Photo Credit: Jennie
"[Federico Garcìa] Lorca uses the word
as a term for the obscure power
and penetrating inspiration of art. He described it,
quoting Goethe on Paganini, as 'a mysterious power
which everyone senses and no philosopher explains.'"
Edward Hirsch, The Demon and the
Angel: Searching for the Source of Artistic Inspiration.
What Art Can Do for You
Before I begin this month's blog, I am happy to announce that
Reciprocity: An Artist's Book is now available on Amazon.com.
Go to BOOKS, type in the title to search, click on the cover image
and scroll down for details. Voilà! Or you can order it
through this website by returning to the home page and clicking
on the title.
What can art do for you? An article in the February 2009 issue
of Prevention magazine offered some new evidence of its
power. Julian Kesner reported in "The Art of Pain Relief"
that researchers at the University of Bari, Italy had twelve subjects
evaluate several paintings according to their beauty, blandness
Researchers asked two questions: What happens to subjects' pain
levels when they were shown a pleasing image, and when faced with
an unpleasant one, would their pain became more intense? Stinging
laser sensations were delivered to subjects' skins. They reported
feeling less pain when they looked at beautiful images than when
they looked at ugly ones. In fact, they reported that their pain
increased when shown artwork they did not like.
Hooray for art and beauty! It made me think about ways in which
this knowledge might be applied. Doctors offices and hospital
waiting rooms came to mind immediately. We have all spent hours
there, filling out pages of information. Could there also be a
set of images for us to rate? While undergoing or recovering from
medical procedures, could virtual reality headgear be programmed
with our preferred pleasing images? Think about it: less moaning
with Monets, cries of ecstasy with each Escher, medical merriness
with a myriad of Miros. More art, less pain. Is this not a wonderful
If taken seriously, this research could be a boon to both chronic
pain sufferers and art sellers. If there were a program designed
to identify aesthetic sensibilities, entire homes could be loaded
with beautiful images to relieve pain and alter moods. The marketing
possibilities seem endless. Philosophers and poets would not be
the only ones struggling to answer the big WHAT IS BEAUTY question.
A computer programmer would help everyone develop their individual
answers, all in the name of enjoying decreased pain levels.
The problem is that I am not sure if I want the development of
my aesthetic sensibilities in the hands of another person, even
if the programmer might also be a respectable art historian. I
want to do the work of exploring what is beautiful and being shocked
or disgusted by what is ugly. I want to find my own images.
If physical pain could be exacerbated with one's selection of
beautiful art, couldn't emotional pain be helped, too? I would
be the perfect subject for that study. If I am feeling depressed
and not too paralyzed to get out of the house, I can go to a museum.
It never fails: within ten minutes, my depression is gone. My
problems have not disappeared, but my sadness has. I think, "Whew,
at least, I got through that spell." If I can't get to a
museum, I find an art book. I look and try not to read. Art heals.
It makes me strong enough to get to the next phase, whatever that
Reading "The Art of Pain Relief" made me feel better
about the world. Medical science is reaching to art for answers
(hooray for the Italians). It has already happened in poetry:
read Poets on Prozac: Mental Illness, Treatment and the Creative
Process, Richard M. Berlin, MD, editor.
It makes sense that each of us must decide if we need to carve
a larger and more serious space for art in our lives. Art can
matter. There is a tee shirt in my drawer that says, "Art
can't hurt you." I stopped wearing it because I disagreed
with the premise. Even if art can hurt you, this study suggests
that at least it can help ease the pain.
What do you think? Contact me: email@example.com.