Posted in after the diagnosis, art and healing, Autobiography, coping with chronic illness, coping with life threatening illness, creativity and health, Having a Voice in Healthcare, Storytelling

Who Will Fill the Gap?

I received a very sad email this morning.  Visual Aid, a San Francisco nonprofit, is closing its doors at the end of the month.  Visual Aid’s mission is to provide resources to artists with life-threatening illness to continue creating works of art.  They provide financial assistance, an art supply bank, entrepreneurial workshops, and exhibition opportunities in their gallery.

I found out about Visual Aid almost 3 years ago when I began doing research for my dissertation, “Artists and Illness: Narrative and Its Impact on Autobiography and Meaning Making”.  The Executive Director, Julie Blankenship, a true arts community leader, assisted me in finding and scheduling artists to interview for my research.  This is the love and care that Julie has offered the Visual Aid community for the past eleven years.

This organization has served as a place for artists with life-threatening illness to make connections aiding in eliminating the isolation often felt by both artists and those with an illness.  They have served to gain exposure for artists who may not have the resources to buy art supplies or promote their work because they have limited connections in the art community.

Why has this organization been so important?  They have given voice to a community that holds a story we don’t often hear.  Visual Aid artists tell their pathography (stories of their life and illness journey) that we usually only read about in books.  I came to see clearly that artists wouldn’t write their pathography, but they certainly create works of art sharing that journey.  I was and still am deeply moved by the artists’ works of art, their story, and their generosity to share these personal moments in their lives.

So who will fill the gap?  Illness isn’t going away!  Artists with illness aren’t disappearing from the planet, although eradicating illness would be phenomenal.  Who will be the guardian angel for these artists with life-threatening illnesses?  These stories need to continue because they are a part of our social fabric.  The provide insight into the disease and healing process.  They share experiences of the social aspects of illness that can only be told through art.

Without an organization like Visual Aid we may potentially lose part of our cultural story.  Even though the stories of individual’s illnesses will continue, without the artists’ stories, it will be incomplete.

As we say goodbye to Visual Aid, I hope you’ll consider ways to continue promoting the stories of artists’ with illness.  We need to have the complete story of healing and/or coping with illness, not just the written word!!!

Posted in after the diagnosis, coping with chronic illness, coping with life threatening illness, Storytelling

What Kind of Day Are You Having?

Every day that we wake up we begin the day with a routine.  We wonder what will come our way during the day and what types of adventures will occur during the day?  How are we going to make the most of our day?  What does it take to fill out the day with possibility?

I guess the real question is, “How Can You Have a Breakthrough Day?”  What does it mean to have a breakthrough day?  That’s the great thing about being the author or your day, it’s whatever you want it to be.  You get to decide how you will breakthrough what has been the usual.  You get to create experiences and interactions that will take you one step further than you’re comfortable.  Robert Fritz wrote a book titled Creating.  One of his central premises is that we need tension for there to be creativity.  What type of tension is mounting through your day?

When I ask about tension, I’m not discussing stress.  I’m talking about that internal sense of discomfort like an itch you can’t scratch.  That type of tension makes you squirm a bit and tempt you to try and scratch that itch.  It’s that type of tension drives you to come up with amazing solutions, and that’s what creates a breakthrough day.

As I’ve mentioned I recently interviewed a group of artists with life-threatening illnesses for my dissertation.  Throughout these interviews the artists repeatedly speak about how to exceed the expectations of the day.  They look to create experiences that they will then translate into amazing pieces of art that continue to tell their stories.

You don’t have to be a fine artist to have a breakthrough day; you have to be a life artist.  Every day is your creation.  Every day can be a masterpiece!

Posted in after the diagnosis, coping with chronic illness, coping with life threatening illness, living with chronic illness, Living with Illness, Storytelling

Journey to the Center of the Story

I’m in the midst of completing my doctoral dissertation.  It’s a long and arduous process at least that’s what I thought until I went on a trip to California the past 2 weeks.  I spent time with a nonprofit, Visual Aid, who works with artists facing life-threatening illness continue to create.   They were gracious enough to assist me in recruiting potential interviewees.

I was sitting in the first interview and felt like I had come home.  I was interviewing an artist whose story was so authentic, hopeful, and complex (not meaning difficult, but layered like his art).  As I moved through the interviews I found the same qualities with each participant.  I was taking a journey to the depths of storytelling that I’ve never experienced, even in my thousands of hours of hours working with psychotherapy clients individually and in groups.  These twelve artists shared with me verbal canvases that were masterpieces.  Their stories matched the work, and their spirits were the greatest masterpieces of all.

It confirmed the importance of our stories.  The interviews catapulted the story to the top of my list when it comes to inspiration, hope, and possibility.  These are three qualities that are crucial when living life with a chronic or life-threatening illness.

While in San Francisco I was reminded by the importance of our stories.  I went to the Contemporary Jewish Museum, and in the corner of one of the exhibits was a booth with the words StoryCorps written at the top.  National Public Radio airs stories of people from around the country who step into one of these booths and record for all of posterity a story that is important to who they have become and how they got there.  It was one more sign that the story was at the heart of the dissertation.

If you know an artist with a life-threatening illness who might be interested in telling their story, I hope you’ll pass on my information.  I think this project will impact how we look at illness, and the stories of those who tell them.  Please refer them to and look for more stories!

Posted in art and healing, creativity and health

Mr. DeMille…I’m Ready for my Close-up

Welcome to Art and Healing Wednesday!!

It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of the movies that are glamorous, full of adventure, or take you on an amazing journey.  These stories allow you to lose yourself for a couple of hours, even more if you buy the film and watch it over and over.  I think that film is an incredible medium and even more so since I’ve been exploring the world of visual anthropology.

As I move forward on finishing my degree in art and healing, I’ve been thinking about how to capture the lives of the artists in a way that is non-intrusive, honest, and allows their authentic selves to emerge.  I’m doing my thesis on artists who have been diagnosed with a chronic or life-threatening illness.  In addition to interviews, I’d like to film the artists in their studio/work space doing what they do…tell stories.

I carry a flip video recorder around in my car so that at any time I’m ready to record a digital image.  Yesterday I was talking to my neighbors who have started a film production company so I literally have this type of expertise in my backyard.  I think there would be something amazing, honest, and pure about what emerges filming artists engaging in their process.

If you haven’t checked out my website you should watch some of the videos on health and healing.  It’s a way for us to connect with each other since the invention of things like, you tube, and other social network sites.

What is it that you would like to say?  How do you see the shot?  What is it that you would like to convey to your audience?  It’s easier than ever to begin the journey into film.  You can become your own screenwriter, director, editor, and producer.  You can pick something that is unique to you that may impact the lives of others facing a chronic or life-threatening illness.  Who knows, it may be something you love doing, transforming your life vision.

If you’re an artist who has been diagnosed with a chronic or life-threatening illness and you’d like to be a part of my research or potentially the film, please e-mail me at

As Porky Pig would say…”That’s all folks!”