Quick Post About TOAST!

I did not post last week so this post will be for last week! I have the Tribeca Open Artists Studio Tour (TOAST) coming up this Friday evening, Saturday and Sunday, so I have been busy getting ready for a big mass of people to be coming to my studio.

I am posting a few new “Scribble Drawing Collage Self-Portraits” from my latest series of work that I will be showcasing at the open studio tour this weekend…

To view more of this series or more of my artwork, you can visit my artist website at http://www.natashart.com

New Topic: Our Very Emotional Relationships with Our “Companion Animals”

This post will swing back to the more psychological, relationship exploration type of topics, away from the identity and artwork topics I’ve been posting about lately.

Of course this is a very personal topic for me, and I will include my own experiences in here. I have been thinking about posting about this for a few weeks now. I forgot what inspired me to think about this, although I think of my own dear departed doggie daily.

In fact, I have to start with my personal experiences in order to reflect upon this topic…

This morning, by chance, I had a DVD from the library, “Lassie” the movie. I think there may be several versions of this movie. I don’t remember seeing the TV show but I knew about the character Lassie of course. As we hadn’t yet watched it, I put it on and watched it with my daughter. I am very emotional about animals of all kinds, but especially dogs are near and dear to my heart. I was tearing up off and on throughout the movie. The main kid character is a young unhappy boy who misses his dead mother. Of course Lassie attaches to him and even leads him to his mother’s diary in one of the closets. Anyway, the story begins with loss, Lassie’s loss of his former owner, the sheep farmer, and then the boy’s family takes him, and the loss theme shifts to the loss of the mother. At some point towards the end, after a couragesous act of saving the boy, Lassie drifts into dangerous waters and is assumed dead. I knew somehow she wasn’t dead, but I cried anyway. At the end the boy finds her and hugs her and says, “I love you.” Maybe this movie was trite but it certainly touched me.

I have always been aware of the different kind of relationship we have with animals than with other people. Growing up I did not have a “real” pet. I had turtles, fish and at one point, a hamster. For one day I had a cat, that my older brother got me, thinking somehow we could hide it from our mother. The cat found a good home, but for a day I was exstatic to have a real pet and immediately got attached to the little kitty.

Anyway, in my adult life I had a small dog that I got when I was about 24 or so; at the time I was nowhere near “ready” for the responsibilities and everything that go with having an animal, especially a small dog. But it did not matter. Love was in the house and stayed there no matter where I went for almost 17 years. This little dog, during healthy times between 11 and 12 pounds, taught me more about a certain kind of love than anyone in my life could have. It is indescribable, this love between a dog or cat and their “owner”. I will talk mostly about dogs, only because I know more about them. At the moment I am at a loss for words. That moment when the boy sees Lassie through his classroom window and realizes she is alive and has come back to him and runs out to hug her, is a picture worth a thousand words. The way a dog sits when s/he knows you will sense his/her presence, that look on the dog’s face as s/he waits for you to notice him/her; this is very special. A dog will wait full of love and anticipation and solid concentration in a way that is hard to describe. It is not the same thing as your child waiting for you to come home. It just isn’t. Whenever there is a big family that has one dog, there is usually one person that dog especially picks, even if she plays with all the kids and gets walked and fed by everybody, there is one person whom she will be focused on the most, just as in the movie, Lassie senses that the boy needs him the most, even though his younger sister was the one who found her and pleaded with dad to keep her. And that love bond just will not break. It is the strongest thing in that dog’s life, and when he is separated from that person for too long, he suffers in a way that is difficult to describe. This is an inter species relationship that is based on mostly non verbal exchanges. I confess that when my little doggie was alive, I had a million special names, terms of endearment for him. And I do catch myself saying these nonsense love words I made up then to my daughter. Not because she has replaced him or that I link them together in some way; in fact I don’t know why. I guess saying these silly words while holding or hugging her is a way of remembering my doggie while at the same time making her laugh or enjoy them herself. I readily admit that my relationship with my dog was very far from what the famed “Dog Whisperer” says is the proper way to treat dogs. He was my “baby”…

