The Silence of Pictures Can Teach Us to Speak

I have always believed in the power of art to heal. As an independent art teacher to youth of many ages in extracurricular, alternative, and residential settings, I am witness to how these young people transform into happier and more confident individuals in even the shortest amount of time when allowed to paint within an environment of tolerance and celebration of the creative pursuit of their own vision.

I ensure that they understand their artwork will be unequivocally accepted by me.  For many, it is the first time they are treated as equals in terms of opinion, input, and the implementation of their insight. I see the glimmers of their recovering sense of self through the process of creating their work of art.

A therapist at a facility I worked at had the idea to reproduce famous pieces on the drop-down ceiling tiles in the “slow down” area. Obviously, Michelangelo had to be represented. As no one wanted to tackle it, the idea was promptly returned to me. I reluctantly decided to give it try. Despite my many years of teaching art, I never seriously attempted to paint.

I have no formal art training (my knowledge has been acquired by decades of reading and studying on my own), As I have followed my own unique path, I always encourage my students to express and celebrate their own voice and point of view. I never dictate what to paint or how to create; great art is honest art. I introduce artists as a point of inspiration for our work and discussion and we just paint.

With a picture of Michelangelo’s image taped to the wall as reference and over the course of about five hours, the pitted surface of the 2’x4’ panel was gradually transformed into a marriage of classic and modern art. The result is the piece you see here.

ma by jt

I expected to feel accomplished but I did not expect to feel so focused or to feel a new level of acceptance about myself, which blossomed into a joyful confidence about my own innate artistic abilities. More tiles were painted, and I was supported in my efforts to produce large murals throughout the facility (the largest ones measured 26 feet long by three feet high).

I was absolutely delighted that all the youth loved my work, asked questions, chose to participate and, through this process, we formed new avenues of communication and mutual respect.

The Creation of Adam is iconic and profound; the hand of the Creator, on the right, reaches for the hand of the human, on the left. It speaks to all of us as a reminder that we must put forth our own effort to reach that which is the source of our inspiration; to remember that the power of our own creativity constantly finds its expression through us – positively or negatively.

Through art, we can feel compelled to discover and heal ourselves. This is the thinking that helps form the foundation of Drawing on Emotion – The Healing Power of Paint, a treatment program I have co-authored.

Scientific evidence grows about the powerful and positive effect of creativity in the brain.  Data accumulates on how art increases self-esteem which promotes better decision-making.

Thank you for reading my first blog and I hope you will be inspired to read about my journey with art and its positive effects on the youth I encounter in the upcoming months.

Joeann Tesar is the co-owner of Advanced Learning Concepts and is co-author of Drawing on Emotion – The Healing Power of Paint.

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