Instructional Post for Writing 201: How to on Radical Self-Acceptance!

“It takes a really long time to realize this, but if you’re lucky you eventually see that you’ve got this life on this planet and you’re responsible for really loving yourself. And I mean really, really, really loving yourself. Love is never a corruption. I’m talking about loving yourself with a true love, a love that’s incorruptible and everlasting.”
― C. JoyBell C.

“To be beautiful means to be yourself. You don’t need to be accepted by others. You need to accept yourself.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh

What is radical self-acceptance? Really it is pretty simply exactly what those words mean. For something that easy, it is pretty hard for many adults to practice Radical Self-Acceptance.

Try saying out loud: “I accept myself completely as I am right now.” It sounds simple, but remember, it means you accept everything about yourself in this exact moment: your physical body, your emotional body, your mental, creative and spiritual bodies, not the way you might have looked or felt or been several years ago or as you think you “should be” right now or how you want to be in some future time. This means you accept your whole body, for example, you can’t just accept your head and pick apart which parts of your body are acceptable and what isn’t. It’s all or nothing. As one of my patients once told me, “You cannot receive something in parts or somewhat, you have to receive it completely or not at all.”

So the challenge is, can you receive yourself and accept yourself in this present moment, no matter what you are feeling, how you are looking, what is going on with you and your life. I posted a while back about this kind of self-acceptance. I took a piece I read about yoga “not caring”, which had a lot in it about yoga not caring what you know, how flexible you are, how you eat, etc., and turned it into a challenge to not “care” what state of affairs your life, body, career or lack thereof, apt or lack of home, family or no family, etc. is and to just care that you have showed up to your life in this moment. The link to the post is:
https://natashashapiroarttherapy.wordpress.com/2014/12/01/just-show-up-and-be-here-now-getting-through-difficult-times-like-the-holidays/

Here are a few of the sentences:
“I don’t care what color my skin is or what gender I choose to love or what gender or non gender I am. I don’t care about others’ appearance, sexual orientation, gender, etc. either. We all share similar struggles and pain.

I don’t care how much money I have, what house or space I live in, what car I drive, or if I have to live on the streets right now.

I don’t care what my apartment, house, living space etc. looks like right now. It doesn’t matter; what matters is that I am still here anyway.

I don’t care if I smoke cigarettes, drink, use substances that are illegal, eat too much, binge and purge, starve myself, or am addicted to sex or other things or whether I hoard things in my abode. I’m still here and I showed up to this new day and that is enough.

I don’t care if I am single, with someone, with several people, in a messy relationship, stuck in a difficult relationship or anything else.”

To take these ideas into radical self-acceptance, we would not use the words “I don’t care”, but instead, “I accept that…”. For example, I accept myself as I am right now, including what I am doing right now, even if I am drinking, smoking, binging. I accept myself as I am right now, that I live alone in a tiny apartment and am in terrible debt and unemployed. I still can accept myself as I am in this moment, even though I need to lose 20 pounds and my house is a mess…

I first read about the concept of “Radical Self-Acceptance” in a DBT workbook. DBT is Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, first discovered and invented by Marsha Linehan.
Here is a link to a description of the concept: http://www.dbtselfhelp.com/html/radical_acceptance_part_1.html

Here is something from that article: “So what’s Radical Acceptance? What do I mean by the word ‘radical’? Radical means complete and total. It’s when you accept something from the depths of your soul. When you accept it in your mind, in your heart, and even with your body. It’s total and complete.

When you’ve radically accepted something, you’re not fighting it. It’s when you stop fighting reality. That’s what radical acceptance is.”

So there is the importance of sort of surrendering to the reality of yourself and your life as it is, not as you would like it to be. The word “Radical” may sound extreme but it is just the right word to really pin down this concept, the idea of complete and total acceptance.