A dog’s life span ranges from about 10 to 18 or so years. For some people who grow up with a dog or dogs, the dog is a part of their childhood. Although my dog died when my child was around 2 or so, she still remembers feeding him chicken, what he looked like and she somehow understands how sad it was for me to lose him. Losing him was her first very early experience of death. It was a bittersweet parting as he had been sick for too long and was at the stage where he really had lost his mind to brain cancer. But I knew he still knew who I was. Sitting with him and saying goodbye to him and watching him be put to sleep was one of the most painful experiences I have ever had. However there also was relief that his suffering was at an end, and a feeling of guilt that maybe I had let him suffer too long. This dog also symbolized for me a certain long span of my life where I developed into a “person”, found myself as an adult, went through many different experiences, but always with him at my side. With time I became better at taking care of this very dependent being. He taught me how to think of someone outside of myself, to care for another completely dependent being…

There is something to be said for the structure of a dog’s life and how it helps humans. If you live alone, you cannot stay inside all day, no matter how you are feeling. I have heard many depressed patients comment about how they were lost to human contact, could not function in any way, but managed to get out of bed several times a day to take their dog out for his walks. And no matter how isolated and alone they might be, they were not ever alone at home, as they had their dog sticking to their side, loving them throughout this difficult period. I remember reading that elderly people with a dog or cat tend to be healthier both physically and emotionally than other elderly people living alone. A dog forces you to go outside, breathe fresh air, walk, exercise, and at home, he will stay at your side whether you have forgotten to take a shower or eat but still remember to feed him. I am sure there are many animals out there who have stopped someone dead set upon suicide in his or her tracks. The animal says to you, “I love you. You can’t leave me. You are my LIFE.” When no body else could stop someone from ending their life, the animal companion is there to save the person from himself. Not always successfully, but very often a dog saves his owner from himself and from all kinds of self-destructive behaviors.

Which brings me to more on the topic of animals and therapy. While an animal can be a stronger “anti-depressant”than any medication, s/he can become the focus of the therapy session. Many people acquire their animals in a breakup. Sometimes the person will enter the relationship and the animal will go to him/her, even though the animal was the girlfriend’s or boyfriend’s. And so the breakup happens, and the dog or cat is suddenly yours, as for some obvious reason, you are the one best equipped to take care of it. And it can be hard to have an animal that is associated with a difficult loss in your life. At the same time, this animal is with you in very lonely times and you are not alone, and love has not left the house; instead a different, more steadfast love, is there…

I am not suggesting that an animal can “replace” a romantic relationship, but it is very different to suddenly find yourself single and alone and to find yourself single and with a companion that was there during the relationship’s ups and downs and is still there.

Animals in the therapy session: Many people come to therapy and at some point talk about their relationship with their animal. In some cases, it is because of the above mentioned situation, that the person is aware of “inheriting” the dog or cat a, part of the breakup, and so the animal comes into the session in that perspective. Often the focus on caring for the animal outweighs his symbolizing that failed relationship. Living with this animal you are already involved in a relationship that cannot fail, and you are in complete control, which can be somehow therapeutic.

Another way an animal enters the therapy space is when that animal himself is sick, physically or psychologically. There is nothing more difficult than caring for a being who is suffering yet cannot communicate in words. Babies and small children at least let you know when they are hurt. Many animals are stoic to a fault so by the time they make any noises you know it is really bad. I’ve had patients with their own trauma recognize that their pet came to them also traumatized. I have seen people endure bites and all sorts of weird and scary difficult behaviors from their animals because they know the animal is sick. After all, many loving people aquire their animals as a rescue. I always place as much importance on my patient’s discussing their relationship with their animals as with another person. People sometimes feel silly talking about their dog or cat in therapy, but I always emphasize how central this relationship is to their life.

