By Lauren Fallat, MA LPC ATR-BC
As an art therapist, one of my first questions that I will ask an individual new to the process is “What is your relationship with art and art making?”. I have found that this question provides both myself and the individual an opportunity to explore in a safe way the past experiences that have impacted one’s ongoing relationship or lack thereof with creative expression.
It is not uncommon for individuals to enter into an art space and become overwhelmed and flooded with past memories of critical art teachers or judgmental parents in which one’s artistic capabilities were minimized and/or devalued. For those individuals whose creative self-expression was compared, critiqued, minimized or shamed, it is absolutely understandable that one would abandon pursuing any form of art skills or fostering this type of outlet. The art therapy process may also be difficult for those who have received formal training in the arts, as it can be difficult for us to let go of the need for external validation of others and to let our instincts guide us through the process rather than practiced rules. The art therapy process in a way targets that which does not come easy for us- letting go of perfectionism, allowing for unexpected, chance happenings and feeling our feelings.
As in our relationships with others, we can start to shape our way of thinking around art- our relationship to it, our understanding of its value in our life and its ability to change and adapt to our past and present needs. We can begin to improve our relationship to art by challenging our thoughts that say “Art is not for me”, “I am not an artist”, “I am no good at this”, “Art is for children”, “Art is not my thing”- meaning, I am acknowledging that these are just thoughts and not my absolute truth. We can even listen to this part of us that is scared and ashamed and validate that we did not have an ideal experience growing up and to grieve the lost potential we had in seeing our expression as valuable and worthy to be seen/heard.
I also like to share that I,too, have personally benefited from incorporating artmaking into my daily life and this realization occurred since being a young child and has carried itself into adulthood. Often there were times that art provided a space to release unidentifiable emotions and provide a safe outlet for expression during times when I may have felt powerless, angry, sad or confused. For me, I would turn to drawing and painting not to perfect a skill set or set a goal to replicate an object from life in a realistic fashion, but to release energy, to self-regulate (unknowingly), and to escape into a world where imagination and uniqueness were welcomed.
As an art therapist, my hope for an individual who is unsure about re-entering into a relationship with art making is that one might consider the possibility of change and transformation of that relationship-both internally and externally. By engaging with the materials at a different point in time and in a safe environment within the art therapy session, one is exposing themselves to something that may be completely scary, shame-inducing, and uncomfortable, while at the same time freeing, cathartic and perhaps even joyful. It is not to deny that our previous experiences do not hold weight in our choices to engage with art