Art Therapy Journal (Northern Programme Foundation Course)

Saturday, January 15th 2011

Throughout the initial weekend, I often felt self-conscious and insecure, intimidated by the number of people. I felt repressed, struggling to speak in front of the main group. I had an overwhelming sense that I had let myself down but I was hopeful that after a while, once I felt more comfortable with the others, I would relax. I preferred the smaller group interactions as I contributed more to discussions, such as the exercise on hopes and fears (see below). For images and objects, I chose the beaded necklace as it reminded me of spirituality, something quite important to me. The beads were all shapes and sizes and such vibrant colours; each different and unique. Whenever I see someone wearing them, I tend to assume they will be someone I am more likely to have an instant connection with based on a similar ethos or philosophy e.g. a hippy, traveller or artist. Buddha ornaments make me feel calm and peaceful and I get a similar sensation from other ethnic or cultural items. To a lesser extent, there was also the religions connotation of rosary beads linked to prayer or meditation. They also reminded me of how after a health scare and break-up, I had vowed to stop holding myself back so much (restricting, abstaining) and this was reflected by injecting more colour into my life, dying my hair red and wearing bright jewellery. If I had to choose a second or third item, I would have chosen the animal skull as I like the macabre and drawing human anatomy or the feathery, turquoise eye mask because I have developed an interest in burlesque of late (watching not performing).

Hopes & Fears

Personal Development:

To be able to let go (engage / explore), express myself freely / creatively
To be Inspired / motivated to do more artwork

Professional Development:

To gain insight into new vocation, helping people with mental health issues
To connect / socialise / network with other creative souls

Materials: sensory & experiential – art-making & sharing images

I was very uptight starting the experiment with art materials in the afternoon but began to relax and enjoy it once I had made a few marks on the paper. Plus Sarah-Jane’s enthusiasm was infectious; she was like a kid in a sweet shop. I loved using the indian ink and glitter paint over the netting, string and coloured sand. The diverse thick and thin lines created by the ink reminded me of the artistic style of Gerald Scarfe or Ralph Steadman. Strangely, mediums I was already familiar with like pastels and tissue paper seemed harder to use, mundane even whereas painting, which I was less confident about seemed easier and enjoyable. My picture seemed to develop into a sea theme with octopus or squid-like creatures. However, the red section seemed to become more flowery with feathers and pink tissue paper. I noticed I was still exerting an element of control or rigidity (being a web designer) with the use of colours, having specific blue and red sections. The only place the colours intermingled was the overlaying line of gold paint. Initially, I was concerned I had ruined the artwork but managed to convert it into some kind of sea dragon. By the end, I was reassured how everyone’s artwork appeared quite abstract and childlike.

Sunday, January 16th

I was still feeling slightly withdrawn because I could not seem to articulate myself in the large group. We had to choose an adjective with alliteration to our name so I chose jealousy, expressing concerns about not being an artist. I felt at a low ebb and began wondering whether I would enjoy this course as much as ‘Healing Through Art’ at the Findhorn Foundation. And questioning whether I was actually capable of letting go creatively? During the ‘What is art therapy?’ discussion, I sought clarification about the difference between art is therapy and art as therapy. I thought I understood what it was from the ‘Is all art therapeutic?’ essay question but I found it confusing hearing alternative perspectives. The lecture on elements of psychodynamic theory featuring Freud, Jung, Klein & Winnicott was really fascinating and it reinforced how I would like to learn more about psychological theories. Plus I appreciated having more structure, the tutor teaching a lesson rather than just the students sharing their interpretations or thoughts.

