Where there is ruin, there is hope for a treasure. -Rumi
In my last semester in my undergrad I decided to take an art class, it was a drawing class. I’ve always been in love with art but I’ve never had a formal class; or a class that taught me how to do art, for that matter. Seeing an opening in my schedule I decided to take my chance and take that one class; which I did not need. Yes, I did learn how to draw, or better yet, I learned to trust my drawing abilities and was able to sharpen what I already knew. However, the most important thing I learned in that class was to trust the process and not the result. The professor always expressed his concern about us not enjoying the process of making and he would often get upset when we would complain about the end result. He said, and I paraphrase, “it’s not about reaching then end, it’s about the process of creating and what that does to you as a person and an artist.”
Now, as an Expressive Arts Therapist in training I further understand what he meant. Art making is a process in which you don’t simply sit down (or stand up) to make a masterpiece. No, the masterpiece is the journey of adding all those thoughts, worries, and dreams into one thing. If you enjoy the voyage to its completeness the end result will be all that better, even if it looks like a bunch of colored blots. In Expressive Arts Therapy (EXA) you use that process, that is art, and you explore what is within you. EXA can be used to explore small everyday problems, it can be used to explore traumatic underlying situations and it can be used to simply work on yourself with the purpose of self-awareness and wellness. The purpose of EXA is to give you an alternative to the traditional therapy of sitting down and talking about a problem. This alternative therapy helps ‘vocalize’ (in a way) that which cannot be said; that which we want to say and want to explore but it’s too painful talk about or has no real definition. Thus, EXA gives you the tools to explore and workout said situation.
Yesterday, the goddess of Appalachian Expressive Arts, Sally Atkins visited my EXA class. One the many things she implicitly expressed was that EXA does not work like normal therapy. Traditional therapists work on the ruin that the client brings in. They work diagnosing and labeling the situation that the client has brought, and sometimes even labeling the client. However, Expressive Arts therapists work on finding the treasure that is buried under the ruin. This therapy method is built to explore that which the client is going through but through a much more positive way. There is space for the client to work through the ruin by dancing, meditation, painting, drawing, singing, writing and many other creative ways. The point of this process is to make beauty out of that ruin. To understand that that situation is part of us but it does not define us. To be able to see the light in the darkness and be guided towards the treasure that is within us. Through this process we communicate that that treasure is never gone but simply hidden at times and that the problem is not that the ruin is present but that the treasure is simply misplaced. We focus on the wellness and bettering of the individual. The client and the therapist, as a team, work together to center the client once more but at their pace and in their space. We use art as the healing agent, art as the guide, the process and the result of the journey.
Sally, a nature sprite trapped in a human body, made us see that even though we are obtaining a degree in Expressive Arts Therapy, that art is and always will be part of us. She expressed that to live we need art but more than that, life is the ultimate expression of art. Life, like art is a process. It is not built for us to worry about the end result. It’s about enjoying the process. It’s about living in the present. Yes, your straight lines will curve and your end result might not be symmetrical. However, if you learn to paint with every color, learn to use every tool; in the end you have done a great masterpiece. The important thing is you were the one who held the brush, and stroked every line and curve of your life. And the best part is that there is no wrong way of doing it because no one can do you like you do yourself.
In a way, EXA teaches you and guides you to take control of who and what you are. It gives you the tool to build your present, rewrite (or repaint) you past and to create your future. Your life is a process, don’t race to the end. When was the last time you saw the sun rise? When was the last time you just sat down at your porch to listen to the night? When was the last time you danced like no one was watching? Enjoy your journey, you only get one try. Take a step further and do that one thing you’ve always wanted to. Be not afraid of life because life ain’t afraid of you.
Signing off, TWS