Dr. Sergey Smirnov
Sergey Zagraevsky’s pictures as an effective means of art therapy
In our time, on the background of deterioration of overall statistics on crime, domestic violence and moral depravity, statistics on morbidity, especially for disorders and impaired mental and nervous system of citizens is also deteriorating. In this regard, one of pressing problems of modern medicine is the development and introduction of new, unconventional methods of medical and preventive support of a person to promote his personal growth, development and healing. Art therapy (therapy through visual art) is one of such promising methods.
Images of artistic creativity are correlated with almost all kinds of unconscious processes, both positive and negative. The latter include fears, internal conflicts, traumas, some reminiscences of childhood, nightmares, etc. All these negative processes at a certain confluence of genetic and social factors may lead to disorders and impairs of mentality and the nervous system. In this case, art therapy is a means of providing an immediate positive impact on the underlying causes of these diseases. Consequently, the effectiveness of art therapy can exceed the performance of all other methods, which are designed to return a full-fledged personality to society.
Art therapy process deals with the patient first and foremost not as a sick person, but as a personality that tends to self-development and expansion of the range of his capabilities. Art therapy, depending on the application, may be referred to as medical art therapy, social art therapy, art therapy in education etc. In the most general case, the process of art therapy consists of two phases, which can be roughly described as passive and active.
The first (passive) phase in the literature is usually referred to as perception, image therapy, picturesque therapy, vision therapy etc. This group of terms includes many forms of passive imaging (perception).
The second (active) phase is usually referred to as reproduction or expressive art therapy, and includes a set of diverse forms of creativity (artistic) expression.
Let us consider the work of renowned artist, honored art worker of Russia, Professor Sergey Zagraevsky as a possible means of art therapy in its both phases.
General characteristics of the creativity of the artist can be the following: professional painting in the style of children’s paintings, an access to serenity and brightness of perception of the world, which is most clearly expressed in humans in the preschool and early school age.
Paintings by Zagraevsky, like all so-called primitivism (also called naive art, primitive art or naivism), take the stylistic gap between realism and abstract art.
From the standpoint of realism, art therapy has the following drawback: it does not leave enough room for imagination, restricting its plot and plastic to the imagination of a spectator (percipient), repeating the images, that the percipient is able to get also in everyday life.
Abstractionism leaves too much behind the scene, and that is more negative than positive factor for people with mental disorders: potential percipients of art therapy, as a rule, are already the people with over-developed imagination.
Primitivism leaves wide scope for percipient’s imagination, but does not take imagination too far from reality. This option seems the best for art therapy.
Zagraevsky’s paintings in terms of art therapy compare favorably with most of the paintings of other artists of primitivism, thanks to extraordinary brightness of their color pattern. Muted colors have more countervailing influence on psyche than bright colors, but that is achieved by inhibition of subconscious processes, which in the case of art therapy is rather a contraindication, than an indication: fine art makes better impact on the psyche and nervous system in disinhibited state. This situation places increased demands on the content of the treatment process, because in this state not only positive but also negative images are more easily perceived.
Since Zagraevsky’s paintings reproduce children's creativity, only a positive message is realized in them, as in the vast majority of art works of mentally normal children. Consequently, the pictures of this artist are an effective and safe means of art therapy in a disinhibited state of mind and nervous system. Disinhibited state, in turn, is achieved thanks to the brightness of the color gamut of the artist. There is an upward spiral of therapeutic effects.
Another important positive factor in the impact of paintings of Zagraevsky is their subject – mostly landscapes and still lifes, which are usually more efficient and safe means of art therapy, then portraits and other images of people. This is due to the fact that most disorders of mental and nervous systems are socially conditioned, and patients unconsciously perceive images of people as potential irritants, often hostile. Landscapes and still lifes, by contrast, restore åðó balance of perception of the world.