There is this too: “Often when you’ve accepted you have this sense of letting go of the struggle. It’s just like you’ve been struggling and now you’re not. Sometimes, if you have accepted, you just have this sense of being centered, like you feel centered inside yourself somehow. ”

So as this article says, this is an interior process but I disagree that it is hard to describe, as it is really very simple. The sense of struggle versus letting go gets at it. It reminds me of the feeling you have when you tense up part or as much of your body as you can and then release. That moment of release is what this is about. Radical Self-Acceptance is a bodily sensation as well as a verbal affirmation. It is what goes on when you focus on your breathing in and out. When you let the breath out, you let go; that is what goes on with this process. Hold your breath for a few seconds, then release it. There is a kind of metaphorical holding of the breath that people engage in during times of stress. Studying for law school exams and saying, I will attend to my body and get a massage and relax after the exams. That is holding your breath till you’re done. Taking care of yourself while going through some kind of big stress like this is a kind of radical acceptance. Accepting that you have no control over what might happen tomorrow, much less a week from now in the exam room is part of this process, for example.

When you are not calm, not grounded, not relaxed, not liking yourself, not using “healthy coping skills”, that is a time to practice this kind of self-acceptance. I accept that I am a mess, that I messed up, that I was doing great at “fill in the blank”, not picking my skin, not binging and purging, not getting drunk, whatever, and now I’m back in the muck, out of control, disgusting, ashamed, whatever. BUT, I can just stop, breathe and accept myself even in this moment of complete “failure”.

I have sat with very smart, very put together, very successful adults and asked them to say the words, “I accept myself as I am in this moment, right now, completely.”, and had them respond that they cannot do it. I press them to just say it out loud even if they do not believe it. Just getting someone to say that out loud is a huge struggle; for some, it is way more challenging than doing stuff that seems impossible, they can run a marathon, write and publish a book, etc. etc., but to say those words can feel impossible. Say them anyway, say them as if your life depended on it, because in a way, it does.

What I love about the theory of the “Dialectic” in Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, is the idea of two opposing things being true at the same time inside a person. That includes radical self-acceptance alongside the desire to change behaviors. It turns out you can’t change much until you completely accept yourself as you are now, in the bad, unchanged messy state. You can feel sad and self hateful and want to die and still accept yourself right now, and it is the only route to ever living at all.

Radical Self-Acceptance happens right now, but it is also a work in progress. I can say that I radically accept myself as I am now, and most of me not believe it and say it isn’t true, but when I say it, it is true.

It is 11:11. I should have done my yoga practice and be getting ready to go to sleep. I should have written this article last week as it is not this week’s assignment. I haven’t done the first assignment, the interview yet. My mouth tastes lousy and I should brush my teeth. I think I missed going to the dentist and probably haven’t flossed enough. Now that I focus on it, my teeth are too yellow. My body feels uncomfortable from eating too much heavy food a few hours ago. I am behind on some bills and not budgeting. That could lead me to my issues with money. There’s the graphic novel I started in 2000, 14 years ago, and ten pages of it that I misplaced in my own house/apt. I won’t go to the apartment and what kind of state it is in right now, versus how it should look. There’s my studio too, in disarray. I could go on and on about all the ways I am disorganized, not good enough, my little private addictions, like shopping for stuffed bunnies and old Betsey Johnson jewelry on Ebay, during a month when I am buying holiday gifts and have no business buying crap for myself. I will say, I accept myself anyway, as messed up as I could portray myself. I am vain about my hair, but I accept that it doesn’t look like it did ten years ago, and I accept my gray hair and my age.

None of this stuff matters. What matters is that I am trying to accept myself anyway, just like the rest of humanity. I still mostly can believe in my own inner goodness, good intentions, caring, alongside my grandiosity and selfishness, petty jealousies, etc.

I accept myself completely as I am right now. Can you say this too? Of course you can! Just do it, just say it. Look in the mirror and say it every day.

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Small Works Group Exhibition at the 440 Gallery!

It is a great feeling to see one of one’s artworks up on a gallery wall, whether with others by other artists in a group show or in a solo show. This was a juried art show. I submitted multiple pieces. The juror chose the artists and one piece from each artist, which is one way to approach a group show like this where the common thread is Small Works (under 12 x 12 inches).

