DSP conceptual image 1

The meaning of crises

Lately I have participated in an event that centred around the crisis of meaning and the arts at the Malta Society of Arts, hosted by Mr. Joe Philippe Abela. It became clear that the collapse of meaning is the space for artistic intervention because it is precisely the location where new meaning emerges. This is true to all forms of crises and is especially so for illness. In the play Side Effects, the scholar Alberto Sandoval-Sánchez (1993) describes the alienation and fear he felt when he face the monstrosity of his illness. He wrote,

In the beginning

I just sat there.

I exiled myself

into a labyrinth of fear

and dead ends…

It was not death but the phantom of death

opening a door

making me go around and around

in a revolving door that faced emptiness:


there is no way back…

It is a feeling of terminal loss

for what is left behind…

The senselessness of illness needs to be in a way transcended and in order to do so one needs to come back to meaning. This is a long and difficult process, one that should be sustained by empathic connection with significant others and therapists themselves. The visual language becomes a means of mediation and a way of showing understanding when even words fail. Here presence of others and of nature itself becomes the only comfort. The scope for art within a hospital setting is thus to encourage meaning formation and is not a way of replacing therapeutic dialogue and the therapist’s presence. It is rather a tool the professional can use to sustain one’s practice.