Art IS Therapy: Therapeutic benefit of engaging in the creative process
Art AS Therapy: Analysing/reflecting on the practice/product of art making

Understand self / personal experience by exploring unconscious thoughts & emotions through the use of art materials (non-verbal / visual communication)

Relationship Triangle (Artist – Artwork – Therapist)
Safe Environment
Boundaries & The Frame

Experiential workshop in small group – Materials: aspects of the self

The afternoon involved a smaller, more intimate group so again I felt more comfortable opening up. There were a few people I had not interacted with much and by the end of the day, I felt a little more connected to them. I played it safe by using pastels and drawing symbols I often draw such as a profiled head featuring a brain and basic human figures but there was only half an hour so did not feel overly confident exploring other materials. I noted how I squatted on the floor with my back to the majority, clearly trying to hide my artwork. Afterwards, it was suggested that just because the imagery is familiar to me, does not mean it is to anyone else, which made perfect sense. Interestingly, there seemed to be some synchronicity between mine and nearby pieces as if we had influenced each other in subtle ways. Both Anne-Marie and I had featured question marks and Virginia and I had used yellow (which allegedly signifies creativity) to illustrate an aura or chakra colour. And Rachel had formed a purple figure from plasticine sitting in a contemplative position whereas I had also featured a purple figure in the lotus position. Throughout the session, I made the effort to enquire about others work, not wanting anyone to feel left out. I was still not very coherent but at least felt I managed to convey some aspects of myself.

Freud

-Dreams & The Unconscious (Free Association) finds expression in images rather than words
-Instinct & Drives (controlled by Repression)
-Neurosis & Psychosis (sign of frustrated desires or wishes)
-Transference & Countertransference

Superego = Above The I / Ego = I / Id = It

Jung

– The Collective Unconscious
– Symbols (people, things, words, concepts that stand for something significant for an individual)
– Active Imagination (method for recognising own / others Archetypes)

The Self = Perceive Ourselves (+ve traits)
The Shadow = Our Dark Side (-ve traits)
Anima = Feminine In Male
Animus = Masculine In Female

Saturday, February 12th

We were instructed to explore the exhibitions at Graves Art Gallery and choose some images that speak to us as an individual. The benefactor of the gallery JG Graves ran a mail-order company selling everything from furniture to clothes. The artist Su Blackwell created a piece of artwork in his honour using a deconstructed map of Sheffield, paper cut-outs from his 1930-34 catalogue and an oak box. She used raised areas lit-up to highlight parks he gave to the city. As I observed, more details became visible. There was a woman in a victorian-style swimsuit holding a clock near a watering can, a little girl (maybe a boy) with a toy boat, a cabinet with a vase, a shoe, 2 women talking (one with a mantlepiece clock on her head), a handbag, 2 bicycles, garden shears, a woman sitting reading and a man with a mower. In the background, there was a photo of his factory and leafy trees darted around the landscape, one with a clock hanging from it. This reminded me of Salvidor Dali’s ‘Persistence of Time’. Along with lamps, there were also captions hanging from the ceiling such as ‘charming styles’ and ‘will wash & wear splendidly’ against a light blue sky. It was a little picturesque world. I adore collage, especially with a combination of images and text as used in graphic design.

In ‘The Hermit’ (1966) by Patrick Caulfield, primary colours were used ironically to suggest a dark isolation. The figure had no significant features so could be anyone and was surrounded by rocks representing ‘a landscape of the mind’, being alone with your thoughts. There were a few paintings that I found myself linking together with themes of withdrawal and isolation. ‘Corner Of The Artist’s Room’ (1907-1909) by Gwen John, features a chair in the attic room, which can be seen to represent her or her lover Auguste Rodin and was painted at the end of the affair. She said, “My room is so delicious after a whole day outside, it seems to me that I am not myself except in my room.” Such ideas resonate strongly with me because I tend to spend a lot of time by myself, mainly to do with my sensitivity and how I find being out in the world mentally exhausting. One reason I like the internet is because it enables me to control how much I engage. However, too much time alone can be unhealthy; it is important to socialise and connect with others for a sense of well-being. I reached the conclusion it can be both a blessing and a curse, a sanctuary and a prison.