I am including other work that I liked at the show that was hanging near my piece in the less crowded room. It is also great to be in a group show with others and enjoy other people’s work and get a chance to see what’s going on outside my artist brain!

Here are some photos from the show:
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The Artist Identity: Showing and Selling!

I am happy to have a piece from my “White” Mixed Media series in this year’s 440 Gallery Juried Small Works Exhibition.
It is important for me as a professional artist to exhibit my work on a regular basis, so I am pleased to be part of this juried group exhibition in Park Slope, Brooklyn, at a great gallery. The exhibition runs from Dec. 11, 2014-Jan. 11-2015.
Here is a link to the Gallery website page about it:
http://www.440gallery.com/Exhibitions#upcoming

The gallery has started a Facebook People’s Choice Award on their Facebook page. If you can, please vote for my picture for the Small Works Show. Just go to this link and you will see my art work; click “like” to like my piece! Thank you.

I also continue to sell my work on a regular basis as part of my nurturing my identity as an artist and also, I make my work to get rid of it! As soon as I have completed a piece, it is “available” and for sale. I recently sold a group of works from my “Inner Landscape” mixed media collage series to be installed in the Crafty Kids Studio on their wall. Here are some photos of the pieces of my most recent sale. It is great to sell to businesses, and know that lots of people will see my work. For more info on the Crafty Kids, their website is:
http://thecraftykids.com
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Making Your Art Work Versus Showing It, A Common Struggle!

I just wrote this post and it vanished, so I’ll start again. This is another short post just to bring up some topics and questions, especially for artists and art therapists and those who identify as both.

Do you exhibit your work? If so, is it very sporadic or often? Where do you exhibit it? If you don’t, why not? Do you have gallery representation? Do you want to have your art out in the public eye? Do you sell your art work? Do you enjoy selling it? Are you attached to any of your art work, such that if you exhibited it, you would mark it as Not For Sale? Are you easily discouraged by the competition? Do you find yourself making lots of work as a way to procrastinate trying to show it? Do you every get blocks where it is hard to get yourself to make art? These questions are not easy to wrestle with for any artist, and often more frought with inner turmoil for us artists/art therapists…

For me, I’ve been an artist for way longer than an art therapist, even though I didn’t go to “art school” or major in Art. However, although my artist resume has a long list of exhibitions at various types of venues that I have shown my work, I find that in the last two years, I have not really exhibited it, beyond having it out for public view during the Tribeca studio tour: (http://www.toastartwalk.com/toastartwalk/Natasha_Shapiro.html)

I don’t have issues with getting attached to any of my art work, so that is not a road block for me. I admit that I get easily discouraged by rejection, and find it hard to hussle and market myself as an artist. I am currently working on these very issues, by writing about it here, and by actively trying to look for galleries and opportunities to show my work, that I normally don’t get out of my comfort zone to do… I have always been lucky in that I have no problem with blocks around making art. While I may have a block on a specific piece or idea, I always have two or three other things I’m working on, so I don’t notice getting blocked. However, I confess that I too find it very easy to procrastinate the marketing and selling end of things. For example, I got invited to be an artist on a great website called “Artiscle”, and it took me about a month to make a profile and get some work on it. I still need to post a lot more work on the site, as it is a great opportunity to not only sell work but rent it out.

I find myself making myself promises I do not keep. So it’s time to get on it, and work through all the things that get in the way of trying to succeed more as an artist! Share your struggles and triumphs in comments please!

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

Is This Art My “Art Therapy” Art or my “Artist ‘Real'” Art?

