Survival Art: Using Art Therapy to Heal

We are pleased to bring you this guest post from our new friend Elf Lady.  Her post originally appeared  here on her blog Elf Lady’s Chronicles, where she shares personal stories of surviving domestic violence, divorce and motherhood.  Elf Lady’s blog is wonderful narrative of her journey in healing, we think you’ll enjoy reading her work. 

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“Art opens the closets, airs out the cellars and attics. It brings healing.”
-Julia Cameron

As women we are artist of our own lives.  We exercise our creativity by providing healthy, hearty meals for our family, creating a cozy home, planning birthday parties and organizing holidays.  We are constantly creating.  In addition, women are the natural nurturers and healers in our society.  So what happens when we need to be healed? What happens when we need to be healed of the trauma and abuse we have experienced at the hands of an intimate partner?

As a survivor of domestic violence myself, my therapist, Michelle, recommended journaling as a means to deal with the emotions surrounding my abusive relationship and pending divorce.  I tried journaling, but it was too painful writing down my thoughts.  However, I knew from my sessions in Michelle’s office, her specialty was art therapy.

What is Art Therapy? According to the Art Therapy Alliance, art therapy is “the deliberate use of art-making to address psychological and emotional needs.  Art therapy uses art media and the creative process to help in areas such as, but not limited to: fostering self-expression, create coping skills, manage stress, and strengthen sense of self.  Art therapy has provided mental health treatment for clients who have experienced trauma, grief & loss, depression, chronic illness, substance abuse, and more.”

Michelle works with foster kids from abusive homes and other children dealing with various challenges.  She predominately uses art therapy for these children and teenagers as a means in dealing with their pain.  Her office is filled with pastels, paints, markers and sketchbooks.  The office walls are painted with colorful, bold pictures of flowers, vines, phrases, bricks and snowmen.  The paintings give me a sense of comfort and warmth regardless of not contributing to the collage of images myself.

I had been seeing Michelle for six months before I asked if I could try Art Therapy.  I considered myself a creative person.  As a child I sketched eyes and faces and wrote poetry, but that ended as I entered college to become an engineer. Today my creativity is expressed through every day activities such as cooking, decorating, gardening and at times photography.  I know  I don’t have the skills to be a true artist, and that’s okay.  Art therapy does not require skill.  It only requires you to try.

Gretchen Miller, MA, ATR-BC, CTC, writes, “Through art-making, survivors can make sense of and find their way out of chaos, frightful memories, and the raw emotion of their abuse to discover a sense of grounding, strength, safety, understanding, and hope.”

So I bought a pack of pastels and got out my sketch book.  One of the first pictures I drew in my sketchbook was of my husband.

My Husband

I wanted to draw a picture showing how I saw him that night and other nights when he was angry.  The dark blue is the coldness in his heart, my feeling of dread, and the darkness of my depression.  The fire represents how quickly my husband could explode transforming himself from a civil, normal man to a heartless, angry monster.

My next attempt expressed my feeling of being shattered and surrounded in a sea of chaos.  My marriage was shattered, my sense of self was shattered, my belief system was shattered.  Things I believed to be true were no longer true, so what was real and what was not?  Who or what could I believe anymore?

Shattered

After these short drawing sessions, I was always a little more at peace.  I felt a sense of relief getting these pictures and feelings out of my mind and soul and onto paper.

Although I could not afford it, in August I decided to rent a beach cottage for the week before my son returned to school.  He brought his beach toys, matchbox cars, and books.  I armed myself with my sketch book, pastels, and colored pencils in addition to my self-help books, camera, sunscreen, and beach chair.

The sound of the ocean and the warmth of the sun has its own healing properties. Sitting on the beach listening to the waves and watching my son play in the water, I could finally relax.  I began to capture this peace and solitude with my pastels and pencils.

The Beach

I first drew the view from the front porch of our little cottage.  I could sit on the porch in my rocking chair and watch the breeze blow the dune grass and lines of pelicans fly by.  Often I would see fishing trawlers and sailboats in the distance.

