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In the Eye of the Beholder

By Lisa Marie Wersal
ART TIMES June 2006

I have two “artists in residence” at my home: singer songwriter David Roth and painter Claude Monet.  These fellows never get a chance to rest on their laurels, as I have them pulling double duty.  They're not on hand just to be my teachers, although I learn a lot about music and art by observing their work.  In this house, they have an even more significant function.

Of all the health-promoting remedies and therapies I have employed, my favorite approach to healing is to overwhelm symptoms of illness with Beauty — and the expression of Beauty is where Roth and Monet excel.  They serve it up in bountiful cornucopias, and I relish each sweet, savory delight.

I have five poster-size reproductions of Monet paintings that I rotate among choice locations in my home, and all of David Roth’s recordings, which also travel a circuit of upstairs, downstairs, and out into my car.  Both artists are experts at blending and harmonizing; both play with perspective through artistry that is subtle, yet compelling.  I am drawn into the richness and depth of their creations, and there I find … myself.

I have discovered that the deepest value of a work of art is not found in its own inherent qualities or technical merit, but rather in my response to it.  If I open to the possibilities, a song or a painting can spark my imagination or insight, and help awaken inner yearnings that have long lain dormant.  In my own response, then, lies my potential for illumination, growth, and change—in short, for healing.

In his book, 8 Weeks to Optimum Health, alternative medicine guru Andrew Weil recommends that one listen regularly to music that one finds uplifting.  He speaks of the power of music to influence consciousness and heighten spiritual energy, and gives several examples from cultures around the world of the ritualized use of rhythm, chanting, and other musical expression to raise consciousness.  Though the gongs of Bali, the polyphonic chanting of Tibetan monks, or the drums of Africa might seem foreign to a Westerner’s ear, Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus” or songs from “Jesus Christ Superstar” can likewise open the portals to one's higher self.  Actually, says Weil, any music will do, so long as the musical choice suits one’s individual preferences and elevates one’s spirit. 

Visual art, too, can evoke buoyant or ascendant feelings, and is a key component of ritual.  Navaho sand paintings, for example, are created as part of healing ceremonies.  From Mexican retablos to Russian iconography to Renaissance paintings, awe-inspiring art has long been an avenue for communing with the divine and restoring wholeness and harmony, within oneself and within the community.

Finding my own voice:

After several years of chronic illness (myofascial pain syndrome and chronic fatigue), an important thrust of my own health recovery has been to “find my own voice” — literally, as well as figuratively.  I currently work with an otolaryngologist to free up tension in my throat, jaw, and tongue, for greater ease in speaking and singing.  I also expand my self- expression by writing reflective essays about my life journey, contributing opinion pieces to newspapers, and firing off missives to my elected officials about pressing social issues. 

As my health has improved in recent months, my skills in creative expression through music and art have expanded as well.  Though I was previously limited to playing music that was available in written form, I am now able to perform music after listening to it on a recording, and I sometimes write my own instrumental arrangements of songs.  In the visual realm, I create “fiber art” — quilts and quilted wall hangings.  I had formerly quilted in traditional patterns, but my more recent creations have individualized themes and are more personally expressive.  By drinking deeply at Beauty’s well, I have found my own spring of irrepressible self-expression.

A gift I have received from my health challenges is that they were significant enough to strip away many of the features of my life that had shaped my former identity: my career, my favorite pastimes, my social life—and left me to bask in Beauty long enough, until I discovered that the Beauty to which I had awakened, was my own.

(Minnesota resident Lisa Wersal is committed to the appreciation and expression of joy and beauty.)

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