This post is probably mostly of interest to other art therapists and those who are curious about art therapy and its connection to “Real Art” or “Fine Art”. There is also a big topic of “High” Art vs. “Low” Art and so called Outsider Art vs. “Fine” Art… Labels labels labels. We like labels when they help us define and differentiate, and we don’t like them so much when they limit us…

So, to begin with, for people who don’t know much about “art therapy” or “art psychotherapy”, there are usually two roads to becoming an art therapist, or two “Main” roads. One is the person who majored or minored in Psychology or took a bunch of psychology classes in colleges and got interested in becoming some kind of therapist. This person finds out about art therapy and realizes s/he also has a creative side and is interested in art making and how it impacts psychotherapy, so this person continues on the road to learning more about what art therapy is, and becoming an art therapist. Along the way, this person may have had his/her own personal therapy or even sought out an art therapist to try out art therapy as a patient. Some of these people skip going to therapy as a patient and end up in some art therapy graduate program after s/he has taken the extra art classes that are prerequesites to starting grad school in art therapy. Those who skip being a patient themselves are usually encouraged to go to therapy and at some point in their time as a grad student start therapy with a therapist, art therapist, psychoanalyst or some combination of these… This person may enjoy art making and even have a media s/he prefers working in but has not really identified as an artist before becoming an art therapist… There are many variations of this type of road towards becoming an art therapist, not in the scope of this post, so I don’t mean to have this description seem limited.

Then there is the other road, that of the “Artist” who then becomes an art therapist. Some of these people are what is called a “wounded healer”. S/he may have gone through therapy of some sort at some time in his/her life and had much more experience being a “patient” than some other art therapy students and art therapists. In any case this person usually finds out about art therapy at some point in his/her career as an artist and decides to obtain training to be an art therapist because of his/her experience as an Artist and Patient or as an Artist who is interested in the healing professions for some reason. Perhaps s/he has found art making to be transformative and healing, whether or not s/he has experienced the therapy process. So this person if need be, takes the psychology courses they may not have taken in college as prerequisites for going to grad school for art therapy…

OK. So now you’re in some art therapy graduate program. You might have gone through some training by attending some sort of Art Therapy Certificate Program to see if art therapy is for you or you just dove right into grad school. While in school, no matter what the philosophy of the school is, and there are many different kinds of art therapy programs with many different philosophies, slants, approaches. Where ever you are studying, at some point in some classes, you will be asked to make art. Some might be art directives from the teachers to get across some points on the subject they are teaching. You will probably make art in supervision class, either what’s called “Response Art” responding to your work with your patients at your internship or art work in response to a classmate’s case presentation. In some programs, there is a lot of art making that takes place in your training in the classes themselves. At the program I went to, my favorite class was my first year “Materials” class, in which we learned about all kinds of art materials and their uses with different client populations. The class was a place to do a lot of “experientials” which basically means you learn through experience of using the materials in your own art work in class and at home for class assignments. As a self identified “artist”, I loved the class as it was the class with the most art making in it, and I learned some new techniques and ways of using art materials that I considered useful both in my own personal art work and in the art I made with patients or witnessed patient making.

During graduate school at some point, the phrase “art therapy” artwork or something like it comes up and is understood to opposed to the concept of personal art work or art work that you are in process of making as an artist. I went to grad school many years ago, and a lot has changed since then. At the time, I continued to have my own art studio outside of my home, and I continued to have my open studios and continued to exhibit my work in various settings and to pursue exhibitions to further my career as an artist. I made this same distinction in the sense that most of the time, as far as I remember, I was working on some series of paintings or drawings that were very different from what I made in classes and at my internship. However, I also remember making some things that I thought of as my “regular” art work even though it was made as a class assignment. I also remember being surprised that so many of my classmates did not like making art in our classes. Even in the classes that involved more lectures than actual experientials, I would be drawing in my journal anyway, as I find drawing helps me focus on what the teacher is saying. Even these days, when I attend some sort of Professional event, such as a talk or conference, I usually draw pictures as I’m writing notes in order not to lose focus on what the speaker is saying!

Anyway, at some point in studying art therapy and then beginning to work as an art therapist, I saw there is a kind of division that exists between what people term their art therapy art work and their “actual” art work that they make at home or in a studio in solitude. I did not go to art school, but my first exposure to making drawings and paintings on paper was a very unique class that I have described more in another post, so my first experience of making art was in a room with a lot of people in it, including grad student assistants to the drawing professor as well as the professor. After I graduated college, I had the great fortune of having my first art studio, a very tiny studio but my own. I immediately began paintings that involved having friends sit for me while I painted. These were more than simple portraits, but I think, looking back at my very young beginning artist self, I see that I liked having people in the room while I made my art. Along the way, I eventually developed a taste for solitude and spending time making art alone. However, I see now that I began the process without a need for solitude and that making art among others or with others was very comfortable for me, so making art in classes at graduate school did not seem so different from making art in my studio or at home. I also along the way, probably during grad school, developed a liking for making art while watching TV, even though I always had an art table at home and an art studio seperate from home in which to make art.