Some specific plastic features, which the artist uses almost in every picture, are particularly noteworthy. There are:
– lack of light and shade, which creates a sense that the solar or lunar light shines evenly on all sides. Even non-believers associate it with divine light, which is supposed to come from anywhere;
– pasty smear, which makes each picture as if living and raises interest in its long-term scrutiny, including close-up;
– the reverse perspective, which calls the association with iconography and has a positive psychological effect even on non-believers;
– the semicircular horizon, a symbol of the planet Earth, which is the psycho-physiological basis of human personality (let us remember the Greek myth about Antaeus);
– availability of roads and (or) rivers on almost every picture. It is a symbol of motion, i.e. of potential output of a percipient from a negative state;
– location of roads and rivers along diagonals. That causes association with a sinusoid (biological norm of operation of any living organism). Horizontals in this context would have caused negative association with death (horizontal on the electrocardiogram), verticals – with inadequate bursts of bioactivity;
– mostly white or very bright buildings and temples, which indicate the purity of life and thoughts;
– windows, which glow by colored lights day and night. This creates feeling of home comfort and consumer welfare. Different colors of windows represent the mental variety;
– mostly purple roofs, which indicate psychological relationship of everyday life with the sky and the cosmos;
– low and stable trees with big roots, which symbolize stability of psyche and nervous system;
– curved spruces, which amplify sinusoid motifs (see above);
– oval, and sometimes fusiform shape of the sun (moon), which causes associations with outstretched wings of a soaring archangel. That gives a positive psychological effect even on non-believers;
– lack of uniform color planes. Large water surfaces, fields, rocks and walls are composed of many colors, which reinforce in a percipient the sense of mental diversity of living space;
– exceptional brightness of each picture, which is achieved not through the use of any specific paints (the artist uses no "chemical" shades), but through the optimal combination of traditional art materials. This helps the percipient to be aware of the possibility of an independent, drugless going out of a negative state;
– internal steadiness of color pattern, which consists of mandatory "feedback" of each basic color in different parts of the canvas. Such stability has a positive impact on the stability of the psyche and nervous system of percipients.
Theoretical propositions about the effectiveness of Zagraevsky’s painting, as of a means of art therapy, are confirmed by the results of clinical studies. Reproductions of this artist’s pictures were distributed among the patients of different departments of three hospitals in Moscow (psychiatry, pediatrics, cardiology, ENT, gynecology, traumatology, oncology, surgery, therapy, etc.). After a week, these patients were interviewed. 87% of respondents answered that the paintings distracted them from health problems and improved their mood. Required amount of analgesics decreased by 7%. In the departments of oncology, patients’ feelings of depression and anxiety decreased by 14%. In the departments of cardiology, well-being improved at 21% of patients, who suffered from decreased blood pressure.
It is necessary to especially note high efficiency of Zagraevsky’s paintings for the second phase of art therapy (reproduction, expressive art therapy). Using of paintings of the artist as a role model for creative self-expression of patients creates a positive psychological situation, which can be verbalized so: "If a professional artist writes in a way that I could write as a child, so I should not feel embarrassed of my pictures." Such situation increases the confidence of patient in himself.
Clinical studies have shown the following. Patients of one of above mentioned hospitals were given reproductions of paintings by Ilya Repin (realism), Jackson Pollock (abstractionism) and Sergey Zagraevsky (primitivism), and were offered to paint something in a similar style.
Of those, who had received reproductions of Repin’s pictures:
– 30% wrote their own paintings;
– 11% refused because they basically did not want to paint;
– 56% refused, citing the fact that they can not write realistically.
Of those, who had received reproductions of Pollock's pictures:
– 44% wrote their paintings;
– 14% refused because they basically did not want to paint;
– 39% said that they did not want to just put some spots.
Of those, who had received reproductions of Zagraevsky’s pictures:
– the percentage of people, who wrote their own pictures, was much higher (84%);
– 10% refused for the same reasons as in the case of Repin and Pollock (basically did not want to paint);
– Only 3% refused because they fundamentally did not want to write as children.
The above mentioned theoretical concepts and clinical observations identified a number of diseases, in which therapy through Zagraevsky’s art was most effective. For adult patients there are:
– mental disorders;
– disorders of the central and peripheral nervous systems;
– the whole range of neuroses;
– various pathologies of pregnancy;
– alcohol and drug addiction;
– disorders and disturbances of sexual nature;
– diseases of cardiovascular system;
– Alzheimer's disease;
– Parkinson's disease, etc.
Art therapy by the means of Zagraevsky’s paintings is applicable in a similar range of pediatric diseases (of course excluding senile and sexual dysfunctions), supplemented with cerebral palsy.
In order to prevent any diseases (including ensuring of a normal pregnancy) methods of art therapy through the painting of the artist are also recommended.
In this case, individual intolerance to visual arts, in particular, to modern art and art of children, can be considered as contraindicated.
In conclusion, we should recall the words of Friedrich Nietzsche, that the health is not freedom from disease, but a human's ability to cope with it. This ability is actualized under the influence of fine arts in general and Zagraevsky’s paintings. Pictures of this artist have a positive art therapeutic effect and can be recommended as a universal means of art therapy.