‘The Lady of Shallot’ (1858) by William Maw Egley illustrates Tennyson’s poem based on the cursed Guinevere who is trapped in a tower, separated from her lover Lancelot and only allowed to watch the world through reflections in a mirror. It is vibrant and beautiful outside but she is confined to a room / mirror. This naturally reminded me of my body dysmorphic disorder. Mental-health issues can be so debilitating, making you feel trapped, withdrawn and excluded from society (a life half-lived). Another piece of artwork that related to my feelings of ugliness and abnormality was ‘The Kiss’ (2001) by Marc Quinn, which was inspired by classical marble sculptures, many which have lost limbs but still considered beautiful. It features Mat Fraser and Catherine Long both who have missing or malformed limbs and questions our perceptions of beauty. He said, “People are seduced by the beauty of the sculpture and that makes them face something they normally avoid.” Other paintings which had less emotional meaning but nevertheless interested me were ‘The Hours’ (1870-1882) by Edward Coley Burne-Jones for the clever use of colour to show transition between figures and ‘The Spirit Of Chivalry’ (1845) by Daniel Maclise.

Experiential workshop in small group – Looking

Since I had “played it safe” in the last experiential session, I subconsciously challenged myself to produce what I considered to be a rubbish piece of artwork. I purposely faced the group instead of hiding in a corner, used messy crayons and chose coloured paper as a background instead of sticking to white. The light-blue matched the sky in Su Blackwell’s collage and I focussed on one of the paper cut-out figures, the iconic lady in the victorian swimsuit holding a stop-watch or clock. This developed into a seaside landscape, with blue tissue paper and string for the ocean. I drew further objects with bold black permanent crayon including a bicycle, a handbag, ceiling lamp and caption boxes. Then I added orange tissue paper to depict a complimentary sandy or rocky area and this became the caves featured in ‘The Hermit’. I could not remember the exact colours used in the painting and had no references to hand so used red glittery paint for the figure and then duplicated this shape for emphasis using red crayon at reducing sizes in a diagonal line. The final touch was a brown border suggesting the frame of the oak box, bringing the two pieces of artwork together in a composition. This exercise definitely pushed me out of my comfort zone as I tried to be relaxed with creating something so aesthetically unpleasing but I liked the overall concept.

Saturday, March 12th – Theory And Practice

I enjoyed the talk by children & adolescent art therapist Susan Allaker in the morning. I thought it provided more practical, specific information about procedures such as referrals and what actually happens in art therapy sessions. She talked about a boy who kept throwing up without a physical or medical cause and how the chance to express himself creatively turned things around. The art therapy room appeared a very comfortable environment, with a round table, giant bean bag and different sized chairs for children & adults. However, she mentioned NHS cuts and warned that it was difficult to get a job in the profession, which may have disheartened a few people. Unfortunately, the other art therapist Hannah Godfrey could not make it so George filled in with a case study of an adult who had tried to commit suicide on a few occasions. Hence, there was evocative artwork with slit wrists and a bloody, decapitated head made out of clay and red paint. By lunchtime, I was feeling a tad cynical. If you can just make it up as you go along, why do you need any formal training? It all seemed rather wishy-washy and the constant silence irritated me. I was also reflecting on how frustrated I was when the person-centred counsellor I visited years ago did not offer much in the way of advice. I may as well have been talking to myself and found the CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) much more integrative and useful. I realised that both as a client and as an art therapist, I would prefer more structure or a more directive approach, with guidelines or themes. For example, Nicky mentioned some inspiring projects she had initiated as an art teacher, like the shoebox and secret postcards.

Klein

– Object Relations Theory (e.g. dolls)
– Aggression (hate, envy, greed) in young ill children
– Depressive Position (governed by Eros / life instinct)
– Paranoid-Schizoid Position (governed by Thanatos / death instinct)

Winnicott

– Good Enough Parenting
– Transitional Space & Object (e.g. pacifier, blanket, bear)
– True Self (being, self-expression) & False (doing, expectations)
– Importance of play or creative activity

