Making Sense

Beauty, Creativity, and Healing

by Bandy Lee (Volume editor) Nancy Olson (Volume editor) Thomas Duffy (Volume editor)
©2015 Monographs X, 265 Pages


Regardless of field, from the art world to healthcare delivery, there is a growing need for practically useful theory and theoretically informed practice. The time is ripe for a collaborative, creative conversation among thinkers and doers who are concerned about the larger world and our role in it. Making Sense: Beauty, Creativity, and Healing is a collection of essays and creative expressions written and produced in relation to a colloquium that tried to address these matters at the Whitney Humanities Center of Yale University. Beginning with a powerful essay on the individually and globally therapeutic qualities of art and beauty by Elaine Scarry of Harvard University, this volume brings together a diversity of theoretically minded scholars, scientists, artists, and healers. In the form of critical and reflective essays, alongside images, poetry, and fiction, this book allows the reader to experience the bursts of ideas and sensory triggers that respond to and extend the artistic installations and performances of the colloquium – and welcomes the reader into the conversation.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the Editors
  • About the Book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • List of Illustrations
  • Prologue
  • Introduction
  • Beauty
  • Beauty and the Pact of Aliveness
  • Beauty, Longing, and Fear
  • Thoughts on the Colloquium on Beauty
  • Extraterrestrial Beauty: Science of the Sun
  • Moon Poems
  • From the ‘Full Moon’ to the ‘Subservient Sun’: Expressions of Beauty and Creativity in Persian Poetry and Calligraphy
  • Beauty and the Experience of Creation
  • Creativity
  • Writing Trauma: Narrative Catharsis in Homer, Shakespeare, and Joyce
  • The Power of Art: Refiguring Pain
  • From the Battlefield
  • The Beauty of Hangeul Calligraphy
  • A Vocation for Light
  • A Day Before Painting
  • Making Sense of Making Sense: Healing Hands
  • Healing
  • Art and Beauty
  • Nature as a Source for Human Healing
  • Neural Proxies: Designing Environments that Can Heal
  • Theater, Creativity, and Therapy
  • On Jean Frémiot and His Photographic Work with Adolescents
  • Creativity and Innovation in the Fight to Restore Justice to All
  • Socially Engaged Art and the Mechanics of Civic Life
  • Early Childhood for Adults: Ways Back to Creativity, Beauty, and Possibly Healing
  • Mandalas as Spiritual Medicine
  • Contributors
  • Index


Figure 1. Linda Cummings, “Hovering” 2010, pigment print on cotton rag paper, 50" × 33" (from the series, “Stirring the Waters”)

Figure 2. Linda Cummings, “Surfacing” 2010, pigment print on cotton rag paper, 50" × 33" (from the series, “Stirring the Waters”)

Figure 3. Linda Cummings, “Uprising” 2010, pigment print on cotton rag paper, 50" × 33" (from the series, “Vortex”)

Figure 4. Katy Martin, “Bada’s Mountain” 2011, pigment print on cotton rag paper, 72" × 44"

Figure 5. Katy Martin, “After Bada Shanren #2” 2008, pigment print on cotton rag paper, 60" × 36"

Figure 6. Katy Martin, “Water Mountain #2” 2010, pigment print on cotton rag paper, 32" × 42"

Figure 7. SYREN Modern Dance, “Creating Wayside.” Photography credit: Christopher Duggan

Figure 8. SYREN Modern Dance, Artemis Chamber Ensemble, and visual artist Xéna Lee, “Last of the Leaves.” Photography credit: Christopher Duggan

Figure 9. A sunspot. Photography credit: Vacuum Tower Telescope, NSO, NOAO

Figure 10. The measurement that convinced Hale of the magnetic nature of sunspots is shown here, where the special pattern of wavelength splitting predicted by Zeeman is observed in the light coming from the sunspot. (Photo from Hale’s 1919 paper in The Astrophysical Journal)

Figure 11. The complex interaction between a strong magnetic field bundle that intrudes into the Sun’s convective flows and the rising and falling fluid motions forms the intricate detail of a sunspot. (credit: J. Thomas and N.O. Weiss)