As I developped my private practice, I noticed this split between art therapy art and so called more “personal” art, though maybe the art therapy art is more personal as the person is more loose and open while making it. However, I have always had art therapy grad students as patients over the years, as they sometimes want to try out art therapy as a patient, and I very much enjoy working with all kinds of students. With these art therapy grad students, they either had great discomfort making any art in my presence despite what they were doing in classes and would prefer to talk in session and make no art, or they would be quite comfortable making art in session with me, but tended to see the art they made in our sessions as their “art therapy” art, which basically means they would not think of putting any of their “art therapy” art in an art exhibition, while they might have work they were making on their own at home or in a studio that they would consider as art to put in their portfolio or an exhibit. They looked upon the art they made in school and in supervision much the same way.

Probably not everyone makes such a strong distinction in their work. However it is made enough that the topic has caught my interest and brought up questions for me as an artist and art therapist. Is there a difference between the two kinds of art? For me the blurring of the distinction began in my own therapy a number of years ago when I began bringing scribble drawings and other more “unconscious” drawings to my therapist. I noticed that a theme started emerging which I then developed in my “regular” art work. However, I still kept this sketchbook of therapy art work separate from my “regular” art work. At the time I was working with a great therapist who was not an art therapist but who enjoyed free associating with me about the drawings that I would bring in. Many of them I did on the subway on the way to therapy. A while ago with a different therapist I decided to try the same thing, with scribble drawings and bringing them in to therapy. However, this time what happened was quite interesting for me in terms of the complete blurring of the boundaries between these two types of art works that we art therapists tend to make. The sketchbook was started with making traditional scribble drawings, some of which I have exhibited in this blog. I would make a scribble with whatever I had on hand, pencil, pen, sharpie, etc. and then try to find people, heads, animals, fish, or something “representational” inside the scribble. Then I jumped to continuing that process and adding collage from magazines. My first scribble drawing with collage was a kind of bridge between the traditional form of scribble drawing and something new that began to emerge. I think the photos I’ve posted here show some of this transformation process.

Then something new happened. I continued to add collage from magazines, but I started going over the initial scribbles and making them darker and filling them in next to the collages. I think of these as a kind of “meta” scribble drawing, as suddenly the marks of the initial scribble, instead of being deemphasized in service of creating some kind of image with some of the lines, became emphasized on their own as ovals and curved lines which I then began to fill with collage elements. It progressed further to the point where I began seeking two kinds of images in random magazines. The first was patterns that resembled scribbles or marks or other kinds of black and white dotted circular patterned collage pieces that went with the repetitive drawing and filling of the scribble lines with tiny circles. This is what I see as the “abstract” “meta scribble” portion of these new works on paper. The other kinds of images started to develop repetitions, and I noticed I was looking for specific images of actual things, to be very specific: arms and hands disembodied, other body parts, animals, especially elephants, owls and birds, fish, peacock patterns, and also such things as light bulbs, dolls, strangely drawn faces, and I’m not sure what else will join this list. I also brought back a drawing of a face that was used in work I made a few years ago, so that some of these scribble collage works had drawings of this “face” that is probably thought of as a kind of self-portrait. Often I also find figures of females that are put in with everything else and often they seem to be watching the entire image or dreaming it. Words cut out from magazines have also emerged in some of these works.

