Day 85: Friday, June 5

It’s been quite a week. I just got off Zoom with my last client of today. I had 6 people.

I am truly grateful for this job. It helps me stay halfway sane. I was going to write my answers for this project called The Unlonely Project, about art and quarantine, but most of the answers I’ve written about in here anyway. More on it another time.

I have family members who live in Minneapolis. They texted me two photos that I’m waiting for to post here as I of course asked permission and they’re going, well it seems I can go look at 5 photos and get them up here! My brother took them with a camera except the panorama with iPhone.

Valentine’s Day Post: Be Your Own Valentine!

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I used to have a very jaded view of Valentine’s day as a marketing ploy for chocolate, flowers, stuffed animals with hearts and other stuff, as well as this idea of high expectations and not a great day for single people, of which there are many in NYC.

Even when not single, I thought this holiday was tacky and so mainstream boring; every day challenge is to be loving and celebrate love and give gifts that are not expected. However, since having a child age 3 and up, my point of view has totally changed. I see how the day can be fun and a celebration of love not between romantic partners, but for family, friends and the idea of inclusion in terms of school age kids’ making valentines for everyone in their class, especially age 4 to at least 8 or 9, when gender is not so important and children are excited to make valentines for their friends and family. Of course being an artist and art therapist, I have used the day as an occasion for making art with my child and patients. 

The idea of making your own valentine came from my child when she was 4 or 5. We were cutting out little hearts to decorate for each person in her class. The first one she made she liked so much she asked if it could be for herself. “I like this too much; I want it to be mine!” she said, excitedly. How cool was that. From the same person who said, “of course you have to love yourself,” when we were talking about who we loved the most. What a great idea, while making valentines for others and focusing on who you love, to make one also for yourself. I think she ended up keeping two of her own. We always make one for the teacher and she makes me one and I make her something extra special each year. All home made with art supplies.

This year was no different. Valentine’s Day happened to fall on a Friday, one of my busiest days in my practice. I went to work thinking, I want to make valentines’ cards with my patients and invite and challenge them to make themselves a card. I had a few phone sessions which worked out well for this directive too.

The main idea is to make yourself a Valentine’s Day card and in so doing , remind yourself to love yourself. WIth each patient who did this, I asked them if they would be comfortable for me to make them a card. Nobody refused! For adults this was definitely more oriented toward female clients, or it might have been that everyone I did this directive with was comfortable already with making art in the session, so they happened to all be women.

Anyway, for the people who came in person, I had lots of materials out all day, including: colored cardstock paper for the card, sharpies colored and metallic, decorative paper, foam heart shapes and other shapes, jewels, rhinestones and lots of fun stickers… I had fun in the session making each patient their card, and discovered a new kind of card — the triple decker card. I had cut a small peice of colored paper for a card and realized it needed to be bigger, so I added another card and glued it on top. Sort of like a stacked cake. 

This directive is a simple example of how great art therapy can be for helping people appreciate and accept themselves as they are right now, not who they have been or want to be. Also, accepting a card from me seems to be a sort of connection to their own therapy process and their appreciation of their work on liking themselves in art therapy. The card from the art therapist functions on many levels; as a “transitional object”, as a concrete object to represent the therapeutic relationship, as an indication of the trust that has built in the relationship with the therapist, and as a positive kind of statement about being in therapy and feeling good about it.

Making Valentine’s cards all day long from 8am until 8pm was definitely a fun and different way to spend Valentine’s day. I think throughout the day about 6 of the 8 sessions I had involved making Valentine’s. With the phone sessions, there was a fun part of the process involving knowing what we were making and having a surprise email afterwards, emailing back and forth photos of our cards and knowing that the patient would be getting their card next week.

I also made a Valentine for my colleague during our peer supervision and she made herself a birthday card. At the end of the day, I realized I had not had time to make a card for myself! As an art therapist I am a firm believer in doing the art you ask your patients to do always, so I knew I would be making one for myself. Yesterday while drawing with my daughter, we ended up making Valentine’s for each other; I had already given her two on Valentine’s, but as I started my own one, she asked for it, so I had to make a whole new one for myself. I had fun doing it, especially enjoying writing the phrase: “Happy Valentine’s Day to Me”, with the idea that anyone can look at my image of my valentine and say it to him/herself!