Figure 12. Rumi: “I desire a [hu]man”… (insān-am ārizū-st…). Calligraphy by Yadolllah Kaboli, courtesy of artist

Figure 13. Rub-al-Khali dunes and salt flats satellite image (68 miles). Courtesy of Butler, G.P., 1969 ← ix | x →

Figure 14. Polarized Light Microscopy: Anhydrite. Courtesy of Michael W. Davidson and The Florida State University

Figure 15. Korean brush calligraphy styles

Figure 16. “Portrait of William Davenport” by Roselle Davenport (1965)

Figure 17. Aevum II, Cornelia Kubler Kavanaugh, Connecticut, Caption: “a state that lies between the eternity of God and the temporal experience of material beings,” note in the background, Dahlias, Cynthia Packard, Massachusetts. Caption: “This beautiful bouquet of flowers—serves as a symbol of endearment as a landmark and wayfinding tool at the entry to the Smilow Cancer Center for Women.” Photography Credit: Rosalyn Cama

Figure 18. Mini MARI Great Round

Figure 19. Mandala drawn by the author, entitled “The Great Spiral”

Figure 20. Photographic art by Regis de Silva. “François Truffaut— Grave at Cimetière de Montmatre” 2012

Figure 21. Photographic art by Grace Lee. “Emerald” Part I, 2012

Figure 22. Photographic art by Grace Lee. “Emerald” Part II, 2012 ← x | 1 →


by Thomas Duffy and Nancy Olson

“My heart leaps up when I behold

A rainbow in the sky:

So was it when my life began;

So is it now I am a man;

So be it when I shall grow old,

Or let me die!

The Child is father of the Man;

And I could wish my days to be

Bound each to each by natural piety.” William Wordsworth, March 26, 1802 1

With ordinary words, images of nature and bodily sensation, Wordsworth speaks to us of—and for—encounters with beauty in the course of human life. With simplicity he captures our joy and exaltation in apprehending beauty, as well as intimations of beauty’s role in creativity and healing—themes explored in this volume of Making Sense.

“My heart leaps up”

Beauty has powers beyond the aesthetic and the sensual. It calls forth a “leaping up” that engages and extends the entire being of the beholder. Elaine Scarry, in her contribution, “Beauty and the Pact of Aliveness,” notes that when we chance upon the beautiful, we escape the confinement of ordinary self-experience through what Iris Murdoch calls “unselfing,” and Simone Weil, a “radical decentering.” We feel ourselves happily marginal while taking pleasure in beauty. Such unselfing or decentering may further be described as feeling ← 1 | 2 → drawn to merge or harmonize with beauty. One is reminded of “the oceanic feeling,” a term Freud borrowed from the poet, Romain Rolland, to describe an original state of being at one with the world, a feeling we seek to recapture throughout the life cycle.2 Our encounters with beauty help us to recover, for a time, such feelings of newness, fullness, emptiness or wholeness.

“The Child is father of the Man”

The word recover suggests a refinding or returning to a previous state that has been lost. A state of health, perhaps, hence we speak of recovery from injuries or illness. Scarry posits injury, not ugliness, as the opposite of beauty. Encounters with beauty generate efforts to add to the beauties of the world: to procreate, reproduce, create, conserve, preserve, repair and otherwise contribute to beauty’s proliferation (pro-life-ration). Connections between beauty and the kindred activities of creativity develop with us over the lifespan. The way is marked by change and losses, wrought by aging, illness, loss of function and loss of objects (persons, places, things and feelings) held dear.

“Or let me die!”

In his book on poetry, Loss and Symbolic Repair, Andrew Brink notes that living creatures are equipped with creative processes to be used in the service of adaptation, repair and life enhancement. There is creativity in repair, in the tendency of living tissue to right itself.