Colors of Seashells

Another favorite pastime that week was searching through the vast amounts of seashells deposited on the sand after high tide.  There were so many shells it looked like a dump truck had driven on the beach in the night and unloaded an entire load of beautiful, multi-colored seashells.

The sifting and searching for my favorite shells became meditative and therapeutic for me.  I was fascinated by the palette of colors nature applied in creating the shells. So, one night while sitting at the kitchen table, I laid out an assortment of my shells and captured their colors on paper.  Using pastels, I was able to blend the colors into shades that matched my shells. I realize my drawing doesn’t look like much, but I was pleased with the result and looking at the colors has a calming affect for me.

Finding Peace and Solitude

My last drawing at the beach was a sketch in a struggle to find some peace and solitude one day. As I drew this scene of my beach chair and umbrella, I was in reality having an anxiety attack.

My mom had decided on her own to follow us to beach for four days during the time my son and I were there.  Upon arrival, she proceeded to take control of my son and whisk him away for putt putt golf or swimming at the pool of the condo where she was staying regardless of any plans I may have had.  While I was grateful for the time my son was able to spend with his grandmother and the hour or two for a long walk on the beach, I felt these decisions were made for me and my peaceful vacation had been hijacked by my mom.  Striving to set boundaries, we eventually had words resulting in her leaving in a huff.  But I was much relieved to have regained control of my vacation.

Coming full circle, I want to share a drawing of one of my injuries I received the last night my husband assaulted me. I did not draw this until the end of September, a full nine months after the assault.    Creating this drawing was triggered by registering for a 5K benefiting Interact of Wake County, the local non-profit supporting victims of domestic violence.  As a survivor, I felt a duty to run in this race.  In the days leading up to this race, I started to relive that night.  I felt the sense of betrayal and shame all over again.  Finally, I decided to capture what happened that night on paper, hopefully coming to terms with it in some fashion.

Me & Betrayal

My sketches have brought me peace during and after drawing.  At times, the drawing has brought clarity to how I felt about my abusive relationship.  At other times the benefits of drawing cannot be put into words, but I know a small tectonic shift has occurred leading me further along my path of recovery.

While we may never pay our bills with our endeavors of painting, drawing, or sculpting, we are all artists of our own life.  Every day we create a beautiful mosaic of our lives with connections to our loved ones, our friends, our hobbies and passions, and events in our life.

As women, we are accustomed to the art of creating and the art of healing. We create nutritious meals for our family, beautiful gardens, and cozy, inviting rooms for our homes.  We heal our children when sick, our partners and friends when they are down and out.  Why not combine these two worthy and natural skills to heal ourselves through art?

Connecting With Your Creativity

Connecting With Your Creativity

Fall always reminds me going back to school, time for reading, writing and thinking, and so it seems a good occasion to re-engage with our blog.

Speaking of reading and writing, I have been struggling with a bit of writers block lately. I have spent so much time focusing on organizational development and working on tax documents so that SpeakArtLoud could attain non-profit status (which we did in September, yippee!) that I have lost touch with my creative side.

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I shared my struggle with writers block on Twitter and received a few helpful suggestions.
@kdsmithwrites  A “walk about” always helps when I’m stuck. Added bonus – sunny skies!

@Brainzooming Saw your writers block tweet. Here are 26 ideas for beating one from my blog: http://bit.ly/lH2uK4 Best wishes!

@arttherapynews How do you overcome a creative block? Answer chocolate (Though, I do not think there is any evidence linking chocolate with creativity I still gave it a try)

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I pulled out my copy of A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future by Daniel Pink to remind myself of the value creative thinking has on the world.

In this book Pink makes the case that creative professions and right-brain abilities will drive social and economic development.

Pink identifies 6 right-brain abilities and includes creative exercises at the end of each chapter to help readers explore these areas. Here is a brief summary of these 6 aptitudes and a quick exercise to tap into this skill.