I am happy to be less jaded as I age, and a convert to all things childlike: hearts, rainbows, glitter, beads, Valentine’s Day, stencils, coloring pages, mosaics, all of which I had much disdain for when in art therapy school. Thankfully, I now know better and have a much more broad view of art making and art therapy.

Happy Valentine’s to me and to you and your Self! Make yourself a Love card as a reminder to love yourself every day…

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Photos: Top, my own card to myself, Sharpie on collaged paper cut out heart
First on bottom: Triple decker pieced together card for a patient, mixed media on cardstock
Second on bottom: detail of above
Third and fourth: other valentine’s cards made by me for patients
Fifth and Sixth: front and back of a card I made for my daughter
Last photo: Part of a Valentine made for a patient

Pinterest is Really A Form of Art Therapy!

I only started using the social media Imagery site called “Pinterest” about six months ago. I have not fully immersed myself in it and really participated regularly, but yesterday I was looking on a site and saw a bag I liked and “pinned” it to one of my boards. Then some time later I was still thinking about Pinterest and thought, “Wow, It really is similar to a certain kind of art therapy, how fascinating! I’ve got to blog about this discovery!”

To begin with, here is Wikipedia’s description of the definition and origins of Pinterest. I usually attempt to find other sites to cite on my blog but once in a while I find Wikipedia is best at doing the descrtiption and especially history and origin of some kind of phenomenon… I was surprised to find that in its beginnings the originator was interested in keeping it very “closed” and private and even wanted to talk and meet with its users. That strikes me as really a nice way to start a social media site, and I was quite surprised as right now, June 2013, is about 3.5 years since the development began.

“Pinterest is similar to earlier social image bookmarking systems based on the same principle, such as David Galbraith’s 2005 project Wists.[3] It allows users to save images and categorize them on different boards. They can follow other users’ boards if they have similar tastes. Popular categories are travel, cars, food, film, humor, home design, sports, fashion, and art.
Development of Pinterest began in December 2009, and the site launched as a closed beta in March 2010. The site proceeded to operate in invitation-only open beta.
Silbermann said he personally wrote to the site’s first 5,000 users offering his personal phone number and even meeting with some of its users.[4]
Nine months after launch the website had 10,000 users. Silbermann and a few programmers operated the site out of a small apartment until the summer of 2011.[4]
Early in 2010, the company’s investors and co-founder Ben Silbermann tried to interest a New York-based magazine publishing company in buying Pinterest. The publisher declined to meet with the founders.[5]
The launch of an iPhone app in early March 2011 brought in a more than expected number of downloads.[5]”

For those of you interested in the future of Pinterest and where it may be going with marketing and trying to get more traffic and interest businesses in it, I found a good link:

The State of Pinterest: What Content Marketers Need to Know Now

I was actually just trying to find out how many users there are currently. As of mid may there were 11.7 million Pinterest users, which was behind of course Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, the other big social media sites. The surprise data reported was that people were giving Pinterest and Facebook the same amount of their time when on the sites! Here is that interesting report on this data:
http://www.mediabistro.com/alltwitter/social-media-users_b22556

Ok. Moving on now that I’ve explained a lot about it the most common types of investigation of Pinterest, that is, looking it as a social media site and phenomenon and also slightly related to a lot of shopping/fashion social media type sites where people post items of things that consumers can actually buy, as Pinterest is a cross between a kind of personality identity statement and a kind of gathering of consumer generated images, which is probably where they are going in terms of the Pinterest people looking to the future in marketing and development.