The worst way an animal enters the therapy session is when s/he dies. I’ve seen people who cannot cry in front of me finally let go and weep when their animal dies. For some people, this is their first experience of the death of a close family member. Even if this is not the case, there is always a mourning process that is usually very painful. Dogs and cats are not built to last as long as people, so when you acquire one, there is this knowledge in the back of your mind of loss. I was very often aware of the precarious part of that relationship with my dog, and that he would not be able to accompany me throughout my life no matter how strong the bond. At times when my dog was older I felt the weight of this feeling that I held his life in my hands and it was my job to prolong it, a job doomed to failure. I also had many tears shed talking to friends about feeling “not good enough” in terms of giving him the best life possible. I guess at times I took this relationship too seriously. And there are times when your animal can feel like a burden; it is only natural to feel this way about a being completely dependent upon you.

People treat the loss of their animal in all sorts of ways. Some get a new but different breed of dog or cat pretty quickly following the death of their animal. People sometimes wrongfully assume you are “replacing” the dead animal, but this is never true. There may be a longing for the presence of a dog or cat in the house to fill that empty space, to comfort you in your grief even to distract you from it. Others may wait a very long time to get another animal they know they will eventually lose as well. The shadow of this next loss mat overshadow how much you miss that special kind of connection you can have with an animal. Of course there is no right answer. No matter what, the loss of an animal requires that you look at your life and where you are on your personal journey when you lose that loved one.

I remember someone thinking after I lost my dog that I had my little girl to “replace” him. If course thus was not true. I did have to continue taking care of her as much as before, but that is different. For me losing him involved losing a certain part of myself. How much that tiny presence in my life taught me about love and how to love. I will carry that with me for the rest of my life. And I do hope one day long from now at a very different time, I will again have a dog. The relationship will not be the same as with my first dog. It’s like a first love, he defined me as much as I defined him. I know that won’t happen again, and that I will not need it again. I will continue to miss him no matter what. It is a heart ache, but I wouldn’t trade that heart ache in for anything…

Artist Identity Topic Continued…

I have been posting here a lot about issues pertaining to art therapy and psychological topics, and I have also more recently posted about my personal art work, its connection to art therapy and being an art therapist, and the issues involved with the dual identity some of us have of professional artist and professional art therapist.

The Art Therapy Alliance is currently conducting an online kind of gallery called “Spaces & Places: Where We Create: an art therapy community photo documentary project”. For more information about this project and to participate in it, check out their website link:

http://www.arttherapyalliance.org/WhereWeCreate.html

In their guidelines for submissions, they divide their creative spaces into several categories that I will quote here. (I promise this will all tie together and in fact be more personal by the end of this post…)

1. Images of your professional creative space: At work, your internship, and on the go

2. Commonly used art supplies and media: In your art therapy work or internship with clients

3. Favorite technique: An art intervention or technique approach with individuals or in groups

4. If your creative space has changed: Before and after photos

5. Images of your personal art-making space: Where do you create your art?

Here is the link to view the photos and videos in this great project: http://www.flickr.com/photos/arttherapy

So I got intrigued by this project,as I think it is a great idea, and I took some of my own photos and found others and submitted a bunch of themi to their website. In doing so, I noticed something interesting that may be applicable for others who have submitted to this fun and interesting project; for me, some of the categories merged. Number 1, professional creative space, ie. my private practice where I work with individuals and groups providing art therapy, psychotherapy and supervision, and number 5. my personal art-making space, where I create most of the art work that I sell and exhibit, as you probably know by now from reading my blog, are one and the same space. The studio has also become a place for “play dates” with my child and other children her age and their younger siblings, so one of my favorite “techniques” involving “commonly used art supplies and media” was a picture of a mural made by my daughter and me and two other kids and their dad. The mural had all kinds of materials I commonly use with everybody who comes to my studio to make something: collage, paint, drawing materials, images from magazines, as well as some odd stuff like cotton balls and stickers that aren’t as common. I also posted a picture of one of my own scribble drawing collages as an example of a favorite technique with some of my favorite art materials of the moment, as I change the media a lot in my own work, which ranges from oil paintings to drawings, collages, mixed media, and doll sculptures.

