FAQs – How can arts, beauty, and creativity contribute to healing? Part 1 – Theoretical

The following are from a series of comments on a post at The Wartburg Watch, Did Southern Seminary Give ‘Baptist’ Tuition Breaks and Academic Perks to SGM Pastors? My comments were in response to what others were saying about music, culture, and worship. This article gives more the theoretical side of arts, beauty, creativity – and healing.

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Comment #1. I’ve often felt that arts (visual, literary, musical, etc.) are one of the most important antidotes to evil. Thus, the removal of/absence of the arts may tell something about a theology’s practical lack of understanding human nature and aesthetic feeling. Which typically means that all the identity eggs are in the abstract intellectual basket.

Comment #2. P.S. Which also makes sense as to why arts-music-storying tend to play a crucial role in healing for many of us from spiritual abuse survivor backgrounds. Our identity was imploded, our mentality was corroded, our emotions were overloaded … and the arts helped restore our soul and refresh our spirit as life-giving, balance-inducing emotional and aesthetic waters after a death-defying drought.

Comment #3.

elastigirl wrote:

“Seriously, I’ve often felt that arts (visual, literary, musical, etc.) are one of the most important antidotes to evil.”

interesting…. can you expand on your thoughts here?

I’m working on an article about this, but here’s the main flow of the rough draft of my argument, in brief and as non-technical as I can make it at the moment … and because I’m in the middle of a book-editing deadline, may not be able to follow up on this right now. Sorry about that, but my choice is either something now and maybe more later, or nothing now and who knows what when. Okay, nuff intro. On to the stuff.

* Spiritually abusive authoritarian individuals and their systems use extreme black-or-white thinking.

* Extreme black-or-white analytic thinking splits things apart, and therefore makes its followers highly susceptible to dualism — categorizing things into polar opposites, then valuing only one partner in the polarity pair and denying or minimizing the other.

* This kind of polarizing, either/or, this-or-that mentality is reductionist. It denies complexity, which requires a both/and paradoxical perspective.

* Paradoxy involves BOTH identifying different elements of being AND keeping those elements connected in a dynamic tension with one another.

* Behind reductionism is a drive to simplify complex things, but it overdoes it and so overfocuses on individual elements and loses the system connections.

* Humanness in its full, complex existence involves our mind, imagination, emotions, aesthetic feeling, and will in its immaterial elements, and our body in its material elements.

* The either/or requirement of reductionism forces people to make such choices as mind over emotions, the immaterial (e.g., thinking) over the material (e.g., the body), abstractions and philosophy over the concrete and culture.

* Paradoxical thinking that recognizes human complexity means we keep all the elements of our being in dynamic tension.

* Various forms of art typically engage multiple aspects of who we are. For instance, images often interconnect abstract ideas and emotions with concrete subjects, and call forth an emotional response. Music often functions like an “emotional soundtrack of the soul.” People’s stories (and so works of literature, movies, etc.) engage our mind while also sparking our curiosity and imagination about what will happen next and arousing empathy or antipathy as we identify or dis-identify with the characters. Liturgy as “embodiment art” involves physical movement that reengages our body through our senses in sacred/set-aside space while we also engage ourselves with other people likewise being moved.

* What this essentially means is that by engaging multiple elements of our being simultaneously, arts help re-glue our fragmented pieces of humanness back together. Reductionism fragments us and forces us to embrace only chards of ourselves; arts reconstitute us, and fill our scars with Kintsugi gold.

I’ve seen discussions as to the soothing and healing nature of arts for those of us who are survivors of any kind of trauma, abuse, grief, etc. So that’s not particularly novel.

But, as far as I know, this is an original explanation as to *why* art-images-stories-music etc. “work” the ways they do. It’s based on a paradigm analysis system that I’ve been developing for 15 years as a “primary resource” system based on processing my own experiences. (Meaning I didn’t do this as a “secondary” process by doing a mega-book report that synthesizes other people’s experiences and thoughts.)

I use this paradigm system to “profile” different information processing styles that drive our systems of abstract beliefs and concrete values; and how those inherently drive different kinds of organizational system strategies and structures and processes and procedures; and how those distinctively shape our cultures and our modes of collaboration, isolation, or domination. So I really do consider how any/all of this works together as a system.

For the most effective transformation to occur, you eventually have to get to the very bottom three things that drive the entire system: epistemology (i.e., information processing mode), and then values and beliefs. From these things – in my opinion – all else flows. And for us to move from wherever we find ourselves in this “spiritual GPS system,” to get to the goal of Christlike character and lifestyle involves reintegrating all the pieces that various other epistemologies want to “split and forgit”! Hence, arts will be important in both moments and movement of healing in our journey together with Jesus and toward Christlikeness and transforming culture for the Kingdom. Like Jesus’ outer cloak, it’s all woven together as a seamless garment …

I believe this paradigm system and the strong influence of information processing modes helps explain the insidious nature of authoritarian systems. All we see on the surface at first is the culture and organization and partnerships of what turns out to be a “malignant ministry.” Then we maybe start seeing underneath how the dynamics of hierarchy and authoritarianism function: splitting men from women and only valuing men, splitting adults from children, insiders from outsiders, “leaders” from “followers,” etc. But even that is all driven at the very deepest levels by a core mode of thinking that is reductionist, either/or, and DESPISES paradox and complexity — because paradox gives the “power” of recognition of existence to all elements in the system. And arts engage multiple layers and so are an antidote to evil, which (in my opinion) always seems to be about negating and eliminating layers.

Okay, so there’s half the essay! Who knew …?