My discovery when I was musing about it had to do with the concept of simply “picking out images of anything that you like” which also translates to, in my words: “express yourself in images more than words, by looking at all there is in the known universe and finding what you love to do, look at, want to do in the future, have already done, or images that express an important aspect of who you are, including mostly images of things that are generated by others, either some photographer who put this image on the internet, or some piece of art work by someone else that you like, or your own image of something personal to your life, including, of course, your own art work…” On my own Pinterest, I have not really paid so much attention to what I do and how much I pin as I do not do it often enough, though, just as with Facebook and LinkedIn, and perhaps Twitter. I expect to follow the same pattern of checking out the site and going on the site not too often, going through periods of more interest, and forgetting about it, until the magic moment when I suddenly really “get into” it and start “using” it not just more often but to its fuller capacity and participating in it more than the average user. With Facebook, it meant starting my own Public Artist Page about my Artist career, a few years ago, and just last year, with my launching of my Tribeca Healing Arts Website, I launched my Public Art Therapy page. Along with this, I was visiting Facebook a lot more frequently and joined some art therapy related groups, most recently the “Visual Art Circle” which I will discuss in another post. With LinkedIn it involved posting more, connecting more, and joining about 50 groups, both Artist and Art Therapy related.

So probably like a lot of other people who blog, have a website and Public Facebook pages and participate in LInkedIn and are into social media, Pinterest is sort of an after thought, and given that all this Social Media stuff, whether personal or mostly professional, including blogging, takes up a lot of time, Pinterest was lowest on my time factor and still is.

As I defined Pinterest above, it is based on a very simple principle that is connected to art therapy, which is that people enjoy images and their non verbal power of communicating about themselves and the world, and that images have a lot of power, and that images are enjoyable; nvesting in expressing oneself through imagery is very healing and, here is a very important part of it — it is a great way to connect with other people and sometimes preferable to communicating just non-verbally!

Most non art therapist do not know that, among the principles of the healing power of art therapy is the idea that just looking at and sorting images as well as picking out images you like is therapeutic and a part of the art therapy process or even can be The Art therapy process which you choose to use to make contact with and engage with patients. With some client populations, certain individuals and also at certain points in the art therapy process, the therapist will use this style of intervention, which may involve showing an individual or groups a few boxes or container or files of “images”, often divided into categories, such as, art by interesting artists, images from nature and landscapes, images of people in various settings and from different ethnicities and cultures, and other such groups of images. The form can be through images the art therapist “pre cut” before the session or group. With the internet now available, the images can be from various magazines or from different websites on the internet, in which case, the art therapist prints out different images to fill these types of categories. In this case where the art therapist did this, what we call “prep work”, the art therapy intervention that is similar to the Pinterest process would be, “Look through these images, maybe pick categories that are appealing to you, look through and pick out images you like, or just images that intrigue you, and this can include images you don’t like or images that disturb you.” (By the way, this last part just made me think of adding a category to my personal Pinterest called “Ugly Images” which would be images I find disgusting, ugly, repelling, gross, unappealing…) Only that last idea does not seem to be what Pinterest aims at.

Usually most users approach Pinterest as a way to express their individual identity through images they love, like, are interested in, and positive about. I don’t imagine most users think to post images of things they find negative and disgusting, but in art therapy, actually, the “Ugly” image or art work can often yield a lot more discovery and information about the Self than what we are pulled towards. Whenever someone makes something they really don’t like, I take extra time to investigate with them its power and what it means to the person and why they hate it so much. In fact the “Ugly Art: Make something with colors you hate and try to make it as ugly and unappealing to you as possible” is a directive I am interested in trying out with people. (yet another post topic).

Anyway, Pinterest involves having “Boards” which are like bulletin boards that you “virtually” take a push pin and stick images on, but you have an unlimited number of these boards and can use suggested categories or invent your own categories. Until I wrote this post, my boards were in this order called:
“My Style, Favorite Spaces and Places, Stuff, Books Worth Reading, People I Admire, Cool Stuff, Bunnies, Art and Artists I Love”. You can have as many boards and thus categories as you want, I think! I have about 118 pins. I have now gone back on Pinterest and added the boards “My Art Work” and “My Past Artwork” and rearranged the order of the boards…

The reason I cited that info about my participation in Pinterest is that I did not think much about what boards I made up and wasn’t really invested in thinking of my own Pinterest as being an expression of where I find the most meaning in life. If I had approached it that way instead of casually, it would be the way it is now…This is to show that I approached this like other social media, attitude being “Looks interesting, why is everyone so into this, I will try it out but I don’t really have time to do it really, its not super important or meaningful, so I will just jump in without giving it a lot of time and energy”, then building up to, “Wow, I didn’t realize all the potential in this social media site, I’m going to give it more time and energy and shape it more to be useful to me and/or an expression of who I am.”