Human beings are not passive in this process, but rather adaptive: “Their responses commonly manifest themselves as acts of personal creation.”3 Creation—as repair—becomes a means of wresting strength from frailty.4 Brink notes that “far from being simply an agreeable decoration for life, poetry often serves as a means of keeping in life at all.”5 Similarly, Sigmund Freud would see making art as adaptive, and Donald Winnicott could say, “It is creative apperception more than anything else that makes the individual feel that his life ← 2 | 3 → is worth living.”6

“Bound each to each by natural piety”

Wordsworth’s encounter with beauty in nature is a secular epiphany that has its modern counterpart in the philosophy of biophilia. In his contribution, “Birthright: Nature as a Source for Human Healing,” Steven Kellert examines biophilia (from the Latin, love of life) as our human inclination to affiliate with the natural world. Biophilia sees man as embedded in nature and responsible to look after the health of the world; the concept links the fields of architecture, environmental ethics, medicine and philosophy. Encounters with nature not only please our hearts and senses, but they also have a salubrious, healing effect on our bodies, a means to be sustained and to flourish. This resonates with Native American beliefs that there is grace in nature; it surrounds us and is accessible to all. But harmony can exist in this relationship with nature only when there is a reciprocal and ethical caring for the environment. As W. H. Auden observes, “A culture is no better than its woods.”7 Love of nature needs to be entwined with respect for nature to preserve this access to grace, healing and wholeness.

“I could wish my days to be”

This volume of Making Sense is undergirded by beauty in nature but not confined to that domain. Beauty surrounds us; paradoxically, beauty may dwell even in the unbeautiful. Making Sense collects such occasions of beauty in our world and sharpens our aesthetic eye for recognition of these pleasures. The urge to dance, the play of light on water, the body as canvas, the prosody of poetry—there are many encounters herein to make hearts “leap up.” This volume helps insure that the reader will be not only a seeker of beauty, but one capable in turn of receiving beauty’s gifts. There is an active looking to the landscape that brings the rainbow into view. But this glorious aftermath of a storm is fully visible only to those who can be open to the experience. “Beauty, Creativity and Healing” embraces the diverse dimensions that enhance our ← 3 | 4 → ability to participate in beauty, to leap up and grasp its implications for creative lives and healing. ← 4 | 5 →

1William Wordsworth, Poetical Works, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1910, p. 62.

2Sigmund Freud, Civilization and Its Discontents, The Standard Edition of the Complete Works of Sigmund Freud, edited and translated by James Strachey, London: Hogarth Press, 1930, p. 68.

3Andrew Brink, Loss and Symbolic Repair: A Psychological Study of Some English Poets, Ontario: The Cromlech Press, 1977, p. 5.

4Brink, p. 4.

5Brink, p. 3.

6Donald Winnicott, “Creativity and Its Origins,” in Playing and Reality, London: Tavistock Publications, 1971, p. 65.

7W. H. Auden, Bucolics: II, Woods, in The Shield of Achilles, New York and London: Faber and Faber, 1955.


X, 265
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2015 (May)
Art Healthcare Therapy
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2015. X, 265 pp., num. ill.

Biographical notes

Bandy Lee (Volume editor) Nancy Olson (Volume editor) Thomas Duffy (Volume editor)

Bandy Lee (M.D.; M.Div.) is a violence studies specialist and painter. She currently teaches students representing prisoners and asylum seekers through Yale Law School as a faculty member of the School of Medicine. As a painter, her activities have spanned from co-founding the DDB Gallery in New York City, to exhibiting her own work in the United States, Europe, and the Middle East. Nancy Olson (M.D.) is Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, Coordinator of the Muriel Gardiner Program for Psychoanalysis and the Humanities at Yale University, and a graduate of the Western New England Institute for Psychoanalysis. Before obtaining her medical degree, she studied art history at Wellesley and Yale. Thomas P. Duffy (M.D.) is Professor of Medicine/Hematology and Director of the Medical Humanities and the Arts Program at Yale University School of Medicine. He is a Fellow at the Whitney Humanities Center and is an Ethicist Scholar in the Yale Interdisciplinary Bioethics Center. The Humanities Program fosters the intersection of the arts and humanities with a yearlong lecture series, theatrical productions, exhibitions, literature and writing seminars, a Medical Symphony, in addition to art classes.


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