It is beyond the scope of this post to discuss the ideas of Outsider Art versus Fine Art and other such topics, but I think these works represent the closest I have ever come to merging my “therapy” drawings with drawings I put up in my studio as part of a series of works I am engaged in. In fact earlier today, for the first time, I took a bunch of these Scribble Collages and put them up on my studio wall. In taking them out of the sketchbook and putting them on the wall, I make the leap from the personal to the Personal Art I Want The World To See… The other sign of this transformation was that I went from the small sketchbook to a larger one and challenged myself to do these pieces on much larger paper. This happened in the same time frame that I began to actually work on these drawings in my therapy sessions on the suggestion of my therapist even though my personal therapist is not an art therapist. So this is uncharted territory for me… To be continued…

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A Calling or A Choice?

I had grand plans last week to do a post on motherhood or on the onset of mental illness and the difficult journey of learning to accept that one has a mental illness, which many of the books I wrote about cover. Both big serious topics. But then at the end of a session with a new patient I got to thinking of the idea of a “calling”, as this patient had asked, when leaving my studio about seeing my art on the walls and did I go to art school or some such question. I briefly explained some of my circuitous road to becoming a visual artist as the patient was leaving.

Anyway some other topics I’ve been thinking about got me thinking about the idea of the identity of an artist. Many artists knew from early on that they “were” artists or “wanted to become an artist”; these people as adults often report that their teachers and art teachers and sometimes also parents saw their talent early on and recognized and encouraged it. These were the people who in grade school and high school were known as something like, “S/he can draw and draws really well…” I’ve met many artists and art therapists who have this kind of history. lThey had the coolest notebooks with great graffiti-like doodles and lettering

However, there are certainly other roads to becoming an artist. Mine was a complicated or maybe actually simple one. But the main question I’m asking in this post is: “Do you decide that you ‘want to become an artist’ or do you figure out that “I am an artist.” These are two very different concepts. For example, most people say they did not decide about their sexuality, whatever it is; they found out about it. It was not a choice. Some others in the minority argue it was a choice. Most transgendered people report that they came to a realization that “I may have the body of a boy or girl but I’m actually not a boy, I am a girl, or I am not actually a girl, I am a boy. No matter what form of body one arrives here in, one does not choose one’s gender, even if the outside body turns out to be the wrong one. And of course there are people who say they are neither a man in a woman’s body nor a woman in a man’s body and believe gender is much less clear than that. That’s a whole other topic. I hope these statements aren’t too controversial. I find them to be an example of basic “identity”; ie. what do you think when you see or hear the question, “Who are you?” versus “What do you want to be?”

As a child, one is subjected to adults constantly asking one, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” As a child, I did not like this question. I knew that I was excited to be a grown up for the obvious reason that then nobody could tell me what to do and I could, in my child mind, basically do whatever I wanted, which mostly involved the idea of eating ice cream for dinner. I also had a vague sense about going on business trips alone and staying in hotel rooms, which I thought would be very glamourous. But I had no ambitions to be a business owner or businesswoman. In fact, when asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, my usual answer was, “I don’t want to be a lawyer.” It seemed to be needed as a statement as the only career I saw growing up was my dad’s as a lawyer and I knew that my mom had met my dad at law school. For some reason, I was dead set on the idea that no way would I be a lawyer, even though the only person I knew who went on frequent business trips was my father, who was one. When pressed to say what I did want to be, I always got grumpy and said, “Nothing. There’s nothing I want to do.”

For a brief period maybe in third grade, my friend and I decided that we were going to go to the Ringling Brothers Clown School and become clowns in the circus. We knew this school actually existed and were partly excited to go together there and be clowns together. After this clown idea wore off, I was back to my set answer, “Nothing. I don’t know.” You like to be in plays do you want to be an actor? No, definitely not. And so on with other professions. I went off to college with a vague idea that I might want to study film making and learn to make movies. I had a brief bout in high school of being interested in photography, but of course had no idea I could become a photographer and probably didn’t want to be one anyway. Soon after I arrived at college, I tried to sign up for the beginning film class and as they only took about ten people or less, I was rejected. Gone went my interest in trying out filmmaking. It was too much darn work to get to college and once I was there, I had no intention of fighting my way into any class, as I thought I deserved to be allowed to take it easy and be allowed to take whatever damn class I felt like. I chose my “concentration” (same thing as “major”) pretty much by checking out which ones required you to write a thesis. I knew a thesis was a long paper, and though I was good at writing papers, the length of a paper was directly proportional to my stress and fears about it, and I was not about to write something longer than 25 pages while at college if I could manage it. It turned out I could pick Russian Language and Literature and was not required to write a thesis, so it was a no brainer, as I liked both. Then the questions turned into ” What is your major? Oh, do you want to teach or become a professor, or do you want to work for the UN?” The question seemed weird to me. I had no desire to use my knowledge of Russian language and its poetry and novels to do anything. Four years of college seemed like a long time, and I still thought I could float along, staying interested in the kinds of things that are the least practical career wise and avoid this big decision.

