Art As Therapy
For many artists, the pandemic has been a time of intense reflection and prolific work. Since art is an expression of feeling, that doesn’t come as any surprise. It’s a fitting way to process the emotions that this period of darkness and uncertainty have stirred in many of us.
But for one artist, that need to create and find beauty and meaning in the midst of chaos, began long before the pandemic. Ever since two of her four children became Children’s National Hospital Miracle Kids (a designation given to a child who, with medical intervention, defied all odds to live), Heather Lynn, an abstract, mixed-medium painter living in Washington, DC, has used art as a way of getting out what she calls her “big feelings” and finding a place for them to live. She understands the fervor of needing to create and heal that the world is now experiencing on a global level. When faced with nearly losing two of her children, she too found comfort and solace in putting her feelings in a safe place. For her, it was on a canvas.
“Even today, years after the trauma, as each piece now goes out into the world, it gives me more ability to breathe and recover.”
That need to breathe and recover after her personal chaos is what led Heather on her journey to become a world-renowned artist in the first place. A journey that, according to her, quite literally saved her from a place of darkness.
Heather gave birth to her third child in 2002. It quickly became clear to her, her husband, Mark, and their pediatrician that her son was not hitting his first few expected milestones. Consultations with a neurological team at Children’s National Hospital in DC, which involved many a stress-inducing waiting period, revealed a rare genetic condition that she and her husband were told would certainly lead to cerebral palsy. That was the good news? That cerebral palsy would be the prize, if their son were to even make it to adulthood? There was a medicine that would help, but the caveat was it would take a decade to get his body able to sustain a therapeutic dose. This wait-and-see game, one that saw her precious son nearly die an excruciating eight times, included him receiving last rights and enduring countless surgeries.
Then, as if life wasn’t already heavy enough for Heather and her family, in 2014, her second-born daughter ended up on life-support after contracting a bacterial infection during a family trip to Mexico. What were the odds? Was this really happening again? Heather’s burdens and big feelings were not anywhere being resolved.
And this time she knew she needed help in a serious way. She knew deep down she could no longer weather this storm on her own. Her usual strong, stoic spirit was undoubtedly broken.
Little did she know it would be a paintbrush and the colors of an art palette that would bring peace and healing back to her life.
“I tried it all. I went out to Canyon Ranch. I tried EMDR (an interactive psychotherapy technique used to relieve psychological stress). I ran more. Nothing worked. And then a girlfriend of mine was going away for the summer and asked if I would take her spot in a community of artists, and I felt like I had nothing to lose.”
In fact, it was quite the opposite. She had everything to gain.
Almost immediately, Heather became consumed with creating art. She dreamt what became her “Life Support” series, a five-painting abstract interpretation of watching her daughter die and slowly crawl back to life. This revelation of her deepest fears, the outward expression of her terrified soul, is the collection that launched her career.
It is astounding to this mother of four, this woman who was on the edge of questioning her ability to cope with what she’d been dealt in life, that she’s now represented by galleries across the world. Beyond just finding a home for her big feelings, Heather’s work has been exhibited in shows as prestigious as the carousel of Louvre in Paris, and she continues to prolifically create during the uncertain times of the pandemic.
“I don’t understand any of my success,” Heather says. ““Maybe because my work is raw and authentic, people believe it and that’s why it resonates with so many? Whatever the case may be, I’m forever grateful.”
What she does understand, however, is the power of art to create meaning out of turmoil.
“It did it for me on a personal level and I see it happening on a global level during the pandemic. We’re all at home quieting our minds and creating. Organizing our world and trying to make sense of what’s going on.”
Heather’s story of resilience and determination to find her strength and pull herself out of her personal chaos stands as hope for many of us today. As we navigate through these tumultuous times, we can be comforted knowing the world will be repopulated with beauty and creativity after this intense period of uncertainty. And we can be assured that art is, by its truest nature, a remarkable form of healing and therapy.