And so, I am going to try to invest a little more time and interest in my Pinterest, as I have not fully explored the potential of this particular social media. What makes Pinterest social, and thus a bit like a very large art therapy group, is that like with other social media, you can “follow” people whose images you like. Also, you can find “pins” (images to pin) which you like and decide to “repin” them from some other person you randomly found on Pinterest by looking up a particular subject. Also of interest about Pinterest, is that you can find images on other sites and often now have the option of clicking on the Pinterest logo to “pin” anything on the internet to your personal boards. You can find a lot of cool images on Pinterest itself by searching for a subject you like. Also, I receive weekly emails from Pinterest with suggestions of boards and pins to investigate. So the social part is “sharing” images with people and also “liking” them, similar to liking on Facebook.

I find the name “Pinterest” is itself interesting and inviting. The idea of a “virtual” online kind of bulletin board or group of boards that are unlimited in size for “pinning” images on is cool in the way that people sometimes find ways the virtual world can imitate the real world. If I had the time and space I would love to get pushpins and pin cool images on a bunch of boards, but it would of course not allow for unlimited images or the amount of sharing that takes place on Pinterest.

In fact, I actually do have a kind of “Board”, my Inspiration Wall in my new studio. I had one in my old studio too. I put up postcards of art by artists that I admire as well as some of my own images, and my new studio’s Inspiration Wall is actually on two little walls and for the first time includes an image I made with an artist friend,another form of art therapy, combining the studio visit with another artist with making art together…

I have not fully explored all the possibilities and scope of Pinterest yet, but I really do enjoy the connection with art therapy and the healing power of looking at images you like and feeling inspired or comforted or excited by them!

Great Website: The Broken Light Collective

I don’t know if I’ve talked about them before on my blog, but I’ve been very excited about the “Broken Light Collective” blog website and what they are doing for people affected by mental illness, and in addition as an added bonus, as a way to educate the public about mental illness. This is a really impressive endeavor as it is much more than a blog. It is very moving and somehow allows people to be vulnerable and feel safe as well as able to express their own unique voice…

This is a WordPress blog started by people who wanted to post daily photos by people with mental illness. I’m not sure what got them focused on photography as the medium of choice, but it works extremely well on the internet, and nowadays with phone cameras etc., non professionals can express themselves skillfully through the art of photography and manipulating photos to create an image. There are so many options: just a snapshot caught at the right moment, a photo reworked in Photoshop to heighten it in some way, even photo collages… The only thing any of the photos all have in common is a search for the Truth about Life, as experienced by the photographer/individual.

Broken LIght Collective is a beautiful name for this simple idea. Follow the blog. and every day you will see a new image, completely unique, made by someone struggling with a mental illness or less often, someone very affected in his/her life by a loved one’s struggles with mental illness, and of course, many people fit both of these descriptions. If you are interested in studying mental illness, this is a great blog to follow to learn from the people who are struggling with it every day of their lives. They have a lot of wisdom and battle scars, not to mention the courage of putting themselves out there and showing a part of themselves through their photography.

This is to me, in a sense, art therapy at its best — a form of community art therapy or photo therapy or whatever you feel like calling it. It is an example of healing through creativity and sharing, which I think is a very important component of this original and thoughtful and sensitive blog/website. I believe strongly that creative acts and sharing of one’s creations coupled together promote the most healing as connecting with others who are sensitive to one’s struggles and/or struggling with similar issues is most healing of all. This is not to elevate or promote the idea of connecting as being social. This website is great for people with “social anxiety” which I am starting to doubt is a real “Disorder”. Anyway it is a great form of therapy through community combined with individuality, something very rare to find in the “physical world out there” in our daily lives, but perfect for the internet. In the case of the “Broken Light Collective”, the therapeutic healing aspect of this endeavor is accomplished through as a supportive community which gets formed through the people’s efforts, much like the AA model, however without any philosophy or approach to recovery. Just an interest in telling people’s stories through words and pictures. Thus the strong community of sensitive people does not require a therapist to be present, although some of the interesting “profiles” are of psychotherapists and healers of one kind or another sharing their own struggles with mental illness.

