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Art Is Therapeutic, Not Therapy

When we are blocked creatively, we often experience ourselves as miserable—and we then wonder, “How neurotic am I?” Thinking that therapy will supply that answer, or at least alleviate our misery, we often turn to therapy only to find that our misery continues unabated. Of course it does. We are miserable not because we are neurotic but because we are creative and not functioning in our creativity. Therapy may help us to “understand” our blocks. We do better to simply get over them. Art is therapeutic. It is not therapy. Therapy aims at transformation through understanding. Art aims at transformation more directly. When we make a piece of art about something we don’t understand, we come to understand it, or, at least, our relationship to it through our own experience—which is more full-bodied than merely cerebral. In this sense, art “works” therapeutically whether we understand it or not.

Therapy aims at disarming emotion, placing wounded emotions “in perspective.” Art, on the other hand, uses wounded emotions—or any other fuel handy—not to alter our perception of an existing outer reality but to alter that reality through a reality we express. Handel’s complex, ecstatic, exultant, and conflicted feelings and perceptions about God created The Messiah. The Messiah, in turn, helps others to understand God differently.

Books, poems, plays, symphonies—they aim at healing the soul. They take human emotions and human concerns and, through the alchemy of art, make us somehow feel better about all of it—and us.

Excerpt From
Walking in This World