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Healing Art of Creativity:
songs with lyrics may bother you some during Audrey's
genuine artistic intuition goes beyond what the senses perceive and reaching
beneath reality's surface, strives to interpret its hidden mystery. The
intuition itself springs from the depths of the human soul, where the
desire to give meaning to one's own life is joined by the fleeting vision
of beauty and of the mysterious unity of things. All artists experience
the unbridgeable gap which lies between the work of their hands, however
successful it may be, and the dazzling perfection of the beauty glimpsed
in the ardour of the creative moment: what they manage to express in their
painting, their sculpting, their creating is no more than a glimmer of
the splendour which flared for a moment before the eyes of their spirit."
- Pope John Paul II, Letter to Artists
Paul II's beautiful words speak to a universal human experience
we share in when we create. I do not mention the word "Healing"
in my artist
statement, but the notion that art and creativity can be used in the
healing process is not a new idea. Certainly, there are many examples
where a passion for creativity has helped people face and persevere against
tremendous personal obstacles--especially in the arts and sciences. Stephen
Hawking the renowned physicist or the deceased artist Gay Lauritzen, two
highly creative people afflicted with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS),
Lou Gehrig's disease, both passionate about their work and life.
own diagnosis with Progressive-Relapsing Multiple Sclerosis (MS), the
freedom to express myself creatively through art has been physically beneficial
and psychologically therapeutic. How so? First, creating artwork (or simply
acting creatively) may not be a cure for Progressive-Relapsing MS, but
it is an example of both a physical and mental process which helps me
to maximize my own natural coping skills--while alleviating some of the
negative emotional stress caused by the progression of my disease, stress
which I believe increases symptoms and disability caused by my form of
a person suffers from a chronic illness like MS or not, we each do our
best to overcome unhealthy stress and we each adapt to change and adversity.
Our sense of self-worth is closely associated with our apparent ability
to control change within our lives. When negative changes take place and
are beyond our control (such is the case with MS), our need for control
escalates. In my own situation, my need for control has at times become
overwhelming. Practicing forms of relaxation that help me to let go of
that need (especially during times of heightened emotional stress) provides
me with a greater sense of perceived control over my illness, and may
actually affect the progression of my form of MS. Approximately 6-10%
of people with MS appear to have a form that is progressive from onset,
but also characterized by acute attacks--in my case attacks have always
correlated with periods of high emotional stress.
of what type of MS a person has, some common emotional reactions are likely
to appear. A sense of disbelief, anger, depression, guilt, fear, a driving
desire to regain control over one's life--all of these negative feelings
contribute to an intense chronically active stress within the person.
Of course, stress is an entirely understandable response to MS (and chronic
illness in general). A diagnosis of MS implies a lifelong condition, progressive
physical disability, emotional conflict and lasting adjustments. Stress
is a normal reaction to MS and should be expected. Finding a positive
stress-relieving escape from the disease can be extremely helpful.
about one half of all people who have MS experience a serious depression
during their illness. I have, of course, at times felt depressed about
my illness. Interestingly though, I have never felt compelled to go on
any form of antidepressant medication. I believe that I am blessed with
a naturally happy disposition, but that I have also maximized my natural
coping skills through productive positive thoughts that have inevitably
taken shape within my art and personal life. For example, who I associate
with and how they affect me emotionally has become an important consideration.
I simply refuse to be surrounded by negative people--and this includes
certain individuals within the medical community. I choose my physicians
and my friends very carefully. They have a powerful impact on the way
we feel about ourselves--rousing courage and hope, or fear and depression.
There are a wide range of physical symptoms that may come and go over time with MS. The disease causes damage within the central nervous system along nerve pathways affecting movement, speech, vision, hearing, and bladder & bowel control. What is not commonly recognized is that the disease can also directly interfere with a person's ability to think clearly. Damage within the brain can create changes that affect problem-solving, attention, learning and memory. I believe that just as physical therapy can help people with MS maintain as much physical ability as possible, mental therapies that encourage problem-solving, attention, learning and memory skills can help people with MS maintain as much cognitive ability as possible. Strategies such as art therapy and other positive challenging creative outlets may help improve or maintain partially impaired cognitive pathways within the brain, and may enhance an individual's self-worth and natural coping skills against depression and perhaps fatigue.