So please go check out the blog and follow it!

Inspired by the Broken Light Collective, I would like to do something similar with art in all other media excluding photography and post a picture a day of art work with the person’s story. I’m thinking of calling it the Shadow Brush Group and would model it on the philosophy of Broken Light. It would just be a place where people instead of sharing photos, share photos of paintings, drawings, mixed media, sculpture, crafts, fiber arts, environmental art, even short poems.

Note: For the Broken Light Collective people can choose to post on there with their real names and also are able to post with a pseudonym to keep their privacy… There is no judgment either way, just an invitation.

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

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…

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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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More Musings on the Possibilities in a Scribble Drawing…

I have been exploring and obsessing about the scribble drawing lately, both in my practice but especially in my personal art work. It is an interesting journey I’ve never been on before. Last times I assigned myself a kind of “frequent diary entry drawing” in my journal, they have mostly been mandalas or whatever I felt like doing at the time. Now I’m back to the scribble. I think of it as the origin of drawing. So here I am at its source!

Wikipedia definitition of the verb scribble:

[1] To write hastily or carelessly without regard to legibility or form. To cover with careless or worthless writings or drawings

[1] Etymology: Middle English scriblen, from Medieval Latin scribillare, from Latin scribere to write

How interesteing that it is defined as being a “worthless” product or activity, yet the origin of the word is from the word to write! Writing conveys something of some communication or other.

Generally the scribble drawing is associated with automatic drawing; as I mentioned recently in another post, the person doing the drawing is instructed to relax and draw lines and scribbles on the paper while looking or averting/closing their eyes. Sometimes it’s interesting to keep the pen on the paper and not take it off until one finishes the scribbling.

I started out doing this kind of drawing the usual way, scribbling and then trying to find something recognizable in the drawing arising from my unconscious. I posted some of these ones recently. Then over this week I’ve become obsessed for lack of a better work, with this new genre of scribble drawing with collage. The result looks really controlled; at the same time I’ve followed a lot of the original random scribbls and just darkened them. A lot of oval shapes are emerging and I’ve been into filling the spaces with small black circles. Unlike most scribble drawings with are meant to be fast and to bypass the “thinking” part of the brain, these drawings are taking longer and longer to complete. I was making them on very small paper and recently moved to a bigger size paper. I will post the one I’m in progress with.

The other interesting food for thought that has arisen in this process is that the weekly scribble drawing I’ve been doing emerged and began as a kind of art therapy exercise for myself, a kind of weekly check in. As I continued with the collages, I noticed that I’m thinking of them not as my “art therapy” personal drawings but as works in progress, part of a new series of works on paper that I will likely post on my artist website. The scribble bridged the way between self therapy and “artist” art work. Often those lines can become blurred anyway. This will likely be my topic of the next post… The photo is of a work in progress begun today…

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Art Therapy as Food

The holiday season is here and that means trouble for people with any kind of eating or food issues. Holiday dinners and tons of holiday parties which seems so cheerful and fun for some, for others can be big triggers. If you’re in some recovery process of relearning healthy eating and trying to follow a good schedule of meal times and eat nutritionally well, this is a time of many challenges. It’s a good idea to try to be flexible with yourself and allow yourself to eat more and eat things you don’t normally consider healthy rather than fall into the trap of self-punishment or get caught up in obsessing about food and body. It’s also a great time to focus on the non-eating activities of the holidays. Make your own wrapping paper or make your own cards. Make a holiday card to send out to family and friends. Make a fun photo or art calendar for 2012. If you like singing focus on the songs and sing a longs at the parties you go to. Enjoy dressing up if you like doing that…If you go to O.A. meetings talk about this season and your struggles with it tripping you up and any worries you have about getting into old bad habits/and/or destructive behaviors… Just a few suggestions for this time of year that itself is a big trigger for many.