Meanwhile, as I usually do annually in the month of April, I have been preparing for the Tribeca Open Artists Studio Tour. (http://toastartwalk.com). The preparation involves picking up flyers to give out, and inviting people by email, Facebook, through my artist blog, my artist Facebook page, etc., and now of course, in this blog post. It also involves figuring out how I want to present my work during this public event for three days at the end of April. Usually I am in the midst of making new work and feeling inpatient to finish it so as to see what kinds of reactions I get to my new work, as some of my old work is usually up already. I also try to make magnets with images of my work to sell for low prices and get my business cards together. My studio will be open to the public on Friday, April 27, from 6-8:30, on Saturday, April 28 and Sunday, April 29 from 1-6 pm. The studio tour continues on Monday, April 30, but I do not usually participate on that day, due to work…

Obviously as my art making work place is merged with my therapeutic space, my patients and supervisees sometimes notice that I am participating in this event. Sometimes they are curious and ask about it. In all the years of doing this event, I only had one patient talk about coming to the event. I must confess that I was not sure what to say to her, and did not really say much to reveal whether I really wanted her to come or not. I figured the whole thing was much more “complicated” for me than for my patient, who was very aware of my artist identity, as she was working on her own artist identity in therapy among other issues. I also confess that I had a “fantasy” of her coming to my studio with her friends during the studio tour when some family member or friend of mine was there, and noticed that it made me incredibly uncomfortable. Definitely a “boundary” issue for me. I have encountered this type of thing before. Once, a patient really wanted to buy one of my paintings. I explained very clearly why this was not ok, due to the dual nature of the relationship if I were to sell art to a patient. It ended up being an interesting topic to explore and learn more about what the painting meant to this person and why he wanted to purchase it. The blue colors in it had a lot to do with this person’s interest in the painting. In fact, this person had strong opinions about a bunch of my work, including one big piece that has drawn all kinds of reactions from my patients, which this person did not like at all. This art piece that one has to face if sitting in the “other” chair across from me has generated all kinds of interesting reactions, a topic for another post that would focus on the merging of personal art making space with professional therapeutic space…

To get back to my point, which, I think, is about how I continue to nurture my “artist self” and continue to identify as an artist who is also a therapist, I am sharing information about my art work in different ways on this blog, as well as trying to connect my art work to my work as a therapist. So far, I have mostly done this by posting pictures of my art work as examples of different art therapy directives and examples of my personal journey as an artist. Now I am announcing an event that pertains to my personal art work and art making space. Even though I have been participating in this public event for years, (I started way back when it was a little event called “Franklinfest” as most of the studios were near Franklin Street), and each year the event is more publicized and the flyers/maps become more fancy (this year instead of one map and list of participating artists, art galleries, cafes, it is an actual “zine” or booklet), anyway although I am a veteran and know what to expect more or less, I still notice that I am not fully comfortable with lots of strangers wandering into my studio. It can be extremely overwhelming to have tons of strangers come into your studio and have to be “on” for hours at a time, saying hello, being friendly, answering questions, trying to give out business cards and sell the magnets and also the art work. A while ago I decided to write small statements about my work and print them out and put them on the wall next to each series of my work as I always show a few different series at once. It’s also a way to avoid getting the schizophrenic question, “Who are the artists?” and having to explain that it’s all my work! Also I have to be prepared for the odd person who peeks in and walks in the door, looks around quickly then leaves. One has to have thick skin for that! The worst question is when people ask me how much I pay for my studio rent which makes me think the person has no interest in my work and is just checking out the real estate downtown. Most people are polite and interested and friendly, so it’s not so bad. However, when there are about 20 strangers in your studio looking around at everything (they peer at the paintings hidden in the racks, they look at my table of mostly very used brushes and often remark on the bunches of tea bags hanging by the entrance to the studio), it’s usually nice if one of my friends has come by and is sitting with me. Once in a while people ask for prices, and I’m never quite sure if my prices are too high or too low. Sometimes I put up a bunch of small drawings and put a low price next to them to entice people to buy my small work. I haven’t decided what to do this year. I also get comments and questions about art therapy as my license and ATR-BC are up framed on the wall by the door.