Experiential workshop in small group

Earlier, I had looked in the mirror in broad daylight and it had upset me. I tried to challenge my body dysmorphic disorder and it just disturbed and confused me as usual. I decided to depict this in my experiential artwork, drawing two self-portraits with pastels on black paper. One of myself at night (sleeping, dreaming, peaceful) and one of myself during the day (agitated, stressed, sad). I was particularly drawn to a silver pastel and depicted dreams via thought bubbles coming from my head, featuring dismembered doll parts (one of my recent dreams). I love dreaming as it is so surreal and provides escapism from the real world. ‘Night brings counsel’. I can cast off my physical form and go exploring, flying, whatever my subconscious chooses. Even if I am awake, I feel more productive, creative, alive at night. On the other half, I demonstrated how daylight often makes me feel. ‘The cold light of day’. I drew the sun, which acts like a giant spotlight, highlighting all my flaws and making me feel weathered and ugly. I shed a tear as my skin ages and falls off, while other people are in bikinis enjoying the sunshine; living their lives in normal, happy ways. For me, light brings darkness and vice versa.

In hindsight, I actually preferred the very first workshop involving the whole group. Being able to go into another room with plenty of space around me to create, without others so close nearby or the art therapist watching. I could be anonymous and free. Yet, I still preferred the more intimate group for discussion and sharing. But which setting for creating artwork is more beneficial? One that feels more challenging or more cathartic?

Saturday, April 9th – Groups

Today, we were visited by art therapist Richard Stott who talked about groups; how like cells, people come together as individuals and coalesce. We discussed various scenarios that might occur in group settings and how we would hypothetically deal with them e.g. if one member was constantly silent, blind etc which seemed practical and useful. Rick also recommended ‘Art Therapy For Groups’ by Marian Liebmann, which is filled with suggestions for themed exercises. In the afternoon, we were split into groups of 6 and collaborated on a piece of artwork. My group immediately decided that we wanted to squirt coloured paint everywhere in a childish fashion but it was suggested that we create some kind of 3D structure first. We used a giant roll of corrugated cardboard, unravelling it in a curling, winding fashion and then positioned white paper underneath. It reminded me of a playground. Initially, I was feeling slightly repressed and frustrated, reluctant to get involved, which seemed reflected in my asking permission to rip the cardboard to form jagged edges. However, I was concerned others were not overly keen and that it would spoil the smooth aesthetic. It was almost tribal how we circled the sculpture squirting colourful poster paint at the canvas. It was even suggested we strip naked.

It was actually liberating not being entirely responsible as opposed to the pressure of creating individual compositions. We sprinkled glitter and created hand and footprints using the finger paint. I covered my hands completely in blue, squatted and smeared the walls, cavewoman style. I liked the texture of the grooved side. Then as we were naturally reaching a conclusion, without seeking as much approval, I draped a line of string back and forth, trailing it off ending with a giant ball of twine whereas Sinead placed a couple of sticks in the centre of the cardboard roll. Sadly, when we returned to the room, the structure had collapsed in the middle like a bridge, which seemed to highlight its transient, ephemeral nature. The 2nd group had drawn 6 figure outlines on a large sheet of paper and decorated each person together (apart from the individual whose portrait it was), following on where each had left off like the game where you fold paper into sections and draw a head, torso or legs. Whereas the 3rd group created a suspended chandelier or mobile-like structure that required them to work together in harmony to sustain or balance. Both were beautifully effective ideas that emphasised the spirit of sharing and collaboration. Afterwards, I thought maybe this activity had actually helped me breakthrough some of my crippling creative repression.

Saturday, May 14th – Awareness & Reflection

The morning was primarily about the MA featuring Debbie Michaels, one of the tutors. It was interesting, particularly hearing ex-student Nem talk so enthusiastically about her experience on the course. She recommended a book entitled ‘Art As Healing’ by Edward Adamson because it was full of pictures rather than words and explained how you can control what you talk about but not always the appearance of the unconscious in an image. However, ultimately it felt rather pointless as I could not afford the fees, regardless of whether I wanted to continue the art therapy training. In the afternoon, we had experiential workshops and I finally felt able to let go and create what I described as a 3D doodle. I played with wire and contorted it randomly into different shapes and patterns to form a small three-dimensional structure. Then I experimented using cling film to twist and wrap around the piece. I was less uptight and not feeling the usual pressure to generate the perfect artwork. I considered this a break-through. (“Wholeness rather than perfection is the goal.” – Jung) In fact, everyone seemed to be producing art related to growth, liberation, unfolding and expansion as we collectively contemplated heading towards the end of the course and new beginnings.