I mentioned some art activities in the above paragraph but this post is meant to try to focus on art therapy and the question, Why is art therapy so effective at helping people with eating disorders as well as body image issues, food and exercise addictions, obsessive thinking about food, weight, body, etc.? Unlike other types of “obsessions” and “addictions”, such as alcoholism and drug addiction, when a person has issues around food and eating, s/he cannot simply avoid food, grocery stores and restaurants for obvious reasons. Triggers are everywhere and food and meal planning are necessities for becoming healthy. One has to change one’s relationship to food altogether and then rigorously watch out for and identify triggers and then have a plan for how to deal with them. For re-learning how to eat, how much to eat, what it feels like to be full, etc., cognitive behavioral therapy techniques can work very effectively to help a person manage their day to day life and find the difficult balance between being observant and watchful of one’s behaviors and familiar feelings or lack of feelings that trigger self-destructive behaviors around food and exercise. Just being able to call your therapist or some other helpful person when you feel challenged and scared you’re going to “relapse” is of course very useful. I have had many patients who reported that calling me when something difficult came up was very helpful or even knowing that s/he could call was also helpful. Speaking up when you’re feeling vulnerable is always helpful and can really get you through some bad moments if you know whom to talk to and can get in touch with him/her.

So where does art therapy fit in? To battle an eating disorder like bulimia or binge eating or anorexia and other related issues, one needs to learn more than ways to avoid unhealthy behavior. Besides becoming armed with ways to identify triggers for unhealthy behaviors and learning to identify one’s feelings rather than using food to literally stuff one’s feelings or cut off from them, you have to learn ways to notice when you feel a self-destructive impulse coming in, what was going on in you and what can you substitute the unhealthy behavior with, ie. learning about self-soothing. Any disorder or issue involving dissociating, getting out of one’s body, etc. can be very much helped by activities that bring you back into your body. A major part of the art therapy process in working with trauma of any kind involves using art making to learn or relearn self soothing.

Art making in the presence of a therapist or in a group with an art therapist can be healing in many different ways. There are many different forms of art making that are soothing to most people. Being given a blank piece of paper or a canvas has been shown to actually increase anxiety and trigger self-criticism in many people. So one must pick particular art making activities that are able to decrease anxiety levels and can even help a person get back in his/her body. Making a mandala with oil pastels or watercolors, which involves tracing a circle or filling in a circle that the therapist has already pre-made for the session is a very popular and tremendously healing activity. Not only are mandalas soothing, as a symbol for the self, the mandala can give one information about one’s feelings about oneself. How you treat the boundary of the circle is of course important. I have found that having people do the mandala with their non-dominant hand can release a lot of worry about how it will look and decrease perfectionistic tendencies. For some, the lack of control of the non-dominant hand becomes too frustrating to be therapeutic, but this seems to be in a minority of cases. Making the mandala on black or colored paper is also a useful way to reduce anxiety and increase excitement about the task, just by being stimulated by the color of the paper or soothed by its darkness. Mandalas are very useful for identifying one’s body energy in the here and now. For example, I have done workshops involving doing a quick mandala at the beginning of the session, followed by some form of meditation exercise, and then a much longer time to make and complete a second mandala. People are always pleasantly surprised to see that their energy at the beginning (often more chaotic or too controlled or else a minimal effort to complete the picture without much satisfaction), has completely changed from the meditation and the art making at the end of the session. The two mandalas can be compared and give a person an actual blueprint or “emotional x ray” of what was going on in their bodies at the beginning of the session, and how changed their energy feels by the end of the session, usually descriptions include “more grounded”, or that the picture feels “more whole”. At some points in treatment or recovery or self-care, it can be useful to do daily or weekly mandalas and then write a few words about one’s feelings and thoughts. put it away and look at your mandalas later as a group to see what changes may have occurred.

