Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

PHD - Doctor of Philosophy


Expressive Therapies


This phenomenological inquiry focused on the experiences of 12 professional women artists diagnosed with major medical illnesses, mostly cancer. Data from three in-­‐depth interviews with each participant indicated that their beliefs, personal strengths, learned skills, and lived experiences were fundamental to their commitment to art as a way of life. The overarching question of whether long-­‐term involvement in creative practices acted as a catalyst for resilience during and after treatments became the seminal exploration in this study. Data analysis used methods for qualitative research devised by Moustakas (1994), Giorgi (1985), and Forinash (2012), and a conversational approach in interviews suggested by Kavale and Brinkmann (2009). Findings suggest that uniquely learned artistic skills and an evolved creative process involving uncertainty, risk-­‐taking, experimentation, flexibility, open-­‐mindedness, determination, and perseverance served these artists well when they faced life-­‐threatening illnesses. Their creative endeavors gave them a sense of direction, identity, and agency based on their commitment, beliefs, and intentions. These artists were proactive in their artwork and in dealing with diagnoses and treatment options even as their priorities and energies shifted to care and healing. Visual communication let them give voice to personal expression and acts of imagination that held essential purpose and meaning. The findings suggest that these artists had art practices that were life-­‐affirming and that art-­‐making for them was evidence of vitality. Although art-­‐making changed during acute illness, all participants resumed art practices, with adjustments, during and after treatments. Most participants engaged in new or changed forms of expression. Art experiences opened possibilities for renewal in health as well as in ill health. The study demonstrated that the creative process, accessed through art-­‐making by these artists, can have a therapeutic effect, a placebo effect, with life resumed or at the end of life. This investigation suggests that physicians, clinicians, healthcare workers, and creative art therapists could engage and encourage their patients in creative endeavors that offer possible placebo effects while accompanying them through illness and assisting in ways of psychological healing that are age-­old.

Number of Pages


Included in

Art Therapy Commons




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