I forgot to mention the thing that got me inspired to do this post, interesting slip! I just published it with the photos and remembered. I picked up an edition of the April Tribeca Tribune, a free neighborhood newspaper, and on page 38, there is an article about the upcoming studio tour with a bunch of images of different art of some of the featured artists. An image of one of my dolls is featured there! I was very excited to see it, especially as it is quite prominent with white space around it. I am including a photo of this doll at the end of this post. I started making these dolls I can’t remember when, maybe around 2004 or 2005, not sure, but I started making new ones recently when I was building my website and took photos of the old ones, so this doll is a recent work. There is a link to the Tribeca Tribune’s website, where you can view the newspaper version as opposed to their online version which doesn’t include this page. When you go to the link you have to turn the pages to get to the article and photos on page 38:

http://www.issuu.com/tribecatrib/docs/tribeca_trib_april

I’ll end this post with another photo of one of my recent pieces that I am planning to show at the studio tour and some photos I took of my studio space…

20120407-184353.jpg

20120407-184510.jpg

20120407-184605.jpg

Comments LinkedIn

Hello regular nice followers to my blog:
I’m in a lot if so called “professional” groups on LinkedIn. When I post, I usually share the link to this blog on those groups.

Someone from “Trauma, Loss, and Art Therapy”, of all places, where you’d expect people to be sensitive and respectful had this nasty stuff to say about my recent post on art and art therapy; in addition, he insulted people who live in New York, LA and other big cities:

“Here’s what I believe. In order to become a bored and certified art therapist, along with jumping through all the educational hoops and internships, one must also MAKE THEIR LIVING SOLELY THROUGH THEIR ARTWORK FOR AT LEAST ONE TO TWO YEARS. This should be a prerequisite for certification. I made my living as a potter for 15 years before I shifted gears. It puts a whole lot of reality and meaning to this art stuff. If I can do it, others are able to also. I read through your post and it seems like mental masturbation to me. I don’t mean to be cruel or disrespectful. Maybe brutally frank, though. Living Art can endow one with an eternity of meaning and knowing, that is, if one isn’t prone to materialistic, nilhilistic, egocentric b.s. that takes place in New York, L.A., and other “hot spots” around the globe. Make a living as an honest, searching artist. Searching and fighting to find then grow your own voice no matter what others say – it’s maddening yet empowering. I throw down the gauntlet. “This ain’t no party. This ain’t no disco. This ain’t no foolin’ around.” My two cents. ”

End of comment. This from a Board Certified Art Therapist. I told him it was rude and nasty and that I will not continue to post about my blog on there. In fact I decided to quit the group. I’m in plenty of other LinkedIn groups anyway. A bit of a dramatic reaction, but my thoughts are, why should I put up with kind of bull shit when I have plenty of nice readers who seem to like my posts and have made supportive constructive comments in this blog.

There sure are a lot of mean self righteous therapists out there! RecentIy, I got another comment that was pretty nasty in some other LinkedIn group from a person who could barely put a sentence together. I will not quote him here. I decided to ignore him…

What do you all think of my recent long post about art? Or about this post?

New Art Therapy Group For Women!

I am starting a new art therapy group for women with issues around anxiety, depression, self-esteem, body image and related issues.

The group meets weekly at my art studio office in downtown NYC on Fridays from 1-2:30 pm.

Contact me if you have referrals or for more info on the group.

Time to make art and process verbally in a supportive atmosphere!

natashart@yahoo.com