  1. Design brings beauty into our daily life, makes items easier to use and improves “flow” of systems.  * Watch this What is Design video and design your own toaster *

  2. Story can help us understand one another, improve diagnosis and healing and connect us to a purpose. *Interview a friend or family member, ask about a memorable event in their life *

  3. Symphony is about being able to combine pieces into a whole, to see relationships and blend ideas.  * Cut images out of magazines and make a collage of your future*

  4. Empathy gives us the ability to understand people, to create relationships and to care for others.   * Take the Empathy Quotient surveyto get a sense of your EQ *

  5. Play allows for self-expression, can reduce hostility, improve morale and make us more fulfilled.* Go to a playground and swing or give the monkey bars a try, at the very least watch kids play*

  6. Meaning is linked to spiritually and happiness and have health benefits and social benefits. *For one week write down one thing you are thankful for *

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So, readers, how do you tap into your creativity? What tips do you have for overcoming a creative block?


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The Harlem Renaissance – America’s Art and History

The Harlem Renaissance – America’s Art and History

One of the things I appreciate about art is how it brings history to life.  Art helps me to understand the past in a way that no history book ever has.  Art is personal, nuanced, and rich with emotion, connecting us to personal stories and experiences from the past, providing greater depth and meaning to history.

The Harlem Renaissance

I remember first hearing of the Harlem Renaissance in a college art history class, until that point I had never been aware of this creative period in American history.

The Harlem Renaissance refers to a period in America’s history when there was a wealth of art, literature, music and dance created by African Americans.  It was during this period, after the end of World War I to just before the Great Depression, that The Great Migration occurred, when a larger percentage of black Americans moved from  the south to industrial cities in the northeast and mid-west.

This was a period when significant social and geographic changes were taking place in the nation, and the art from this period both reflected theses changes and helped to drive further social change.

Women Artists of the Harlem Renaissance

This period in American history was also an historic time for women, after decades of struggle women gained the right to vote in 1920.  The art and writing of many of the African- American women during this period addressed not only race issues but gender issues as well.

Here are three women artists working during the Harlem Renaissance who’s work both reflected and helped to further social change.

(1) Zora Neale Hurston

Writer Zora Neale Hurston published poetry, short stories, novels and an autobiography, but it was her 1937 novel “Their Eyes Were Watching God” for which she is most famous.  After publication the novel, a coming of age story of an independent black woman met initially met with mixed critical success.

However, Alice Walker’s 1972 essay in Ms Magazine “In Search of Zora Neale Hurston” resulted in the book being reprinted and it is now a highly acclaimed novel.

Sometimes, I feel discriminated against, but it does not make me angry. It merely astonishes me. How can any deny themselves the pleasure of my company? It’s beyond me. – Zora Neale Hurston

(2) Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller

Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller a visual artist, started her art career by winning a scholarship to attend Philadelphia Museum School for the Arts and after earning her degree continued her art education in Paris, where she studied under Auguste Rodin.

Fuller’s sculpture Ethiopia Awakening depicts an African woman in a regal headdress, the lower portion of the body wrapped like a mummy, and is is described as symbolic of the emerging voice of black America.

(3) Bessie Smith

Blues singer Bessie Smith, considered one of the greatest singers of her era, performed on the vaudeville touring circuit, recorded for Columbia Records and made an appearance in a film and on Broadway.

She collaborated with numerous jazz and blues musicians, including Louis Armstrong.  Smith was bold and independent, and this was reflected in her music.

