Why share the experience of art? New possibilities in empathy.

This week, we have a guest post by friend and artist / art therapist, Sarah Valeri (http://www.sarahvaleri.net/). Hope it inspires you to look for ways to allow your fellow humans to create and find meaning within creation.

Years ago I made a choice to study and practice with the very dynamic and essential healing properties of art. I decided against the opportunity to study psychology in a program that might have led to research or policy, because I felt that meeting with people face to face, allowing yourself to be openly vulnerable to their pain, rage, curiosity, love, and want, the unique fingerprint of their marks, would be more beneficial and more powerful than any office or high position. At the most central level, I needed it for myself. I am no extrovert, and so I get to know people slowly, one at a time, as it must be done to understand one person as well as you can, and well enough to be changed yourself. And in my work as an artist and as a therapist, I give up the right to force any agenda of my own, in the realization that any evolution or dignity of an individual must be their own creation. 

There are times of course, now for instance, when racism and fear rise to test our better natures that I struggle with my own desire to force others to see right. I struggle with this often as someone in a healing profession. Don’t the children I work with have a right to vengeance against their abusers? Don’t I have an obligation to protect them? I do. Don’t I support them in protecting themselves? Any way they can. And sometimes doesn’t art seem still or bodiless, and unable to strike a blow?  I need to learn to grapple with the grief and the fear rather than ignore it or placate it, so that I can offer a place where grief, love, and power unify and make something new and wiser. This is the power of art and the meaning of compassion.  Both maintain their love, their hope, their curiosity, even while staring grief and fear in the face. I know that the more people can tolerate an experience of breaking and confusion, the stronger and more loving a people we will be. We need to create a complexity of beauty and ugliness that entrances us into thinking slower, fuller. It makes us better at being small.

Art helps us tolerate this, not because it’s a place of fantasy or escape, but because creating with color, sound, voice, or movement, unifies the mind, the heart, and the body. It brings our thoughts and fear and courage together, and it opens up new possibilities that were left hidden. Through our senses we find a particular description of a person’s experience that is understood, felt, not explained. This empathy is a bodily skill and needs a voice that speaks through rhythm and vision. It also brings courage at a deep level when we are alone or afraid, whether we must heal ourselves or send encouragement to someone far away. 

I am incredibly grateful for all artists and creators today and for everyone they have reached and inspired, both in courage or contemplation.  Even for their messages of hopelessness, because we need to understand ourselves as a whole. This counts for every book I’ve had to read twice, every ounce of courage and questioning, and every small drawing or song made like a candle.





Kate Beever

About Kate Beever

I am a board-certified neurologic music therapist and owner of Maine Music & Health, which provides services and consulting to healthcare and arts agencies throughout the state.