Picture 2: Memory (broken art)
is no human being who does not carry a treasure in his soul,
are abstractions. I do not intend to paint representational images. From
time to time they may appear to be something recognizable, and then I
may give them the obvious or not so obvious name, but I never intend to
paint anything representational. All the same, because I do name my paintings
(other artists often leave their abstract art untitled), I do believe
that I eventually come to recognize after some reflection what my paintings
represent. The entire process of creating and then naming my paintings
provides me with a very satisfying physical, emotional, intellectual and
spiritual release. What's more, because I approach my artwork with no
expectations of good or bad, right or wrong, correct or incorrect, much
as a young child first approaches art, I experience very little of the
stress and anxiety that is often associated with the creative process.
What will people think of my creative work? A question that once caused
me anxiety (example my Ph.D defense), has become much less important in
view of my illness. I create artwork for my own enjoyment now, and to
my own personal satisfaction.
Why do I invert the color of my paintings in my digital art? Well, the inverted color spectrum is beautiful, revealing in that it uncovers hidden elements within the paintings, and also emotionally soothing especially when placed along side the original sister image. The inverted colors also serve to remind me symbolically that scientists must ponder questions from opposing points of view so that eventually we find the correct answers to difficult problems. Below, the inverted image reveals itself to me as a solar eclipse and so I named the painting "Moon."
Picture 3: Moon (original painting and sister image)
"On the day of the new moon, in the month of Hiyar, the Sun was put to shame, and went down in the daytime, with the Venus star in attendance." - Record of an eclipse on Sun 3 May 1375 B.C. discovered in Mesopotamia. "I see the moon, And the moon sees me; God bless the moon, And God bless me." - Unknown
together the original painting and sister image can be seen as equivalent
or contradictory, an analogy to the arts and sciences--and a metaphor
that conscious and unconscious elements within us affect health simultaneously
in both positive and negative directions.
have noticed that I only work on square canvases. This is because while
I am painting I do not consider the final orientation of the work. I paint
freely and often turn and spin the canvas in different directions and
then again when I am interpreting the final abstraction. Only after I
have given the painting (and digital art) a name do they receive their
final correct orientation. I call the process "Wakeful Dreaming"
because much like the early Freudian and Jungian psychologists who first
attempted to understand their patients' dreams using various techniques,
I attempt to understand my paintings (and digital art) by giving them
each a specific name which usually comes to me upon reading a famous (or
not so famous) quotation, or idea. In this way the process of freely creating
abstract imagery that I reflect on and finally name embodies an ongoing
conversation that I have with myself. In practice, a dialogue between
my unconscious, dreamlike, symbolic mind (characterized by my artwork)
and my conscious, rational, literate mind (characterized by the quotations
I choose). Together, the quotations and artwork speak to me as both a
critic and a friend.
The last step to my creative process is to break my artwork symbolically. I do this by combining the original painting and sister image. I was diagnosed with MS the week before finishing my Ph.D. in neuroscience. I remember how I felt that week--shock, a sense of disbelief, as though a brick had just shattered my newly completed stained-glass window. Unlike the original paintings and sister images, my broken art stood alone without words when first exhibited. Since that time, however, something internal has pushed me to add a few words, a final thought. What would my Broken Art say if it could speak? If I could just continue the two thoughts expressed within each painting and sister image, what final thought might appear?
Picture 4: Moon (broken art derived from painting and sister image)
life and my life flow into each other as wave
with MS often feel as though they have let their family and close friends
down, and that they are somehow responsible for developing the disease.
