Twist Out Cancer Exhibition Demonstrates the Healing Properties of Art Therapy

art therapy: Brushes with Cancer, Melinda Deuster and Elisa Boughner

Art heals. Its potent magical powers can lift the darkest of clouds, stimulate a world of memories, and bring levity to those who need it most.

“Color provokes a psychic vibration. Color hides a power still unknown but real, which acts on every part of the human body,” Wassily Kandinsky once said.

Decades of research prove the medicinal-like benefits of creating art. Art therapy, for all generations, abilities, and conditions, has countless positive effects on the human condition.

Nonprofit Twist Out Cancer is a global community that provides psychological support though the arts to those touched by cancer. Its signature program, Brushes with Cancer, returns to Chicago Nov. 3 for the sixth annual art exhibition and gala, held at Chez.

The Brushes with Cancer program has grown tremendously since its inception six years ago, making its debut in both Tel Aviv and Montreal. 

The unique art experience is a celebration of survivorship and hope, which pairs previvors, survivors, and caregivers with an artist. Over a four to six month period, the artist will work with their “inspiration” to produce a unique piece of art that creatively expresses an individual’s journey and experience battling cancer. The transformative program concludes with the art exhibition and gala, where the masterpieces are auctioned off.

“Cancer throws you into a new life,” Melinda Deuster, a 2018 inspiration, says. “First into the gray unknown foggy water, changing you, changing your family. It’s much like a death which forces you into a new life, a new way of being, a new way of breathing, a new way of living, a new way of loving. Clinging to a faith greater than I, we navigated the muck and weeds at the bottom of the lake, continually swimming to the surface where there is clarity and sunshine. Arriving at acceptance of what is new. New life, breath, living, loving, finding the blessings along the way, because there are many, you just have to look.”

Deuster was paired with artist Elisa R. Boughner, who was born in the United States, raised in Mexico, and studied art in the U.S. and Europe. Her work reflects a combination of each culture. Both women currently reside in Glenview and are participants in the 2018 program.

art therapy: Brushes with Cancer, Elisa Boughner and Melinda Deuster
L to R: Artist Boughner and inspiration Deuster share a moment in the final reveal (Photos courtesy of Brushes with Cancer.)

In 1992, Deuster was diagnosed with malignant melanoma. Twenty-four years later, in 2016, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. “Going from surviving to thriving; I have a faith greater than I; I am recovering; I am resilient; I am empowered,” she says. 

Make It Better explored the artistic process and artist-inspiration relationship harnessed by Brushes with Cancer.

Make It Better: Is it difficult to share your story with someone you just met? 

Melinda Deuster, Inspiration: I don’t have any problem with the “idea” of sharing my story. I’ve learned through this life journey that I’m a pretty open person. That being said, I was exhausted after spending a couple of hours relaying my story to Elisa. When we were both in tears, I apologized to her for dragging her through this with me. It made me realize just how much I’ve been through when telling it all in one sitting, and to have come out the other side, resilient and grateful. 

Can you describe the creative process? Do you work together?

Melinda Deuster, Inspiration: As the “inspiration,” I have an image in my head of what Elisa could paint. I’m looking forward to the unveiling. We did NOT work together on the art piece. Part of the beauty of this process is putting your story out there, letting go, and see what happens. 

Elisa Boughner, Artist: To create any work that is meaningful to an individual, you first have to get to know that person. In the same manner, the subject has to get to know the artist and the work they create. Sometimes the work and the personality you are trying to capture just do not go together. 

This project flowed very well because we hit it off right away, sharing common life experiences, and then listening to the struggles she had to go through and how the person sitting in front of you has dealt with those struggles. 

art therapy: Twist Out Cancer, Brushes with Cancer
The painting Boughner created for her inspiration, Deuster. Titled “Kintsugi,” it is the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery, using lacquer mixed with powdered gold. As a philosophy, it treats breakage and repair as part of the history of an object, rather than something to disguise. Not only is there no attempt to hide the damage, but the repair is also illuminated, thus making it more beautiful and meaningful.

What do you hope to get out of this experience? 

Melinda Deuster, Inspiration: When I heard about “Brushes with Cancer,” I was immediately intrigued and had to be a part of this event, I think mainly for the creativity piece! What is lovely is the friendship I now have with Elisa. We are two kindred spirits. I’m realizing that when you tell your story and are open, beauty comes in all sorts of ways. And it seems to have a ripple effect in helping others. There is purpose through pain. These are the gifts. 

Elisa Boughner, Artist: I want to capture the spirit of my “inspiration,” not just the cause of her suffering. Reveal how this person reacted and the strength of character it takes to move on. 


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Emily Stone is Associate Editor at Make It Better. She earned a degree in journalism from Elon University in North Carolina. Along with writing, Stone has a passion for digital storytelling and photography. Her work is published in Chicago Athlete Magazine. Stone is a supporter of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Stone is a fluent Spanish speaker who in her free time loves a good dance class.