This article proposes the term “artist-healer” as a practice done by professionals where art and healing are intertwined in such a way that they are one in the same. While this phenomenon (or genre) of the artist-healer stretches as far back as early Shamans who used artistic tools and performance in their rituals, this article will discuss this genre in the context of the work of Swiss artist-healer, Emma Kunz (1892-1963).
In the case of Kunz, her art and healing practices cannot be separated. Her drawing practice is directly related to her studies in Radiesthesia (divination with a pendulum) which she started in 1910 along with beginning to draw. In 1938 she began to do her first drawings on graph paper and in 1943 wished to set up a site to practice healing, as well as, artistic and spiritual creativity. When working on a drawing she would use her pendulum to direct the geometric design. She later would use these drawings, often on the floor, between the client and her. Each drawing is said to represent a particular theme or question. Kunz often spent hours describing the narrative of each work however, there are only a few recorded examples of these descriptions. It is reported that Kunz could gain knowledge about the client by consulting the drawings using her light jade and silver pendulum. There are a variety of reports of miraculous events and healing surrounding Kunz. She is said to have had visions and clairvoyance in connection with her art making. She is highly regarded in Switzerland which celebrates her at the Emma Zunz Zentrum and Grotto . One grateful client supplied her with all the graph paper and coloured pencils for her drawings .
It is important to acknowledge that while this title involves healing and the arts, it can be seen as related to, but very different from, the practice of art therapy (as well as music or dramatic therapy). While art therapy utilizes the qualities of art-making and appreciation within the practice of a university educated and licensed therapy, “artist-healers” are often viewed as outsiders involved in unlicensed wellness practices. This is why for those involved in practices such as shamanism, intuitive coaching, hypnosis, energy healing, etc. ensure to share with clients a disclaimer stating that their services are not meant to be in replacement of a diagnosis or treatment from a licensed doctor or psychiatrist. This is not to say that wellness practices, do not have benefits or are lesser than but, highlights that it is different from licensed practices, which is important for the client to be made aware of. Many of these practices involve preventative care and help clients to cope with stress, addiction and improve confidence and wellness.
It is also important to note that while some art therapists could conceivably fall into the genre of “artist-healer,” they are not necessarily professional artists/musicians/actors which, for this purpose of this manifesto, is a requirement of the title “artist-healer.” A professional artist is one who has a dedicated practice over many years, has shown in professional artist institutions and museums and is acknowledged by their professional peers. This includes outsider artists, such as Kunz, who has gained significant recognition in the professional art world. It is also the case that some artist-healers don’t have a wellness practice rather, it is within the practice of art making that they create positivity in the world.
Further complicating this term is that an artist-healer often does not refer to themselves as such. This title often comes from another art historian or peer when referring to their practices in the context of art. In this context, “healer” evokes a universal and archetypal image that is useful when encapsulating an artist’s identity. This is very different than using the term “healer” in the context of a wellness practice. In the art world, it does not have legal implications because it is perceived as more of an literary or metaphoric archetype however (in some parts of the world) it might be dangerous to claim that one “heals” when involved in a wellness practice. When working in both worlds of art and wellness, it is safer to call oneself a practitioner. Those working in wellness often avoid claiming to heal for this reason. Many ofter the opinion they are really teachers aiding the client to assist themselves as their own healer. There is also the perspective that to refer to oneself as a healer can take power away from the client in thinking of themselves as their own healer. Despite this, many clients will say that the practitioner “healed” them or is a “healer” and this is how the term continues to be used in the secular realm.
Kunz never referred to herself as a “healer,” she preferred the title “researcher.” In 1947 she was harassed by the Medical Officer for the Canton of Aaragu, resulting in her desire to move on from "healing" to calling it "research." She saw her explorations with art and esoteric work with clients as part of her investigations into the natural laws of the universe. She also struggled with where she fit between the worlds of art, academic research and healing. Dr. Ernst Ganz, a geologist and psychologist, made use of her knowledge during lectures at universities in Switzerland and elsewhere but, never mentioned her name. When discussing Kunz’ body of work, Anton C. Meier et. al., refers to her as an “Artist-Researcher-Healer” .
For a professional artist working in the art world, there is also the unfortunate risk of coming across as “flaky” by being perceived as having attentions divided between art and healing. This is unfortunate because in the case of “artist-healers” the two practices are actually the same and it can become difficult to discuss one without the other. There are likely many “artist-healers” but, they may keep quiet about the esoteric influences connected to their work. The perception of the artists attentions being divided is a bit of a double standard considered the majority of artists have to work part-time jobs, often teaching out of their studio, in order to support their art career. While Kunz had a full life of assisting clients, she also developed a strong body of work exploring geometric abstraction. It is executed professionally and could be discussed outside of her healing work. Her work stands on its own without knowing her background in other esoteric areas however, knowing about her history is enriching.
In closing, the "artist-healer" is a unique term (and possibly genre) continuing to grow in the historical and contemporary arts. This website will continue to explore "artist-healers," as well as, relevant topics surrounding the phenomenon.
~ D.M. Musgrave
Der heilige Berg. 24. August 2013. http://www.tagblatt.ch/nachrichten/panorama/Der-heilige-Berg;art253654,3511640
The Emma Kunz Zentrum. https://www.emma-kunz.com/en/emma-kunz/
Meier, Anton C. Emma Kunz: Arist-Researcher-Healer. Emma Kunz Sentrum, Wurenlos