Art and Art Therapy in Sustainable Community

BeverleyNot so long ago, within living memory, poesis, poetic consciousness, and visual knowledge were highly respected. Every Scottish village would have had its Bard — poet and prophet, seer and songster, story keeper and teller — reflecting the life of the people and land back to themselves, contributing to local myth, practices and decisions. In Findhorn we are doing pretty well, with a wealth of skilful soul-singers in our midst. But still, in much of society at large, poetic consciousness plays second fiddle to rationalist-materialist thinking. Visual thinking is only slowly being reinstated as a valid form of cognition, with its own inherent, natural coherence. The findings of recent neuroscience, such as how events in the visual cortex influence the whole body and how ‘somatic markers’ influence supposedly ‘rational’ decision-making, are, by science’s own standards, hard to ignore. As are the testimonies of previously silent, stigmatised and marginalised people, many of whom are ‘visualisers’, now with more freedom, confidence and access to the media to speak.

So what has this to do with art therapy and community?
Many art therapists regard part of their work as remedial — reintroducing into daily, cultural life, practices which restore the vital ‘nutrients’ of creativity and imagination which have been lost, like vitamins and fibre in flour. In art therapy, and art-as-therapy, we rediscover and remember ancient modalities and forms of expression, representation and communication, once used spontaneously as children, but allowed to atrophy as adults.

Art is often experienced as therapeutic in a broad sense because many of us have neglected those aspects of body-mind that art awakens. Our ancestors would have spent many hours and months crafting things with their hands directly from nature’s raw materials and gaining much sensory and other learning from this.

BlueFlower.jpg"In art we can lose ourselves to find ourselves
Many life crises erupt in metaphoric thought, language and body symptoms, which can be actively engaged with through the arts. Given the opportunity, many who have grown mute, unable to find words for their experience, confused or overwhelmed by others’ words and concepts, find relief in artistic expression, insight into originating causes and freedom from symptoms, in the self-reflective, ego-transcending process of art-making.

We often, if not always, see ourselves, the world and others through the lens and filter of our own attitudes. Expressive art can reveal some of our seeing to us. Our marks carry the imprint of our movement, energy and feeling. In fine art craftsmanship is used to hone and refine the first raw expression of individual impulse, vision and emotion. In art therapy this rawness is itself precious material to be worked with.

So how to begin to share about art and art therapy’s place in, and potential contribution to, sustainable community living? I’d like to use this blog to share a simple home-spun art exercise each month and invite responses. After some months, there is a larger project we could all participate in, but we need to start gently… so here goes.

Who are we? Can we become more honest, more transparent to ourselves and others for the sake of harmony and solidarity in our community ventures?
* How might art help us by being a mirror for our selves?
* Am I who and what I say I am?
* Am I who I think, and tell myself and others, I am?
* Or am I both more and less than these?
* Am I in some kind of transition in my life? Or do I feel stuck, unable to move but longing to grow?
* How am I changing right now?

Beginning with Hands

hands.jpg"Handprints. Cover your hands with water-based brush or finger paint, or graphite, if you have graphite in powder or stick form available.

Make 2 prints, your hands may be separate on the sheet or overlapping or side by side making a third shape; bird, butterfly, rabbit…..or repeated to make a pattern.

Use recycled paper if you can — the inside of brown paper packaging/bags is good, or cardboard, or a double thickness of newsprint — you won’t see the black print after a while and won’t have to overcome the sometimes intimidating prospect of a pristine sheet of white paper.

Contemplate the difference between the 2 hand prints. Play at being palm reader — what do you see?  A wide river here, an elk head there? Three bent twigs? A bird?

When dry, or not, decorate both hands following your impulses and intuitions. Alternatively, work with more conscious intention, focussing on expressing who you are, your gifts, skills, passions, character, aspirations…

Take time to look carefully at the final result. Allow your creations to look back at you, to talk to you, revealing their secrets.

You can do this with a friend, partner or family members, adults and children together, sharing afterwards. Be sure to leave enough time to de-brief and say anything that might need saying.

So, for 2-4 people you might need 20-40 minutes to print and paint plus 20-40 minutes to share. Find what works for you. Young children may need less time. If you only have a little time do it quickly, in a spirit of spontaneity, surprise and play.

Display idea: cut out the hands and paste them up a staircase or make a collage.

You are invited to share your learning
* How did you do it?
* Was it fun, interesting?
* Did you discover anything about yourself? About your partner, family members or colleagues?

If you would like to share your learning and ideas, passion and creativity, please visit our forum: /forums and contribute to the thread, Art Therapy with Beverley A’Court. You’ll need to register with a username and password first, then click on the link to the private Global Network forum.

Happy painting!

Beverley A’Court
April 2008

To find out more about Beverley and her work

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