On art, mental health and creative healing - an interview with Ilona Sturm


* Ilona Sturm was born in New York City and lived and worked in Rome before settling in the San Francisco Bay Area. She began painting while living in Mexico City during her university years studying political theory. Upon returning to the US, she dedicated herself to pursing art.

During the eighties, she joined an Artist Brigade to Nicaragua and collaborated on a mural in Esteli. Shortly afterwards, she began art school where she studied painting and photography. After attending the Skowhegan School of Painting, Sturm moved to Italy and exhibited in numerous painting and installation shows.

In the Fall of 2018, Sturm was an artist-in-residence at the The Lakkos Project in Heraklion, Crete where she painted a mural and camped out at the Archeology Museum.

Sturm is a colorist. Her use of color is intuitive, subjective, and improvisational. She is interested in the history of writing, alphabets, and ancient art, particularly Minoan. As an artist-alphabetophile, she marries symbols and images from her imagination with 'found' pictorial artifacts to create a personal language. She also researches how meaning is constructed through the forces of historical, cultural, and subjective elements. Find more about Ilona Sturm here

Can art be a successful way for people to explore and articulate their mental health problems?

Doing art can be very healing. There is scientific research and anecdotal evidence to show that expressive arts provide an excellent way to explore and, ultimately, heal from psycho-emotional challenges. Painting, drawing, music, sculpture, dance, theater, writing, etc. all provide pathways to respond to life more full-heartedly. The ancients knew this. Troubled people may engage in habitual patterns of returning to thoughts in cyclical and unhelpful ways. Rumination is reflection without transformation. Artistic activity can interrupt and overcome ‘ruminating’ by activating our physicality, our creativity, and our emotional awareness.

As Holocaust survivor Dr. Edith Eger writes, in her book The Choice, “There is no healing without feeling.” When we express ourselves, we trigger our emotions and the amygdala, which is the part of our brains where our deepest, oldest traumas and memories lie. Experiences that are often out of reach of our more conscious selves, are stored in what we call our physical body. These experiences are made more accessible and available for transformation through artistic expression.