Description of The Healing Powers of Art Making

I am always looking for good descriptions of what art therapy is and what makes art making so healing. Here is a great synopsis (written by colleague, art therapist Fredricka Brooks: website: http://www.fredrickabrooks.com/) which includes so many of the important aspects of the creative process of art making that makes it so powerfully healing:

“It has been my experience that people use and benefit from art-making in many different ways, including: making art as a way to be seen, finding pleasure and joy in the process, as a vehicle for self expression, as a way to communicate, as a way to care for oneself, a way of developing and learning new coping skills, relaxing, learning to work to completion, learning to self-start, and meditate. Art-making can increase self-esteem through pride about one’s work, creating meaning through making images, metaphors, and stories, witnessing oneself develop a visual language that is unique, and taking pride in oneself and one’s identity as an artist.”

Thank you, Fredricka!!!

Interview About My Art Therapy Career!

Interview About My Art Therapy Career!

I am very excited to announce that the first of a two part interview that took place in my studio/office with art therapist Victoria Scarborough is now online at the above link! The interview is about how I started out in the field, my past experience, my present experience and current projects I am working on, as well as how I balance being an artist with being an art therapist. As on this blog, there is some personal information in it, in case you don’t want to know too much about me. (ie. patients out there and former patients and others, only read it if you don’t mind knowing a bit about how my personal life impacts my professional life…)

I will announce on this blog when she posts Part 2 of the interview.

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.

My 9/11/12 post a day late…

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These photos did not show up in the order I intended, however they are a good representation of the way the day of 9/11 is punctuated by memories, memories of artwork I did that was very much a personal response, and the present day 11 years later with the ghost of the towers shining in the clear night sky. I also took some pictures of sunflowers at a deli on Chambers st. That I should have included…

So there was this desire to take many photos of the ghost lights making a large eleven and two white towers in the night sky; I took many photos of them on my walk home in the neighborhood. I also took sone self-portraits with them in back of my face. As well, there was a desire to take photos of the street signs and flowers in the deli, even the sidewalk, perhaps an expression of the weird feeling of, it’s as though it never happened when you look at the essential life of any NYC neighborhood: there are the street signs, different signs in a different color but the same street names, there is the concrete sidewalk and the corner brightly lit up deli open late…

The twin lines of light always inspire and move me; they function as a better expression of a “memorial” than any building or fountain or plaques could be, and there is something evocative about their annual reappearance and disappearance. Also, their simplicity and visual effect if having no words, accounts, stories, explanations, even objects from the day, etc., as no words capture the essence of such monumental events such as 9/11 and other more personal private losses people suffer with: because there are no words for the big gaping hole of a traumatic loss, any death of a loved one really… These twin white lights stretch high into the sky until they link together, no longer seen as separate, one white far away blurry line swallowed up by the night sky…

In my art work there is a continuity since 9/11/01 versus before it. I posted some images done soon after the event, the one with ink and green background and the double one with a filmstrip like composition of a face and traces of a building in pinkish colors.

Another photo posted here of two framed drawings is a diptych, entitled “Falling Towers” fine with pen and mostly bright pink ink, from around 2009.

Finally, tying it all together are 2 tiny pieces made yesterday evening in my studio. They were response art but seemed to be connected with the day, a long one which swung from everyday “normal” activities with my oblivious 5 year old keeping me in the present moment, and pockets of moments of replaying parts of the day 11 years ago, tiny emotional moments punctuating a beautiful September day with a clear sky…

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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