzker (Eds.), 1999). Understanding the nature and human necessity of creativity allows one to comprehend some important nuances of how art can be healing. In addition, Maslow’s (1954) writings on organizations, Rogers’ (1977) writings on both education and social change, when added to recent research by organizational psychologists, could be highly supportive of understanding the elements that are essential to this type of work.
Despite this, there is insufficient documentation about the use of art to effect healing within projects employed to create social change. This lack can most clearly seen in the shortage of material discussing the possible relevance or importance that this type of project has for both the general public and the psychological community. However, within these texts, there are key pieces for understanding what components make art-for-change projects healing. For example, the connection between contemporary art practices, ritual, and religious art forms is fertile ground to understand why art is a particularly effective medium through which to evoke both healing and change with people on multiple levels (Campbell, 1988; Jung, 1964, 1990; Lippard, 1983; Turner, 1977). This is just one of many connections that can be made, but the only one that will be alluded to because of the brevity of this article. Art’s historical function of connecting us to basic universal energies should, in my opinion, create the desire for psychologists to understand art as a means of social change and healing and perhaps integrate it into their many methods.
In this article, I assert that particular elements make art projects that are oriented towards creating social change successful at effecting healing. Although many healing agents can be found, some appear more effective than others. These elements, in my opinion, can best be described as humanistic values (Hazler & Kottler, 1999, p. 355). This point of view has also been explored. Natalie Rogers (1997) uses humanistic approaches to create and facilitate a method of expressive arts. She explores the combination of various artistic techniques that can work as a catalyst for deeper understanding of self and the world. Her workshops demonstrate the way the group process and art can be combined to make societal issues more comprehensible and therefore addressable. Humanistic values have been found to be effective in organizations attempting to facilitate social change. Lyons portrays humanistic principles as supportive agents in the efficacy of social change organizations (Lyons, 2001, p. 625-634). In the “Craving Voice” project, it is the humanistic principles that appear both to hold together and to create the most widespread and effective dynamics for healing.
The last section of this article briefly discusses the healing components, as they existed within the project described. Sources that relate to the healing components are given to show that many different scholarly theories and types of therapeutic practices can be used to support the fact that these reported components are healing. However, this information also suggests that art may be effective in integrating therapeutic modalities. This is a potential additional benefit.
The “Craving Voice” project is founded on the belief that art is a particularly effective means of communicating issues to both individuals and groups as a process of creating social change. Lack of appropriate documentation by psychologists shows an area where psychologists have been slow to embrace art’s therapeutic effects, or at the very least, consider them of worth. I believe that understanding the nuances of how an art project can be used to both effect societal change and heal could be of substantial benefit to the psychological community; and, at the very least, should be a topic of discussion. I believe that one of the best ways to understand the qualities of art projects used to heal is though a narrative account by the artist about the project; therefore this is the method of presentation chosen for this article. Through the artist’s observations one is able to more clearly understand the important elements of this type of project, and to subsequently be able to develop both methods and a body of research that serve to explain this type of healing event from a psychological perspective. (To be continued…)

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