Other soothing art making activities involve collage, beading, and decorating boxes as well as making dolls or decorating and covering/painting pre-made dolls. For some people painting is incredibly soothing. The metaphors of art therapy in direct relationship to food are interesting in themselves. The materials and the media are a different form of food which can literally be used for symbolic filling up. If the art therapy session is highly structured with some form of directive and structured around time to make art and time to process, this structure can help a person feel more regulated and grounded. Most impulsive unhealthy behaviors are performed when one is not grounded in one’s body and in some kind of anxious or compulsive state or fughe state. Meals in themselves are what structures the day for many people, and when there is no structure to when one eats, one can get easily caught up in feeling out of control. There are many art directives that are helpful for all sorts of aspects of recovery and regaining a healthy lifestyle as well as a healthy relationship with one’s body. Identifying and making pictures of different forms of hunger: emotional hunger, mental hunger, physical hunger and even spiritual hunger. Just describing and identifying these states is helpful. However as in most cases with art therapy, having an image to play with, observe and help organize oneself is highly useful. It is a great tool for measuring progress in therapy; to have something tangible like a body of work over time — what better way to actually see self transformation/

Of course there are all kinds of directives and activities (the art therapy “menu”) specifically geared around confronting and dealing with eating issues. I have named only a few above. Positive self image collages are another great art activity that is fun, non-threatening and promotes thinking good thoughts about oneself. Making affirmation boxes, a great transitional object for you to bring home and add to on your own. For some people that I have worked with, doing a body tracing by lying on the paper and having the therapist trace around your body and then filling it in in any way with whatever materials there are at hand is very useful in working on these difficult body image issues. Again, this is even better if you are in long term therapy and do one every couple of months or so to be able to compare the different images and notice what has changed for you. This is one of those activities that is best done when you have come to trust your art therapist and are ready to grapple with difficult feelings, even trauma memories, that can surface while filling in the body tracing. This is a prime example of why our training in working with trauma is so important. It is also a great activity to do with pregnant women in a group or individual session.

Besides the structure and the helpfulness of particular directives, non-directive forms of art therapy also work well. I have had patients with eating disorders who enjoyed having choices of what to do and figuring out on their own what they liked, being able to explore my art studio and feed themselves. What can replace walking into a deli or grocery store hell bent on buying certain foods to fill an empty hole inside that one is barely aware of?  Walking into the art studio/office and taking in the visual stimulation. The atmosphere may be overwhelming at first, but the excitement of just picking out a material and playing with it is hard to describe in words and hard to pinpoint in terms of feelings. I get the same feeling in art supply stores, but there is a big difference between an art supply store and an inviting healing creative space. (I knew I was on the right track with my studio when  a father who had no interest in art making suddenly picked up a piece of cardboard and started painting! freely with all sorts of colors; his kids who had been focused on their own projects of course rushed over and asked for cardboard so they could imitate him!) As an art therapist, I can say that there is nothing like the satisfaction of having a patient who has been talking to you for months suddenly out of the blue pick out some art materials with no encouragement, suggestions, or pushing from me. It is delightful to witness!

Certainly the art materials and art making can just function as a good distraction from obsessive thinking about food and body. Havi ng an hour of respite from one’s own intrusive thinking is not only worth while but provides hope that this experience can be repeated, both in the studio and at home. So there is a lot to be said for allowing for discovery and choice of media, especially with people who are very aware of how “in control” they feel from moment to moment. In some cases, consuming the therapist’s materials can replace bingeing. There is a delicate balance between feeding oneself emotionally and spiritually in a session and working on mindfulness, versus mindless consuming and using of art materials that can be perseverative and imitate unhealthy behaviors outside of the studio. I try to stay mindful that any substance or activity has healing properties when used in a mindful prescribed manner versus when the material, activity or person is abused or addictively consumed to fill an empty hole. As therapists, we can sense sometimes during, sometimes after a session, whether the session has been a healing one or a “filler”; it is not so bad to have some sessions be fillers once in a while anyway.

This is only a mere blog post, not meant to be an exhaustive discussion of the merits of art therapy for  people with eating disorders and related challenges. Please feel free to share your experiences as a therapist or patient…

As a side comment, I was thinking tonight about the challenges of being a therapist and eating healthy meals. A lot of us work through the dinner hour and come home exhausted and starved with no energy to cook a proper meal. It can become a major family issue; how to have meals with partner and/or child/children all together and at regular meal times. I try to have extremely moderate goals, such as, let’s try to have a family meal at least once a week, not too great I admit, but I get home late several evenings a week and then there are other schedules besides my own to accommodate. This is going into a new related topic, probably good for next week’s post…