Art Healing


Healing with the arts final project – Florida State University

Kristoffer Kullengren

For many years I was an athlete competing at fairly high levels in a number of different sports. Becoming good at something gave me acknowledgement, which we all need, as well as a sense of self value and a very clear idea of how good I was.

I have mentored young men with no clear direction in life using martial arts, sports and work as a way of focusing and achieving purpose and self-awareness.  I did this because I myself have used these tools to quiet my very chaotic mind and to balance out the doubts and the fears that are so deeply rooted in me.

Then one day this all changed. As I was heading out on my morning jog I felt a strange sensation in my knee. Not to worry, it is just a little hiccup, my body telling me I am doing too much. So I stop and I go home and think I will just rest for a couple of days and get right back at it. 3 days later I am heading out the door on a beautiful sunny day with a big smile on my face since I love my morning run. 3 minutes in and my knee locks up and will not bend properly anymore.  Ok, not enough rest I think so I decide to take a full week off.  6 months later and I still have trouble walking as well as standing up for prolonged times. This might sound like nothing. I am still healthy and have full use of my body and I am not dying, except in the philosophical sense that we are all dying of course. If you imagine though that I have built a large portion of my life on my physical prowess and the satisfaction that has given me to be able to cope with the ups and downs of life that we all deal with then perhaps you could get a small idea of the loss and confusion I am feeling, who am I?

I have been painting on and off for about 10 years now. Selling some pieces and giving others away. For me the process of sitting down with someone to pick a painting that resonates with them and adds some kind of value to their life is very gratifying to me. I never really took it that seriously since somewhere deep inside me I still had this illusion that I could become a world class athlete in perhaps ultra-distance running which is something that you can actually do well even at an advanced age.

But now, with my body broken what was I to do? Once again I turned to art and started not only painting again but trying to learn more about the trade itself. Colors, viscosity, brushes, strokes, techniques and just about everything else that might help me become a better painter. Perhaps you see the pattern already but I approached art the way I would approach a sport.  Methodical, organized and with a clear plan of how I was going to get to the top.

I signed up for this course with the aim of learning more about how arts are being used in healing so that perhaps I could help to heal others. My mother is a nurse and a caregiver and a very loving person who spent her life healing others so I guess it is only natural that I have inherited this part from her.  I also have this idea of taking art and turning it into a learning experience for children who I feel in today’s world get a lack of real hands on practice due to technology taking over not only our private lives but also our classrooms.


Yet as I was going through the lectures and hearing the stories and the way that others have used art to heal themselves and others I came to a very profound realization. I need to heal myself before I can ever learn to heal others. I need to come to terms with the person that I have become and the body that I have been given and be confident in this for anyone to even bother listening to me.

So I decided to set out on a quest of finding out who I really am. They say that you are the average of your closest five friends so I took my notebook and went to meet my five closest friends asking them two simple questions.

What do you think is positive about me?

What do you think is negative about me?

This was not an easy thing to do.  Asking what people like about you is fairly easy and as we are taught to find positive things about people you can find something positive to say about almost anyone. The negative part however is not that straight forward. Not only is it very scary to ask people that you care about, and you hope care about you, what they don’t like about you. It is actually quite difficult for them to give negative feedback since they hold back and don’t want to hurt your feelings.

In the end I managed however and a picture of how people see me began to emerge. People used the same keywords for the positive side, fair, kind, organized, as well as the negative side, protective, defensive, prideful. I realized that these are all things that I know about myself and that I try to work on but of course we don’t change our personalities as much as we would like to think so old habits die hard.

Knowing that my view of myself was not totally different from what the world thinks gave me new confidence as well as reconfirmation of the fact that the things I am trying to improve about myself are actually the ones I should be working on.

Painting for me has become the default go to medium to deal with my feelings as well as to express myself since I don’t have the same fluidity with words as I do with my brush. On the canvas I am free to express how I want without judgement and I therefore chose to express the aggregate of my findings from my friends in two pieces of art.

The art


The Positive

To the point and organized my attributes feat neatly into the four corner categories. My creativity is always overflowing and I am the go to person when people need new ideas or proposals so the image is not simply square but also features the middle of the rainbow on the left since the world is not black and white but shades of full color.

The heart is radiating but shines only within its own box since (as can be seen in the negative) I have shut it off from the world to avoid emotional pain.



The Negative

I am like a hedgehog with my quills always out. Never do I relax my guard for fear that people will know that inside the hard outer shell beats a soft scarred heart. I have trusted many and had the trust betrayed again and again which is the reason my defense is so strong.  Showing weakness feels like defeat and I have a need of being seen as immensely strong and an immovable object.  Who to trust?

Perhaps it starts with trusting myself..

To conclude

I am an artist and I have always thought of myself as sort of the counterbalance to all the evil and negativity in the world. Like a white knight with a flaming sword holding the dark powers at bay. The struggle between love and darkness is eternal and even though love will always prevail it does not mean that we can step away from the battle or darkness will surely rule on this earth.

Perhaps I can not be the athlete I wanted to be any more so instead I can find my identity through my art.

I am an artist

I am a healer