When my youngest nephew was in treatment for leukemia at age 4, he said the only thing he wanted for his birthday (besides a dog) was art supplies. He would come home after treatment at the hospital and create a menagerie of creatures from paper, glue, straws, paint — whatever he could get his hands on. I watched him carefully and realized he was creating a small world, one that he entirely controlled. As Julia Cameron writes in her book, The Artist’s Way, “We are, ourselves, creations. And we are meant to be creative beings.”
Most children simply know they are creative beings. You do not have to tell them how to draw, paint, sing or dance. This comes naturally. However, once we start school and are compared to others, we often lose touch with our own creativity. Fear of judgment can destroy the artist within. Once people have faced their own mortality through something like cancer, fear of judgment quickly takes a backseat and the opportunity to become a creative being again presents itself. It's a moment when the desire to engage with life grows stronger, and they seek to take in the beauty of the world.
At times like this, the creative arts can provide a powerful healing experience, an opportunity to reconnect with that inner part of oneself that may have been ignored or forgotten. Art programs provide the encouragement and guidance needed, without judgment, for participants to reconnect with their inner creative child. As Terri Ferris, a participant in Waterford Place Cancer Resource Center’s art classes, says, “Being able to express myself creatively is such a release for me. I’m so relaxed and content after a class. I didn’t realize how much I needed the arts to make me whole again.”
I believe that when we create, we emulate the Great Creator, and I imagine the power that must exist at that creative core. To me, it’s the power of the universe around us and the power to create our own. Therein lies everything we need for inner self-healing, all that we need to be whole, especially while dealing with pain or illness.
Creative expression provides a distraction, a feeling of control, a sense of accomplishment, pleasure, relaxation and relief from stress, anxiety or even physical pain. Sharing that activity with others provides camaraderie, connection and a shared sense of purpose. Creating art is simply good medicine.