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Finding Beauty in Dark Moments Part II
by Karen Adler, Dip. Transpersonal Art Therapy,
ATH Asst. Editor of Art & Art Therapy
Editor's Note from Karen Adler: One of the many things I love about art therapy is its ability to surprise and delight me and to make broken things whole again. Trusting the wisdom of the creative process and the healing process gives me a great deal of respect and admiration for the vast resources of the unconscious. See Part I of this article here.
"Trust that which gives you meaning and accept it as your guide." Carl Gustav Jung
It‘s not necessary to be an artist or to have artistic skill or training to benefit from doing art therapy. Stick figures are fine, as are scribbles. It’s the process, not the product, that’s important. Art therapists learn this, as do aspiring artists. To trust in the process is part of the wisdom of both art and art therapy. Underlying this premise is the belief that there’s an innate intelligence to the creative act. And underlying this premise is the belief as espoused by Carl Jung, that there is an inherent wisdom in the healing process, that the unconscious is a realm that can be known and navigated and which can yield immense wealth if we take the time to delve into it.
One of the many joys for me as an art therapist is that occasionally I do a piece of art that I love. Not only because of how it looks but of what it gives me in clarity and insight. The painting I did as the third piece to enable me to move beyond a bullying incident, took me somewhere and showed me something of which I had no conscious awareness. I painted over a canvas I’d done for a project I worked on last month - It’s All About Me! Despite vast amounts of explanation to both myself and to others, actually saying out loud that It’s All About Me, still felt wrong. Years of ‘good girl’ socialisation and putting others first is difficult to shift, even as you’re offering to rescue someone while you yourself are drowning. So there was a certain amount of relief in painting over this piece.
It’s always difficult to start a new painting. It’s not until I get to the stage of allowing myself to play and let go, that I start to feel any real level of enjoyment. When this finally happens, curiosity takes over, spontaneity lends a hand, control goes out the window and the witness self comes in the door, just watching and waiting to see what may emerge.
I used up some old, lumpy paint and worked on this piece mostly with my hands rather than using a brush. Getting up close and personal, involving the body. In the midst of all this swirling and mixing of paint and colour, what started to emerge was an eye and then the suggestion of another. I tried to make the eye that was only a hint of darkness in the colour, more obvious. As I painted, I saw an eyebrow, stern and critical, above the original eye, and I realised it was my father’s brow, all angry and foreboding. So I tried to emphasis with my finger the sternness, the furrowed brow, but it just wouldn’t come out right. And I finally realised in the midst of all this manoevering and manipulating of paint and colour, of shades and shadows, that I had this deep-seated, deep-rooted blaming of my father for my attitudes to various things in life. Things that I’ve swung towards and away from, pendulum-like, for much of my life.
Self-responsibility and the total uselessness of blaming anyone else for your life, is something I believe in very strongly and carry on about endlessly. But doing this painting made it clear to me that, pointless or not, I still blame my father for aspects of myself and my life that I’m not too keen on - even though Dad died three years ago and we made our peace with each other long before he died.
But I also believe - and see very clearly now as a result of the process of doing this painting - that there are parts of us that get stuck back in time and the events of our lives like insects in a piece of golden-yellow amber. Stuck and trapped at whatever age and level of maturity as when they got hurt or injured or weren’t allowed to voice their sense of injustice or unfairness.
In Jungian terms, it’s a complex - ‘Usually unconscious and repressed emotionally-toned symbolic material that is incompatible with consciousness. "Stuck-together" agglomerations of thoughts, feelings, behavior patterns, and somatic forms of expression, [which] can cause constant psychological disturbances and symptoms of neurosis.’ In chakra terminology, it’s blocked energy.
The fact that I was actually trying to make my father look angry and threatening, make him into the ‘bad guy’, but it just wouldn’t work, was one of those object lessons in life. It made me realise that regardless of what I espouse so eloquently about the necessity of taking responsibility for one’s life, it’s only intellectual head-stuff until such time as I actually see it for myself.
John Holt, founder of Artists in Mind in the UK, states that ‘The function of the creative process is to identify, construct and interpret the maps of our life journeys, to utilise language and symbol as a means of orientation.’ To have an image that I’ve made myself, especially one that evolved with no conscious intent on my part, is far more effective at bringing about a desired change than is mere intellectual understanding.
The painting that finally emerged is sort of like a big, sad-eyed, wall-eyed puppy dog. And it makes me realise - yet again but more truly this time - that my father had a horrendous childhood with little experience of love or of how to love but that he did his very best to overcome his background and to be a better father than his father was. And he succeeded. But more than that, this painting gives me insight - and therefore control over - something split and splintered within myself, like a shard of broken glass through which whatever you see is distorted. And that I need to be aware of this distorted lens when old, worn-out but well-used patterns and reactions are triggered by something in the here and now.
All of which is a very long way around back to trusting the process. Trauma of any kind can destroy our trust in both ourselves and in others. Art therapy is a particularly effective way of re-establishing that trust.
Copyright: Karen Adler, 2012
by Karen Adler
And she sculpted her mother
With big bottom and wide girth,
Tight, patient smiles and the miracle of birth.
And she sculpted the daughter -
Big bottom ... wide girth.
And he sculpted his father
With broad shoulders and broad grin,
Football scores and acceptance of sin.
And he sculpted the son -
Broad shoulders ... broad grin.
Each sculpted the other
And no true semblance found,
Only pictures ...
Of big bottom, wide girth, broad shoulders, broad grin.
Each making larger what was there
Creating at last people unable to care.
So they tried again,
Gave it just one more go -
With a touch more distance,
A little more space,
A tad more caring,
And perhaps some grace.
And the mother she sculpted a daughter unknown,
And thus was the father and also the son.
They cast to the wind
Big bottom, wide girth, broad shoulders, broad grin,
No more ...
And thus was born some semblance of truth
But only, alas, with the passing of youth.
©Karen Adler, 1993
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About the Author
Karen Adler, ATH Asst. Editor of Arts & Art Therapy, is a Transpersonal Art Therapist, an artist, writer and researcher. She is a firm believer in the inherent healing qualities of the Arts. She has run art therapy workshops for the treatment of drug and alcohol addiction, self-harming behaviour, eating disorders, for post-flood and cyclone trauma and for people seeking to bring about positive change in their lives. Karen also uses Art Therapy to help in the resolution of her own life difficulties and is continually surprised by the insight it brings. Contact Karen at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
Bonom, Bianca Brigitte.Arts and Mental Health. http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/bianca-brigitte-bonomi/arts-and-mental-health_b_1386069.html
Corbett, Sarah. The Holy Grail of the Unconscious in The New York Times, Sept. 16, 2009. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/20/magazine/20jung-t.html?_r=1&emc=eta1
Malchiodi, Cathy. Using Art Therapy to Address Bullying, on TLC : The National Institute for Trauma and Loss in Children, Nov. 28, 2010.
Miller, Iona. Chaos Theory and Psychological Complexes, 1991.