Saturday, July 9th & Sunday, July 10th

The final weekend featured a series of individual presentations in the mornings. I had decided to read my art therapy journal / blog aloud, omitting a few personal paragraphs in order to condense it down to 10-15 mins. After hearing a few others speak, I was concerned that my talk was rather long, boring and repetitive. I commented how others had gone with the flow, obviously taking their cue from the experiential workshops whereas mine was rigidly prepared and organized as usual but reminded myself that I was merely a work in progress. However, afterwards I thought maybe this is just the way I am; if I want to be creative in an orderly fashion with neat captions, what is wrong with that? There are many forms of creativity and mine include web design, thinking, collating and writing. I chose to study graphic design since it allowed me to combine strengths from my left and right brain. I thoroughly enjoyed creating my final piece of artwork on canvas as I had given myself permission to do exactly what I wanted based on the idea that just because the content or medium is familiar to me does not mean it is to anyone else. I used pastels as they are so effective at demonstrating mood and it felt cathartic using my notes and sketches throughout the foundation course to round everything off into a summarised conclusion.

Final Artwork

Sinead had used slogans poised on springy, almost robotic, wire legs with plasticine feet. She talked about listening to your visual voice and painting your own reality, inspired by artist Frida Kahlo. Along with others, she expressed how the course had rekindled her love of art and encouraged her to visit more exhibitions and those who had not created art previously vowed to continue. Susannah mentioned the physicality of art-making, whether to stand, squat or sit and how she had learned to be comfortable with uncertainty, to just let something develop. I agreed with Jenny how valuable it had been to go away and process confused thoughts in order to understand them. A few people described how they had become more mindful, noticing the exquisite detail and beauty in the world. Rachel explained how patterns in her soapy water or bath sprits as she called them had inspired her drawings. Whereas Hazel featured a journey of postcards, Sue used a circle of string to unite us, Nicky stripped off t-shirts with word clouds on them and Lisa handed out white masks for everyone to wear, excluding herself. I figured this was a similar technique to visualing the audience in their underwear but again it called to mind my BDD. Abi showed a film of a butterfly struggling from its cocoon and used the analogy of how the battle was necessary to strengthen its wings to describe her experience. And Anne-Marie presented her latest paintings, featuring spiritual-esque figures, which reminded me of my ambition to create artwork like Alex Gray.

In the first afternoon, we discussed endings, which seemed to culminate in a discussion on relationships and break-ups. I commented how ultimately you are born alone and you die alone but people naturally come and go along the way. As in film or theatre, some have leading roles whereas others are merely peripheral characters or walk-ons. Art therapy was always going to be a temporary course so we knew this day would come. I empathised completely with those pouring their hearts out but was in a rather content, contained mood. Then I made a serene female figure out of clay to represent feelings of empowerment and inner strength, rediscovering who you are as an individual after heartbreak and separation. The second afternoon involved the entire group individually creating something and then endeavouring to link all the pieces together. We ended up using string to physically attach them to show a sequence or story. I moulded a few alien or sea creatures on an island out of plasticine, which may have been partly inspired by ‘The Garden Of Earth Delights’ by Hieronymus Bosch. Initially, I positioned it under what appeared to be a maypole as it reminded me of the magic roundabout but it was later suggested it sat on Wendy’s drawing under what aptly seemed like a bridge. By the end, I was feeling physically and emotionally exhausted yet very connected and inspired. I also realized how comfortable I had finally become with the silence.

So what now? To continue trying to let go, to experiment, to create more artwork, to stay motivated and follow-through, maybe volunteer with Mind and if the funds ever become available, consider a psychology degree, a counseling diploma or the MA in art psychotherapy.

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