Particularly vulnerable are young mothers (the group most commonly diagnosed
with MS) who often feel a tremendous sense of guilt for not being able
to carryout their usual work within the family. Although, I have no children
it is still mistakenly easy to feel a profound sense of culpability for
is about bringing unity to myself. It is about listening to instead of
shouting at reality. It is also about triggering my mind's unconscious
thought processes toward healing--by paying attention to and making sense
of the normally silent, repressed and often time distant elements within
myself. Because I am also trained as a neuroscientist and believe that
the mind plays a role in healing the body, I am approaching my art as
an experiment. It begs the question do we have more control over our health
than we appreciate? And if so, how might a person harness that control?
Perhaps, by letting go of control entirely--the paradox of combating chronic
stress and depression?
There are presently thirty-four abstract (non-representation) paintings on BrokenArtGallery.com, but I will discuss three briefly (with sister images) so that you might better understand "Wakeful Dreaming" --my invented "Healing Ritual" of unplanned creativity and imagination. Oftentimes, my analysis is personal and would only have significance to me, but these three paintings (and sister images) can be understood on several different levels.
Picture 5: Discovery (original painting and sister image)
"Discovery consists in seeing what everyone else has seen, and thinking what no one else has thought." - Albert Szent-Gyorgi (1893-1986) 1937 Nobel Laureate in Medicine; "Reasoning is compared to understanding as movement is to rest…" - Thomas Aquinas (c. 1225-1274)
.1) The painting "Discovery" is an abstraction that I created without planned conscious symbolic intent (as are all my paintings), but in a broad sense I now have come to understand the painting as the moment when human life begins--the act of fertilization (egg and sperm), two genotypes discovering one another and setting into motion the algorithm of a human life. I decided to name the painting "Discovery" after a famous quotation by Albert Szent-Gyorgi (1893-1986) who won the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine in 1937. My paintings are about ideas and questions, not necessarily answers--how might the viewer interpret the painting "Discovery?" Does it convey the importance of a scientific discovery--perhaps a cure for the disease MS brought about by fetal stem cell research? Or, does "Discovery" convey faith and the recognition of a human life begun? My wakeful dreams allow me to communicate with another part of myself, but I also hope that my finished paintings may make viewers think about some of the same questions and ideas. The painting "Discovery" causes me to think deeper on the question of stem cell research and ethical concerns. Certainly, fetal stem cell research may benefit people with MS tremendously, but it also raises ethical questions that we must confront together as a society and as individuals. Regardless, stem cell research is a very timely topic with regard to healing and one that I believe my unconscious psyche has given some thought to.
Picture 6: Rainforest (original painting and sister image)
"The point is that nobody knows. Things like the weather are so subtle, and what effect the rainforest has- on any of that stuff - oxygen, all the things that you hear about, the big scares - it's not known. But as long as it's not known, it's not a good idea to rip them up and tear them down, you know what I mean?" - Jerry Garcia (1942 - 1995); "Late have I loved you, beauty so old and so new: late have I loved you!" - Saint Augustine (354-430)
again, created without planned intent, I interpret the painting "Rainforest"
as the global act of deforestation--the cutting, burning and irretrievable
extinction of our planet's most valuable and underappreciated resource,
biological diversity. We are losing medicinal plants, insects and other
species that may ultimately hold the cures for diseases like MS at an
unprecedented pace. As a scientist who is also afflicted with an incurable
disease, this issue is very close to me. I see the deforestation of the
world's rainforests (and loss of biological diversity) as the single most
important environmental issue of our time, and I feel symbolically linked
to global deforestation and the burning rainforests with every passing
day through the demyelination of nerve cells that is continuing unabated
within my own body--someone should listen. I named this painting "Rainforest"
after a relatively obscure quotation by Jerry Garcia (1942 - 1995) an
American Songwriter and Musician who formed the Grateful Dead band.
The final selection of artwork is called "Escape."