I did not choose to have a crappy beginning of my sophomore year. Suffice it to say, without much thought, I decided to take an Introduction to Drawing class taught by DeCredico, a visiting artist from Rhode Island School of Art and Design. By then, choosing classes not in my “concentration” had a sort of impulsive feel. There were two intro drawing teachers there, and they were opposites. I watched my roommate freshman year suffer through an awful drawing class where she sat for hours trying to draw a bagel to look perfectly like a bagel. What an awful mean teacher she had. He was ruthlessly critical and liked nothing. It seemed like hell. Some friends of mine had taken the other cooky drawing class and reported that it was really fun, I should try it out, more like someone urging you to try a new drug or something than a class. I won’t go on and on about this class, but it was a pivotal event in my life. I walked in with no idea that I could make drawings or other art, not really sure what I was doing there except that I was sick of the typical classes involving words, papers and exams. I entered an alternate universe where we were told to find 10 sticks and put them together and bring them to the next class. In the next class, big paper and dark black ink was passed around and we were instructed to make drawings using our sticks creations as the “brushes”. Wow. I had no idea this was something you could spend a couple of hours doing at an Ivy League University where everything seemed to involve competition and way too much thinking. The class was like an art therapy experience for me. I had no idea what was going on or what I was doing or even why, but I was really enjoying it and something in me seemed to be awakened.

Suffice it to say that I ended that class with encouragement from the teacher and one of the teacher’s helpers, he must have been a grad student, and he actually knew my name. The teacher did not know anyone’s name as the class was big, but he would make a big sweeping gesture and point to a couple of images with a lot of ink or whatever on them and say “Why do I like these?” and point to some others and say the opposite. The ones he didn’t like were often the tightly drawn well drafter drawings that my poor roommate’s teacher would have loved!Often enough one of my images was up there. I never had the feeling before of someone looking at a picture I made and saying that. Probably it happened when I was 4 or 5, but I have no memory of that. The class ended, the summer came, and off I went to take my year off from college, toting a sketchbook everywhere with me and making lots of awful garish drawings in them among other typical “youthful” poems about suffering and loneliness.

Anyway I started my senior year in college thinking, “Am I an artist or a writer?” Or maybe I was thinking, “Which do I want to be, an artist or a writer?” I don’t remember how I formulated the question. The Russian stuff was now on the side as something I had to do to graduate, while I used my precious “electives” on a creative writing class and a painting class. They were both pretty difficult, not as fun as that drawing class, but the painting class changed for me after I figured out how to do my first painting. Go to the studio when nobody is there to compare yourself to and judge theirs as better than yours and work on it then. It was a a still life. I remember having an interesting awakening moment in the big empty studio when I walked around the room and looked at the work of my classmates, and it was as though someone had taken off a pair of glasses I had been wearing where I’d look at one and think, “Oh no. This person is doing such a perfect precise picture. It’s so great. Mine’s a mess, etc.” During this aha moment, I circled the easels and looked at the other paintings and suddenly those glasses were off, and I was thinking, “Oh this is just this person’s idea of this still life. It’s not that great or that bad either. It’s just different from mine. It doesn’t mean mine is bad.” And then the real awakening came when I looked at my painting and thought, “Wow. I like this. It’s really good.” Not a familiar state of mind for me in this unchartered area of image making…

Maybe at that moment knew I was an artist, maybe not. I continued to struggle with a Kafkaesqe short story in writing class and I definutitely liked the plot and ideas but it  seemed like too much work to keep editing it, and rich oil colors beckoned me.

