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Around The Arts

February 19, 2011

We may not need art to survive, but we need it to be able to thrive

I heard a wonderful thing on NPR the other night, "Art may not be a basic need, but it is a human need nonetheless." I tuned in during the middle of the program, and as I was driving through the picturesque hills of Chenango County my radio reception faded, and the segment was over when the station came in again. I guess I'll never know who spoke those words, but I've replayed them in my head over and over since then.

Is art necessary for day-to-day survival? It cannot feed, clothe or house us; however, I would argue it is _ perhaps not if we want to survive, but thrive.

Art is the cathartic release of the day's stresses as you listen to music during your commute home from work; the drawing from your child that serves as a constant reminder of why you sacrifice and hope for the future; and cinematic dramas that not only entertain us, but help us appreciate how lucky we are (think "Precious"). And it is no secret creating your own art is one of the most powerful ways to express yourself _ song writing, painting, sculpting, acting … even that long-lost art of well-thought-out handwritten letters.

Any form of creative release unburdens the soul and makes it possible for us to leave one day behind and move forward, refreshed.

Imagine living day after day without an expressive outlet, your emotions bottling up. We would all be in therapy several times a day! The alternative is much more realistic _ and cost effective.

On a more scientific level, art therapy is a psychological treatment that primarily works in two ways. Initially, people can use art to communicate, even subconsciously, an issue they may not be comfortable discussing. This is especially effective in young and/or withdrawn patients. Those who specialize in art therapy are often able to "read" the creations of their patients to better diagnose and care for them. Secondarily, but just as important, it can be used as a healing mechanism. Individuals can use art to process their emotions throughout their treatment.

Art therapy has also been used with patients suffering from Alzheimer's and dementia. It helps soothe their anxiety and makes it easier for them to maintain focus for longer periods of time. Art has also assisted men and women suffering from these diseases to recall things from both their long- and short-term memories. This can be achieved in ways that may seem so simple to those on the outside. Singing a personally significant song can jog memories. Many times when art therapy patients gaze at their own artwork, they may recall an event or person that they subconsciously included. These substantial achievements are made possible through the intrinsic power of art.

Artistic minds question life as it is, push the boundaries of convention and develop creations to either further their art or civilization. Invention is one of the basic principles of moving a society forward. Leonardo da Vinci is the perfect example of an artistic, inquisitive mind that not only made him famous for his paintings but advances in science and technology as well. I don't think I can name one person who can't recognize the Mona Lisa by name or who hasn't benefited from one of da Vinci's too-advanced-for-his-century scientific notions _ the helicopter, tank, machine gun, solar power and calculator to name a few.

Art is as integrated into everyday life as food and water. It's something most of us barely notice and take for granted on a daily basis, but the moment it's not there we feel a void. When we go without art, our bodies won't shut down as they do during starvation and dehydration, but our spirits will wither and our society will stop advancing. So, is art needed for life? I hope if you've made it this far, you'll yell a resounding "yes!" with me.

June Dzialo is a member of ArtsOtsego, the alliance of Otsego County arts organizations, and marketing and public relations manager for Glimmerglass Opera. Column ideas and questions may be sent to aroundthearts@gmail.com. 'Around The Arts' columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/aroundthearts.

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