Art as Talisman; Finding Healing and Wholeness Through Imagery

A few times in a lifetime we deal with a loss so great it alters our very identity, whether this is the death of a loved one, the end of a relationship, an illness or a traumatic event. It is during these times that we begin to question who we are, we feel uprooted, we feel vulnerable, we feel destroyed. We come to a crossroads where we must make choices to redefine ourselves and we search for answers. After dealing with ugliness and the turbulence of the soul it is natural to search for beauty and peace, and beauty can often be found in art. Some find new meanings or definitions in religion, others find themselves in mind altering drugs, some choose to travel after these times. Some become superstitious and feel soothed by carrying omens of luck such as a rabbits foot or lighting votive prayer candles with the painting of a patron saint, to leave their hopes and worries to the flickering light of some greater power. Either way we search for something to lead us to a new sense of self…a new foundation..a new purpose. As a child I enjoyed going to church not necessarily for the sermon as much as sitting in a place of beauty surrounded by the colored light filtered in from storied glass windows. Something about the kaleidescopic mandalas of painted windows transported me to a place that the preacher’s words never could. They took me to a sense of awe, a sense of wholeness, a kind of spiritual world of patterns where every shape had a place and every being had a part to play in an artistic story.

protective griffon gargoyle

Succulent baby aloe sun catcher rainbowmaker hanging in my kitchen. It purifies the air by providing oxygen and the stained glass and prisms fill the walls with light and colors.

I believe that art can be cathartic and beauty can heal and I am fascinated by the concept of idols, that people of old would kneel and concentrate on an image of Christ or the Buddha to find some inner quality of peace or healing transferred.  Some of my art I created as talismans and in the style of religious icons whether it be like the Buddhist thangkas, Catholic saints or Roman Gods.

A Talisman is a protective image, believed to hold magical powers and protect the wearer or owner. It can be a charm, a symbol or an amulet. Basically it is a safeguard against illness and misfortune.

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A Healing Talisman featuring Genetic “Keys”, a serpent caduceus double helix (DNA)and the power of plant medicine. This is a closeup of my Heavenly Pagoda Crystal Suncatcher Mobile.

Philosophers such as Plato believed that within us we carry “ideal images” that we are born with, a sort of pre-knowledge of the world. He believed that before the chicken or the egg came the idea of a chicken and an egg in some sort of ether consciousness all humans are born with, and that what we see as beautiful is what takes us back to that( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theory_of_forms ) Carl Jung built upon this with the idea of the “collective unconscious”, an ether field of preternatural knowledge. That humans can communicate with each other and our deeper selves subconsiously when we tap into in dreams and transcendental experiences. Linguists such as Jacques Lacan believed that language is something that is forced upon humans, something which dissects and attempts to restructure reality but actually removes us from reality because the word tree has nothing to do with the tree itself. He believed there was a pre-language state where humans were happiest, the same state in the womb where sensations, lights, shadows and sounds were all there were. There was no value system to decipher because there was inherent value in everything.

“Celestial Beginnings” A woman creating herself from stardust (we literally have stardust in human DNA)

Language can differ from culture to culture, continent to continent but in the artwork and religious imagery over thousands of years and miles common themes and shapes are repeated over and over again. The pyramid or triangle for example is seen in the pyramids of Egypt, funerary mounds of the Vikings and The stone temples of middle America. The pyramid/triangle is even seen on our American Dollar bill and is symbolic in most cultures of Enlightenment, power and the rays of the sun. In Catholicism it indicates the Holy Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Ghost. The skull although a symbol of death that some may consider grotesque is basic and innately recognized by all humanity. It has also been used as a symbol of ideas, of philosophy, of rebirth, of endurance through time.

A skull lamp I made using light and crystal therapy to soothe the senses. The skull Is perhaps the most recognizable and visceral human symbol of the life/death cycle and what remains. I filled it with jewels to invoke the treasures of the mind and beautiful thoughts.

They say an image is worth a thousand words. When the cavemen first took yellow ochre to the walls of the caves in Lascaux France they didn’t write, they drew, they painted, they blew pigments over the impressions of their hands as proof of life. This work was often done by shamans in magic rituals. The Aboriginal Tribes of Australia and New Zealand also did this and still do in a process called “Dream Time” where they enter trance states and paint themselves and the rocks to bring back knowledge and healing from their ancestors and the world they believe existed before time. The Egyptian writing was made up entirely of images and these images were thought to be transportive. They described the world, they were the world and they also could invoke the spirit world. Art was magic and could transport the soul into the afterlife, so important was the art symbols that the pharoes spent entire lifetimes erecting monuments and covering them in pictograms to ensure a smooth transition to the afterlife.

A woodcarving/watercolor I made with inlaid crystals and a sundial naval illustrating creation myth origins of humanity

For these reasons I try not to just use representational 2D art but I like to make my art an experience. I try to encorporate 3D elements, so that it is tactile. Often times my art is sculptural or uses light or the reflections of light to affect mood (light therapy) and impact the space around it. In short it I strive to create art even a baby could enjoy..art that invokes the senses and the universal. But art that one doesn’t need an education to enjoy.

Resin and Stained Glass Light box I made depicting the Venus and Heart with roots with a reflective mirror like shine, and aquatic otherworldly atmosphere.

Even if one doesn’t believe in myths or religion, studies show that certain colors improve feelings of peace and wellbeing (blues and greens) and yellows and golds tend to boost feelings of joy, while reds are linked with passion and empowerment. The Budhist system of chakras (power centers) are linked to certain points of the body and can affect you auras as shown in the image below. Purple is for the crown chakra, the universal part of the being, indigo is for the third eye (knowledge), blue is for the throat chakra (communication), green is for the heart chakra (compassion), yellow for the solar plexus (the power center), orange is for the naval chakra (sexuality, vitality and receptivity) and red is for the root chakra (grounding, foundational connection and peace with life) . Various stones are also associated with each chakra as placed in the image of the birth of a soul below.

I would like to say that not just having artistic talismans in the home is healing, but the process of creating art itself is therapeutic. There is a whole new field of therapy called “Art Therapy” where therapists use creativity to help their subjects work through issues. a few summers ago I donated some time at The Art Station in Fort Worth to learn from professionals about this practice. I found that many children or adults who had been deeply traumatized and couldn’t speak the abuse or loss they had experienced, who felt they had lost their voice could silently and safely communicate once given art supplies. In this way they were able to find new confidence in this new outlet of emotion and self expression. I am not a licensed therapist but I do offer art lessons to anyone interested in learning via Skype or in person in the DFW area so if this is something you are interested in exploring feel free to contact me via damaris.mccalley@gmail.com or via my Facebook links provided on About The Artist as well as at www.Etsy.com/shop/ArtbyDamaris . I hope you have enjoyed this article :-), happy art journeys.

A poster I made with the kids of Camp Carter who were there because they were losing a parent to cancer. Art helped them deal with the situation and distract their sorrows.