Steve Malski and The Power of Art in Healing and Transformation
By Carin Chea
In a society that has a pill for anything and everything, it was a welcomed relief to connect with Steve Malski, a multimedia artist whose newest book, The Power of Art in Healing and Transformation, encourages the use of all art forms as a gateway to physical and emotional well-being.
Inspired by his sister who lived with mental illness, Malski has, in a way, devoted his life to discovering the joy, harmony, and physical healing that comes from engaging with the arts. In a culture that is overly saturated with prescription drugs, Malski's life work is a necessary alternate route for us to take on our way to wellness.
I had the privilege of speaking with Mr. Malski, whose message is one of hope in the knowledge that healing is available and present within ourselves.
Have you always known you would be a multimedia artist and musician? How did it come about?
I was a musician all my life. I started playing piano when I was 5, and started playing professionally when I was 12. I became very interested in science and started a path into a medical career. I got all the prerequisites done for medicine, but it didn't feel right.
So, I took a long trip around the world. I went to India and Europe, and in Europe someone said, "Why don't you go back to music when you get back?" And I did just that.
I also had a lot of education in other areas of the arts. I have an MFA in New Media and Performance, which is the multimedia aspect comes in. But I've always been a musician first.
Who and/or what are your inspirations?
Jazz has always at the corner of my musical foundation. I grew up in a neighborhood filled with musicians. Being close to New York, there was a great jazz station WRVR.
That was on all the time in my house. Oscar Peterson, Dave Brubeck, and a lot of the organ greats - they were my heroes. I also had a teacher who was into jazz. I was fortunate.
What was the inspiration behind your latest book The Power of Art in Healing and Transformation?
My sister was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. I found out right when I came back from my Europe trip and began my career in music. I came home to that and the questions began: What's happening? What's going on here?
That led to a life-long study on the topic of mental illness. There's a key book in this whole thing: An Unquiet Mind by Kay Jamison. It was about artists (many of whom were bipolar or schizophrenic.)
The book led me to the awareness that by creating art, these people were able to keep themselves even-keeled. That led me to even further studies in the field. I thought: if it works for them, why isn't art used as more as a therapeutic tool in general?
How exactly was art used as a healing tool in prehistoric times?
I began to research and I got into the history of what an artist actually is. Our earliest artists were shamans, who were also the healers in their respective cultures. This was the thesis I did for my MFA.
I went back to the Paleolithic Era and realized that the shamans of the tribes were the doctors and the artists. They were the people that did paintings, staged representations. Shamans operated through dramatic vignettes or drumming to induce a trance state. I also began to wonder what was happening in other cultures.
For instance, the Greeks have a god of healing, Asclepius. Before they went into the hospital [the clinics in ancient Greece], they would go through a stage play where it was suggested that their god, Asclepius, would heal them.
They used these staged plays to convince their patients that they'd be healed. There are many ancient cultures - almost all of the 3rd world cultures - have shamans who use a variety of artistic devices to bring people out of whatever is holding them back, whether it is physical or emotional, and to lead them forward in their lives.
Through this study of various cultures, I became aware of the power of art.
Further studies revealed that, for instance, music will influence the mind. It will create activity in the mind. When you give a person the stimulus of music, my studies show that the brain pretty much lights up on both hemispheres almost fully. It's the only thing that can cause the brain to do that. You're charging the entire energy system by playing music. It helps us in ways that nothing else can.
Music and the other arts do things to us which no pill, no chemotherapy, can do. That said, medicine is of first importance of course, but we're missing out in society on utilizing our full resources to heal people.
Tell us about the journey of writing your book.
After going to school for pre - medicine, and going around the world, and then seeing that my sister was ill, I sought a way to prevent this from happening to me. My music became the stabilizing point in my existence. I did music and went back to school and got a BFA. I wrote my first paper on the subject on the psychology of mental illness. That was in the late 80s.
I went to Europe again and there I continued my musical studies. The questions were always with me. I wrote a play about it as well, about a man who's bipolar and discovers various means of controlling it, with one of the ways being practicing his art. Afterward, I spent 20 years performing in Europe.
I came back to the states and went to a university with an MFA program. I wrote a thesis, which has become this book. The thesis is basically the historical and philosophical foundation for the book and also a multimedia dramatic work I did called "The Director."
We have to remember that a part of mental illness is the inability to accept help. Sometimes the mentally ill have difficulty reaching out, beyond their scarring, to accept help. I would suggest things to my sister, and she wouldn't go for it. I don't think she could. It's a hope that some people will read the book and be encouraged to go beyond the walls that have been built around them.
I hope the book itself is a healing experience, and the artwork in the book has been chosen wit this in mind. There are messages in the art that will help people read and understand and feel a little bit better about life and perhaps bring them to another level of wholistic integrity.
The healing that can be done by getting a person emotionally more comfortable will help to get them physically more comfortable.
Out of all the artistic mediums you practice, is there one in particular you feel especially connected or close to?
Music is the basis of everything. When I write (prose or lyrics) it's very similar to playing music. The music is the foundation of everything I do.
You are also a filmmaker. Tell us about your short film The Director, and how that came to be.
One thesis project I completed became the book "The Power of Art in Healing and Transformation", and the other one was multimedia stage play "The Director". The original play I wrote in Europe was 150 pages long. That became The Director and the dialogue we used in the film was only 1 page [of the 150 pages] Much of the dialogue was replaced by songs.
I entered the archival video of the multimedia musical, not the film festival here - The Golden Door Film Festival - and it was nominated for best music video.
Do you have any projects in the works you'd like to tell us about?
To enlarge the video and the stage play (The Director) is the next thing on the shelf. I have various musical projects; I'm in a band and it's a very good jazz combo. I'm also about to record a solo piano CD. I also gig all the time. I'm always being called to go out and play.
I plan two more books in this series. One would be The Power of Art in Education and Learning, and the next one is The Power of Art in Politics and Diplomacy. Those are projects I have lined up. I would love to complete the trilogy.
Is there anything else you'd like your readers to know about?
There's a lady named Anna Halprin - a professional dancer and choreographer. She was drawing pictures of her body, and noticed a grey spot around her ovary that she drew. So, she had a scan done and it turned out to be a cancerous tumor! She discovered it herself in her intuitive drawings.
Over a period of years, she began to dance with this growth in mind. She also continued to draw, and slowly, the tumor disappeared from her drawings and she went into remission.
I don't say to everyone, "Go draw some pictures before you go to chemo." But, if we're in touch with ourselves, we have a much better chance of solving our own health problems, and perhaps preventing them from arising.
The Power of Art in Healing and Transformation takes readers on a journey of self-discovery, healing, and hope.
To find out more about Steve Malski's journey as a musician, artist, and author, please visit www.SteveMalskiNiles.com.
The Power of Art in Healing and Transformation can be purchased through Amazon at https://amzn.to/2xRiI3R.
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