College ended and life went on, but from that point forth I was an artist and did not really question it. I just kept on making a lot of art as much and as often as possible.It helped that I by chance had a tiny studio of my own right after graduation. It was the size of a closet, but it was a dream come true.  The more I went up there and painted, or stayed in the apartment and drew all sorts of things, all sorts of sizes and always carried caried decorated journal scketcook around with me, the more I got involved with the real difficult questions around a creative career of any kind. In this case it was, “What do I want to pant/draw, or is anything telling me to paint something. I stumbled around in the dark going in all sorts of directions, but it was still wonderful. I had been liberated from the complex depressing world of words and could no inhabit a magic land of textures and shapes and colors.

When I think about it now, it seems like I was covered in some kind of layer of some material that needed to be removed and underneath it, the artist had been hiding all along throughout my life, just waiting for me to need it enough to let it out. I continue to need it and I continue to be it. For me there is no choice… What about for you?

The Artist and The Art Therapist: Can they both live within you?

This post is for all you art therapists and artist out there, and art therapy students, as well as people curious about art therapy, art vs. therapy, and artists.

I will mainly pose questions rather than give any answers as this topic is meant to start a discussion or dialogue  about what it means to be an art therapist, and what it means to be an art therapist and an artist.

When you are out socializing and someone asks what you do for a living, do you say, “I’m an art therapist.” or do you say, “I’m an artist” or do you say, “I’m an artist and art therapist.” If you say both which one tends to come out of your mouth first?

Personally I’ve always, as long as I’ve been an art therapist, as I was an artist for years before that, tended to view myself as an artist who is also an art therapist, although that does not show up on art therapy profiles on insurance and other psychology, find a therapist, types of websites. More importantly even than what you tend to say to identify yourself is what you spend your time doing, what you value doing, and other questions. For example, do you make money as an art therapist, an artist or both? While I am often in exhibitions and sell my work and participate in the open studio tour in my neighborhood once a year, and even have my art therapy and psychotherapy private practice in my art studio, my consistent form of income comes from my private practice. However in terms of my identity, I think of myself first as an artist, maybe because that was the first vocation I ever felt called to do. Also making art is a necessity for me to stay stable and focused, not an option, so I manage to make time for it and value every minute spent making art even if I spend much more time with my patients than making art.

In graduate school for art therapy, I kept my studio and used it while being a full-time grad student. I noticed a pattern in my classmates that they for the most part seemed to put their artist identity to the side to focus on art therapy. Some of them even objected to making art in classes. During class I would doodle and draw in my notebook in order to pay attention to the discussion. It helped me focus. This was many years ago, and things seem to have changed. I come across many recent graduates as well as students who are actively making art and continue to participate in their profession as a professional artist,; they have websites of their artwork and exhibit and sell it.

I have colleagues who even plan and stage exhibitions of artwork in their studio/office, ArtSpa, so they have successfully integrated their practice and supporting artists with their shows. Over the years they have had many themed group invitational exhibitions, “Little Pieces”, “Trees”, “Home” and the last one which is up now until the end of the year: “Connections.” Their website is:

http://nycreativetherapists.com/

The link to their exhibition announcements is:

http://nycreativetherapists.com/connections

I’ll end this post by saying that as indicated by the last paragraphs are an indicator of where the field of art therapy is going in terms of supporting the identity of the artist within the art therapist. It looks like a very different landscape to me now than it was years ago when I began my work in the field, which is very heartening. Are you thinking of becoming an art therapist? Are you also an artist? What is your view of this topic? I would also add that I don’t want to neglect another category of art therapists, those who came to the field not as artists and who still make art with their patients but are not pursuing an art career. There is certainly room for all sorts of art therapists. Another related topic is: do you make art with your patients? If so, is this the only artwork you make, or does it inspire your personal artwork in any way? Is the art you make in any way related to  your work as an art therapist or completely separate?