Special Report: The Art of Healing

The art of healing.

Northern Michigan art students are partnering with cancer patients to tell their story.

Recently students from the Interlochen Arts Academy sat down with a cancer patient to draw and paint him while he shared his journey.

 That art is now part of a new display at the Cowell Family Cancer center in Traverse City and it’s helping cancer patients become survivors.

“It was quite interesting to see what they came up with,” said Keith French.

These pieces of art tell a story. A story of a fight and a story of hope. They tell the story of Keith French’s battle with stage four Hodgins Lymphoma that started back in October of 2013.

“My cancer came as a total surprise. I had no idea I had cancer. Hope is the number one thing you can ask for,” said French.

It’s been three years since Keith has been out of treatment. Earlier this year he sat down with students from the Interlochen Arts Academy who are in the Aesthetics of Health Class. As Keith told his story, students, including Ruoyu Gong created this artwork featuring him.

 “The function of art making for me, because I was brought up painting traditional, so the function of art in the very beginning like my art career it’s for enjoyment. I didn’t realize until taking this course that painting can actually help the healing process, it can calm the person down no matter if it’s the artist in the process of making or patients who are going through therapies,” noted Gong.

Students then hung their work in the Cowell Family Cancer Center. Keith says being surrounded by artwork with a message during cancer treatment can make a tremendous difference. He hopes the portraits of him can help others along their journey.

“I hope they realize that it is hope, hope is a lot to do with when you get diagnosed. I hope that when people come in and they look at these that they realize that yes, this person is a survivor I see in the painting and the portrait,” said Keith.

Katie Horvath, Manager of Support Services has played a big role in making art part of cancer treatment at Munson.

“It’s been very rewarding on a personal level, I’m a breast cancer survivor myself. We know that that evidence is there that it does increase healing and I think even more than what science measures, it benefits even beyond what’s measurable. People sometimes will close their eyes during the music and say I forgot I was at a cancer center, I forgot I was getting treatment,” said Horvath.

Something Keith can attest to.

“It takes your mind off it for a while because you’re sitting with a group of younger students that are actually producing a portrait of you.  They had a lot of questions, I hope they bring away that in today’s medicine there is a lot of hope and things,” recalled Keith.

A message not lost on these young artists.

“I think the function of my painting is very direct and observational. I want people to look at it and see first of all what the object is, which is mostly figurative and instill a sense of comfort. Furthermore it is a reflection of how new people who recently got into this cancer setting, their reflection,” said Gong.

Reflection and inspiration that can mean more hope, more survivors, and more art carrying stories like Keith’s.

“I know that when I walk in and look at a couple of those pieces I’ll probably smile and say that I’m very fortunate that God left me here to continue on,” said French.

Munson will hold an open house for the art display this Friday from 5-7 and it will remain open to the public until the fall.

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