As self-taught artist Susan Rios watched her artistic talents and works blossom into a nationally acclaimed professional painting career over 30 years, she began to realize her painting content and interests were also leading her on a gradiently deeper personal journey beyond her daily occupation and into the world of the healing arts.
Well-established as one of America’s fine artists, Rios found that the many long hours and years of working behind the canvas had left her feeling personally alone and empty. Although her works had always served as a conductor for her audience to ponder personal happiness, spiritualism and the meaning of life, Rios realized one day that she too had more exploration to do for herself in those subjects. In a search to heal herself, she realized she curiously gained healing for herself as she helped others heal as well.
Rios describes her epiphany this way, “One day I suddenly found myself standing alone, feeling unseen as a person hidden behind my canvas. I felt out of balance. I felt like the wizard in Oz,” laughs Rios. “‘Pay no attention to that [person] behind the curtain!’
“I felt I needed to connect with people in a more spiritual way on a daily basis. I knew that my years of work had made a major impact on many people, but I suddenly felt it wasn’t personal enough for me. I could either continue standing alone painting by
myself, or step out from behind the canvas and communicate with people, one on one. I needed to feel more personally involved helping people heal. I wanted to try to help make a personal difference in people’s lives that I could see first-hand. And I decided to use my art to do that.”
Though Rios’ paintings seem to emanate from a person who has known only life’s peace and joy, Rios has won some hard-fought battles herself. With years of dark memories to
overcome of a tumultuous early home life, an alcoholic dad, and a difficult personal divorce, Rios reflects she labored hard to acquire the discipline and spiritual willpower to paint hope through the dark shadows and depressions of her past.
“Early on, I realized that my paintings were metaphors for States of Mind,” says Rios. “I’ve spent years creating spaces where you can think your best thoughts, and there is a feeling that all things are possible. Places I never had at home. . . And safe, reassuring places where others can go to discover who they really are.”
“I also learned that people think everyone else’s life is easy, but theirs. The truth is we all have challenges and negative voices to work through in order to find our inner peace, the core of who we really are.”
At 58, though still planning to continue her professional painting career, Rios decided she needed to expand her horizons to add more personal joy and purpose in her life. One day, while discussing her feelings with some friends who worked in the field of metaphysics, Rios got inspired to do something to contribute to people in a more direct way by using art as a type of therapy.
Rios quickly named her own brand of art therapy “Mindful Art” and began to promote her new endeavor to her friends and family. She enthusiastically developed seminars and painting classes that allowed participants to find spiritual and mental healing through developing their artistic talents using Rios expert guidance. Her programs are dedicated to helping others remove life’s invalidations and negativity through the joys of painting and more clearly observing life in the process.
“It is amazing what happens to someone when they look at the world close enough to draw it,” remarks Rios. “Old barriers drop away. They gain more personal confidence.”
Art therapy, a field that has existed as long as mankind itself, has worked its way into a variety of fields. Although it has been used with increasing frequency in the field of metaphysics, it has also recently been re-catagorized as a human service profession in the field of Psychology.
According to Dr. Greg Benson, M.D. Director of the Art Therapy Program at X University in Los Angeles, “Art therapy is based on the idea that the creative act itself can be healing. From being used as a diagnostic tool, to expanding communication skills, increasing self-expression, reducing stress, handling conflict resolution and more, art therapy is well-established as an effective tool in the medical and psychological arenas. It has been successfully used to help manage physical and emotional problems and pain by using creative activities to better express emotions and deal with them.”
Psychotherapist Manny Roberts explains that art therapy is the job of helping patients release unconscious thoughts and express themselves more clearly through their creations so they can better handle their emotions as they relate to their art.”
“I found that Susan’s art class made me less judgmental of myself,” said Kathy Green, a recent student of one of Rios’ Mindful Art seminars. “I seemed to quickly regain an inner peace that I didn’t even realize I’d lost in the last number of years.”
“My ability to notice color and sound seemed to improve after taking Susan’s class,” noted Nancy Bergstrom. “I actually feel more connected to the people around me and life in general.”
Rios, inspired by her realization that with communication comes healing, has found her latest endeavor returning more personal rewards that she could ever have imagined.
Some people feel they have a mission in life, others just a job. For the artist involved in the healing arts, when art is used as healing, a masterpiece can be created that actually becomes oneself.