 

 

10 Quotes to Inspire You: Thoughts on Creating the Future

10 Quotes to Inspire You
Thoughts on Creating the Future

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The best way to predict the future is to invent it. – Alan Kay

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Just don’t give up trying to do what you really want to do. Where there is love and inspiration, I don’t think you can go wrong.  – Ella Fitzgerald

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There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it. – Edith Wharton

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.  Your playing small does not serve the world. – Marianne Williamson

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I’m always thinking about creating. My future starts when I wake up every morning. Every day I find something creative to do with my life. – Miles Davis

The world has never yet seen a truly great and virtuous nation because in the degradation of woman the very fountains of life are poisoned at their source. – Lucretia Mott

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Where I was born and where and how I have lived is unimportant. It is what I have done with where I have been that should be of interest. – Georgia O’Keeffe

Treat people as if they were what they ought to be, and help them become what they are capable of being. – Goethe

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In the long run men hit only what they aim at. – Henry David Thoreau

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Dreams are necessary to life. – Anais Nin

The Art of Inspiration and Insight

The Art of Inspiration and Insight

With the new year comes thoughs of new possibilities.  There is something about the change in the calendar that stirs our desire to engage in creating our future.

At this time of year we like to be inspired to think in new, positive ways that help us to sort out our life and to see things differently. We want to be more insightful, to better understand ourselves and the world around us.

Inspire

Definition of Inspire – (1) Heighten or intensify; (2) Prompt; (3) Cheer, spur on, or encourage; (4) Revolutionize, fill with revolutionary ideas; (5) Inhale, draw in air

Inspiration is all about looking outward and engaging with new ideas.

Inspiration, that oh-so-mysterious element that may be hard to describe but one we recognize when it arrives, is what helps to compel us forward.  Inspiration may arrive as an ah-ha moment or a still small voice or a fire in our belly; it may arrive suddenly or we may slowly realized it was something we had with us all along.

Inspiration is what gives us new ways of seeing and of being in the world.  There is a life-force intrinsic in inspiration (inspire also means to breathe); it is in our nature to be engaged with creating, envisioning and bringing new ideas into being.

Art can inspire us. Art stimulates our mind, while creating or engaging with art we experience colors, patterns, shapes, and textures, using our brain in a different way.  Art presents ideas and perspectives that may be different from what we are most familiar with, encouraging us to explore other points of view.  The composition of images, music or performance offers an opportunity to examine aesthetic arrangements, either one you are creating in your own work or the artist’s composition, which can open us up to new ways of putting things together. Creative thinking stimulates new ideas and inspires us.

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Insight

Definition of Insight (1) Discern the true nature of a situation; (2) Grasping the inward or hidden nature of things; (3) Perceiving in an intuitive manner; (4) Ability to perceive clearly or deeply; (5) Ability to understand one’s own problems

Insight is all about looking inward and understanding inner nature.

Insight, we may think of it as a hunch or intuition or the ability to read a situation, is what helps us to better understand our feelings and reactions.  Insight also helps us to understand the emotions and motives of others. Insight may come from time spent in thought, from conversations or from our interactions in the world.

Insight is what gives us a greater understanding of attitudes and beliefs, both our own and others, and increases our ability to connect at an emotional level.  There is a personal, introspective quality in insight (insight is about looking in), by connecting with ourselves we become more thoughtful and better able to connect with others.

Art can encourage insight. Thoughtful, quiet time creating or experiencing art gives us the space to connect with our self and our emotions. In art symbols and metaphors are used to communicate underlying thoughts and feelings, ones that we may not yet understand or may have difficulty communicating. Through art we can also experience others emotional expressions, through imagery, rhythm and materials we can sense the thoughts and feelings imbedded in the work art.  Creative expression provides a better understanding of feelings and offers insight.

Creating Our Future

As this new year begins, the feeling of possibility fresh in the air, remain open to the inspiration and insight that the arts offer.  Look to art to stimulate your thoughts and to inspire new ideas.  Engage with art to connect with your emotions and develop greater insight.

Exercising the Art We Know

Exercising the Art We Know

Let each [wo]man exercise the art [s]he knows. ~Aristophanes

It is indeed a unique opportunity to be involved with a project or organization in which you are assured of the liberty to exercise the art you know. And when said project or organization is using art as a medium, it fosters innovation and multiplies the opportunities for empowerment and change, both for individuals and communities.