Picture 7: Escape (sister image below / original painting far below)
can escape the commonplace only by manipulating it, controlling it, thrusting
it into our dreams, or surrendering it to the free play of our subjectivity."
- Raoul Vaneigem (b. 1934- )
"One of the strongest motives that lead men to art and science is escape from everyday life with its painful crudity and hopeless dreariness, from the fetters of one's own ever shifting desires." - Albert Einstein (1879-1955)
3) I understand
the painting "Escape" as a conversation I continue to have with
the unconscious part of myself through wakeful dreams--it is about finding
an escape from the disease MS. Much like seeing the ocean and clouds from
a hijacked airplane, "Escape" addresses the questions that I
believe most people with MS ask themselves "How can I escape?"
"Why is my body attacking itself?" "Does some part of me
know the answer?" and "Can I regain control?" I named this
painting "Escape" after a quotation by Albert Einstein (1879-1955),
the renowned physicist and man of the 20th Century. In addition, each
separate painting within the three paneled "Escape" carries
it's own name from left to right "Dreams," "Report,"
"Disease" each taken from a separate quotation by Julie Cameron,
William Shakespeare, and Hilaire Belloc respectively.
Art can be stimulating to both eye and mind, and can provide us with an opportunity to heal ourselves and others. In a drawing Leonardo da Vinci executes a masterful diagram with an engineer's precision of his legendary flying machine. Unfortunately, many people with MS lose their ability to do the very fine hand-eye coordination required in representational art and may stop doing art in frustration, but abstract art does not place as high a barrier to disabled people with limited hand-eye motor control and provides the same therapeutic benefits. Leonardo da Vinci once referred to art as being "the Queen of all sciences." --a Queen who offers not simply an alternative approach to obtaining knowledge, but also a way of sharing that knowledge with the world. Although MS has affected my hands to some degree, I choose to do abstract art not because of my reduced dexterity, but because abstraction is the only style of art that can be executed without planned intent, and therefore a way for me to dream.
the Quest good
Broken Art Show with
Enjoy the rest of your visit & join us. Try this.
friend living with MS in Macungie PA, strains
Brett tells friends that he's always trying to follow God's plan for his
life. He's still exploring three ideas that have helped him manage his
MS in a positive way since he was diagnosed in 1997-simply having faith,
staying creative, and finding true companionship with friends and helper
animals such as his German Shepherd Dog "Sophia." Sophia's autographed
(computerized paw-print) picture is now available (bottom of page), and
she usually allows Brett to sign too (upon request).
Brett moved back to his childhood home in Allentown, Pennsylvania, U.S.A. several years ago, and with the help of his family has converted his garage into his "Broken Art Studio" where he works with other local artists in town. "I'm blessed with a wonderful family and an exciting group of friends. With regard to seeing the CURE for MS, anything is possible!"
most recent art shows)
of its butterfly wings.
course, there is a theory in math called
It suggests that a butterfly flapping it's wings in some far off place
can cause a tornado or even a hurricane on the other side of the world.
If a butterfly can flap it's wings and cause a hurricane thousands of
miles away, what might you effect? Conservatively, more than you might
otherwise predict. Help us find the CURE
& every disease and disability on the face of the planet. After that,
visit the complexity
hosted by the Exploratorium in San Francisco, CA USA and gain some complexity.
Above is a fun
example of The Lorenz Chaos Butterfly. Click in the window (above)
Dr. Brett, Sophia & all their many friends in
Allentown, Pennsylvania U.S.A.
on the map!
Join the Quest! Dr. Brett Curtis Weber, Ph.D. is an artist and neuroscientist who lives in Allentown, Pennsylvania and who is a member of the National Arts Program and National Multiple Sclerosis Society. His work is shown in galleries internationally, and can be seen on BrokenArtGallery.com which hosts over 300 artists worldwide who support us in our fight against MS. Dr. Weber has also been a member of the board of directors of the Da Vinci Art Alliance in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and works towards expanding the creative and healing potential of all human beings through art.