ARTWEEK

April 11, 1991, Volume 22, Number 14

“TO TOUCH BOTH SOUL AND BODY – ART AS A HEALING FORCE ”
at the Bolinas Museum, Bolinas, California

by Mark Van Proyen

One of the oldest debates in esthetic thought revolves around the unresolved question of whether artists are the passive mirrors or the active inventors of the world they inhabit. Don’t worry, I won’t bore you with the details, except for the obvious one that recognizes that the art of the last decade has exhibited a strong tendency to fall on the side of the cynical mirror instead of the idealist inventor. But then, there are those who say – in terms of images and their implied parables of living – that we are what we eat, and the artist’s responsibility is to put good metaphorical nutrition on the culture’s visual table…

…Without probing into question of medical ethics or making any determination regarding the revelation-to-snake oil quotient that Art as a Healing Force seems to be offering, I can nonetheless say that I am intrigued by much of the work in the exhibition. Most of it appears to serve a recovery of what it means to be a body; or, to be more precise, what it means to feel oneself to be a body from the inside as opposed to having one’s internal center of gravity defined via a consciousness that has been mediated be such things as mirrors and photographic imagery – things that reflect the intrusive realm of social stereotypes. “If you feel, you heal” is the saying that applies to this work, and it implies that a viewer’s willingness to believe or disbelieve is the key to any actual healing.

The single image that most effectively summarizes the whole exhibition is Alex Grey’s 1985 painting, Healing – an electric image of an excoriated supplicant undergoing a laying-on-of-the-hands from another figure who, despite a similar excoriation, is clearly and symbolically female. Articulated behind them is a vaporous image of a bearded holy ghost, who emanates a heart-shaped energy beam that energized the neuro-circulatory energy systems of both figures. There is much to look at in this painting, but somehow it all boils down to a psychologically complex statement about the meaning of touch, an undeniably poignant message in our textureless time of much knowledge and little feeling.