SpeakArtLoud provides me with such an experience.

We all have an innate desire to be part of something — a group or a cause — with people with whom we share a connection and a passion. In his book, Tribes, Seth Godin makes the point that as we connect to one another, we grant our permission to form tribes of purpose and vision — of action! And that building and participating in tribes facilitates innovation and prevents us from being “stuck.”

Tribes are about faith — about belief in an idea and in a community. ~Seth Godin

The vision of SpeakArtLoud not only invites the opportunity for a tribe, it affirms my own vision of “collaging” my business marketing expertise with my creative abilities — the art I know. And being in “the tribe” of SpeakArtLoud has not only prevented me from being stuck — it has propelled me into a complete paradigm shift!

Once recognized, the quiet yet persistent voice of curiosity doesn’t go away. ~Seth Godin

My work with SpeakArtLoud has proven to be one of the victories leading to a personal revolution — an overthrow of any lingering fears of the unknown pertaining to the meshing of business with art. It has ushered in the practice of a new manifesto, freeing me to embrace random tangents of creativity within the context of collaged boundaries. It also ensures I remain authentic to my strengths and weaknesses, my expertise and learning experiences, as well as the goals in my heart as an artist and businesswoman.

The time and talent I have already invested with SpeakArtLoud has produced a renewed clarity of my own vision as well as inspiring new frames in my proverbial {and actual!} vision board. The synergy of working with SpeakArtLoud’s founder and director, Sally Peters, has provided me both inspiration and affirmation.

During the past few months, we both have experienced inspiring moments of discovery and personal growth — unexpectedly tagged onto project work and strategy sessions. The liberty of moving beyond the order of agendas and the context of deadlines and tasks revealed the ability to produce tangible results in the fluidity of artistic expression and gifts differing.

Teresa Robinson {aka @stargardener has donned various hats in her professional career as a business consultant and community advocate. Her business, Right Brain Planner , offers a creative and eclectic approach to clients, inspiring them as they compile, {collage} and journey in the direction of their dreams.

The Canvas for Dreams of the Heart

The Canvas for Dreams of the Heart

A guest post by Teresa Robinson of Right Brain Planner

“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams”
– Eleanor Roosevelt

The dark shadows of illness can preclude the light and beauty of our dreams. Thus, even the ability to recall our dreams in the midst of chronic physical challenges proves daunting. However, with a few gentle brushstrokes of creativity, the outlines and muted hues of our dreams rise into view once again. Sometimes doing so in a gently altered version — redefined to accommodate those things we accept as unchangeable, in order to empower us in discovering the courage to change the things we can.

How does art therapy serve as the basis for discovery and accomplishing the beauty of the dreams within the heart?

I would be hard-pressed to explain the physiology regarding the healing properties of art therapy. What I can describe is the ease and the healing that resulted after I accepted a friend’s invitation to an art therapy event. I quickly realized art could be my secret weapon against the battles of cancer. And it continues to be a way to win the proverbial war of acceptance with regard to my physical realities “after cancer” and the symptoms of multiple sclerosis.

Art therapy is a calming, radiant light in the constant noise and darkness of chronic pain. The mental escapes of guided imagery, various music genres, landscape photography and creative writing provide me with a place of ease — a reprieve from daily rituals and realities. Collage art is a daily practice for me. It allows me to visually (and figuratively) assign elements of color and variety (and absolute randomness!) “over” the stress (and distress) of chronic health issues.

The practice of incorporating art into my therapeutic activities has facilitated my goal of positivity in the midst of chronic, limiting physical conditions. It also produced a paradigm shift for my professional pursuits, blending creativity with the business management and personal planning services I offer as a freelancer at Right Brain Planner.

Collage, art journaling and creative planning offer a creative and eclectic alternative to white-paged, text-only documents and spreadsheets. Offering my clients a liberating and inspiring alternative as they compile, collage and journey in the direction of their dreams!