Order, Chaos, and the Space Between was a collection of Latin American Contemporary Art from the Diane and Bruce Halle Collection at the Phoenix Art Museum. This was by far the most powerful exhibit I have seen at the Phoenix Art Museum not simply because of the creativity but because of the incredible emotion that so many of the works brought out in such simple yet powerful ways while provoking deep thought.
The exhibit was very strict with taking pictures of the art and their descriptions but there are a few examples six minutes into the video, Order, Chaos, and the Space Between, Contemporary Latin American Art including one of my favorite displays where a Cuban artist collected women’s shoes from where women had been massacred and where the victims could only be identified by the shoes left at the brutal scene. The artist cut shoe box sized holes into the wall, placed the shoes inside and sealed it with animal skin sutured to the wall in order to commemorate the horror of what had happened to these women. Another one of the most moving pieces was a video of a street game of spinning Tops on a grid. The artist’s goal was to demonstrate violence and competition in society through this game with the sounds of the busy city serving as a backdrop. The intensity of something so simple was moving beyond words but isn’t that what the best works of art do? Inspire thought, raise awareness, move you in some way? Another moving piece that is featured in the above linked video was a display of 75 pounds of green hard candy with the viewer invited to take a piece. The artist lost his partner to AIDS and was motivated to demonstrate how frail human life can be and how fleeting, the 75 pounds being the same weight his partner was when he passed away. For a more in-depth review of this exhibit visit the Phoenix New Times review.
When walking through an exhibit this diverse and powerful you can’t help but feel a sense of what the artist must have been experiencing as they created these works of art. From what mankind can tell, humans have been expressing themselves through art long before the written word. Art has been a proven way of connecting people to one another and bridging gaps bringing a relatedness beyond borders and beyond spoken language. Creative expression is a powerful tool used for healing as explained in the video, Can Art be Medicine? by the Foundation for Art & Healing. The video interviews different people including a woman with a heart transplant and a soldier who both were able to heal emotionally by expressing themselves in a creative way.
The US National Library of Medicine – National Institute of Health created a review called, The Connection Between Art, Healing, and Public Health: A Review of Current Literature, exploring the relationship between creative art and health outcomes with a primary focus on music engagement, visual arts therapy, movement-based creative expression, and expressive writing. The review found that ‘artistic engagement has significantly positive effects on health’ and ‘creative engagement can decrease anxiety, stress, and mood disturbances’; the arts in healing complements other types of therapies and interventions because it not only looks at sickness and symptoms but holistically works with the person as a whole.
My life-long experience in the art world and medical world compels me to add the importance of intention when art is created. There is art that is created almost as a way to perpetuate pain or to remain in a cycle that is not healthy for the creator and in turn for the viewer. However, like the Order and Chaos exhibit there can be creative ways of expressing pain, injustice, trauma, and other societal and personal disturbances in a way that allows the creator to raise awareness, connect with others, and heal in the process creating pieces that make a strong statement. Art like this is designed to end unhealthy and unjust cycles through awareness and emotion as opposed to becoming part of a cycle that is less focused on healing and bettering our communities and our world. Finding creative ways to express one’s self can be therapeutic emotionally and also physically as our emotions are stored in our nervous system and bodies making it critical to include various types of therapies when working through trauma, stress, anxiety, depression, and the like.