If anyone had asked me back in art school if creating art was a healing thing to do, I would have said “well, yeah, duh”, because making art was only thing keeping me sane for most of my life. Since childhood, art was my escape from family issues, and since I hated school, it was the only reason I ever finished high school at all. I would have missed the art room too much if I’d quit; the art studio was the only place I found myself feeling happy. But I had more to learn about it.
My journey into a more conscious creative relationship with my personal image-making muse began many years ago back in Paris, in 1989, where I first found Cyntha Gonzalez. Her “ Spontaneous Painting” workshops were offered at a friend’s house. Cyntha was using a combination of methods in order to get us all into a flow of discovery and loosing our fear of losing control over our arms, hands and artistic skill. In one weekend, we used simple psychological/spiritual rituals, our non-dominate hands, music, dance, and the shamanic journey, in order to learn how to explode into a spell of creative madness, which produced a great flowering of joyful, wonderful artworks. We were all flabbergasted with ourselves, and each other. I felt we had found a doorway into the entire universe, although I’m not sure that the others did. I do know that nobody wanted to stop the process.
Isn’t all art expressive art?
This was my introduction into the “expressive arts”, even though no one called it that at the time. You might ask, “Isn’t all art expressive art?” I know that to me there was no difference, even though educators and therapists seem to have claimed the term for their own uses. I always thought, and still do, that all creative art heals the artist; How ever, I’m not so certain that I am always healed by looking at art made by others, if it makes me feel revolted or bored. To me, not all art is healing, although it may still be art. That is merely my own opinion, however art students and historians may argue its affect on larger society for eternity.
”Wikipedia defines the difference this way, “Unlike traditional art expression, the process of creation is emphasized rather than the final product. Expressive therapy is predicated on the assumption that people can heal through use of imagination and the various forms of creative expression.”
It’s about the experience, not the end result
Whatever this creative experience/process is called, I know what it did for me. Cyntha’s workshop had a very strong effect on my “regular” life. It led me into a life-long study of shamanism, which in turn affected my artwork over time. I was introduced to an exploration of consciousness that my traditional art teachers would never come near to teaching us even if they had known how to do it. It was so much better than anything I had ever felt in art school. But then again, it was a different sort of teaching altogether; this was using our unconscious mind, heart, spirit and emotions, instead of only using our intellect and disciplined exercises.
The effect of the expressive arts on my personal more “professional” artwork, is not a clear set of “boxes” in which the two remain separate. The freedom from the expressive arts often invades my “regular” work. Sometimes they are the same work. I feel it has enriched my whole life and certainly the practice of my shamanic work continues to influence me on many levels, and has led me to a universe of archetypal images, and abstract shapes.
I feel that the “expressive art” exercises and practices assist professional artists to free up and let go of all the rules that sometimes keep us blocked from our own creative flow of energy. And for everyone else who comes to the expressive arts from other professions; it is a great discovery of joy and ability. The point of the expressive arts is not only to “make art”; it is to express more of our whole being through the creative process of art. The techniques used to do this are numerous, but the goal is a union within our own hearts and traveling though our personal creative journey, no matter how we make our living.
The program at Salve Regina Universtiy
In 1998, while living in Rhode Island, I found a notice about a program at Salve Regina University, which offered a weeklong training in the Expressive Arts. I signed up and took the program, (the first they offered), and it continued to have an underlying influence on my own work and teaching for many years.
It was here that I met Susan Fox, one of the instructors there who later became a good friend and co-worker on other levels of creative exploration. Susan Fox is an author, artist and core member of the facility in the Expressive and Creative Arts Program at Salve Regina University, Newport RI. She uses unique art-making processes, imagery, nature-based experiences and private coaching to support life goals, special projects and personal transformation. Her own web site below has all the details of how she offers her private coaching based on her twenty years at SRU. I talked to her recently and asked her a few questions about her work.
1) How has the Expressive Arts program at SRU grown and changed through time?
The Expressive and Creative Arts has grown into a broad-based program where we share the principles used in the creative process with a more diverse group of students – educators, counselors, artists of all kinds, and those in pursuit of holistic disciplines. We now offer many more classes incorporating more sound, story, movement and theater arts.
2) What is your favorite part of teaching Expressive Arts at SRU?
I enjoy the whole brain learning experience when students begin to trust their inner guidance and find ways to give voice to what has importance in their lives.
3) How has your own artwork been affected by your teaching?
My work is more explorative with a focus on embodied processes, less in the fine art and more in playful (more for my self) work that I enjoy as a place of peacefulness mostly for myself.
4) How has your private teaching changed from teaching Expressive Arts at Salve?
My private teaching is about transformational and creative practice and focuses on how we shift internally (how the creativity factor in all of us is waiting at the open doorway) just from the act of painting. I find I am less serious, intrinsically wilder! After 20 years with the program, the material in my ongoing private classes differs primarily with regard to the depth I can offer in a shorter time span.
This Spring I will be offering a hybrid class for advanced personal students who are open to creating fine art, along with expressive work, and want to pursue more theme- based concepts.
Susan Fox’s web site is www.creativefactorinyou.com
All of the upcoming programs at Salve can be seen at http://ecarts.salvereginablogs.com/photos-video
Cyntha Gonzalez has offered her workshops all over the world, but for now mostly in Bahrain, Dubai, India, and the UAE. She speaks many languages and has lived nearly all over the globe, the USA, France, Mexico, Peru, Morocco, and England. Her workshops are amazing and if you are lucky you may get into one.
Don’t just read about it; try it
I feel artist’s can open up their inner channels and access more easily their unconscious connection to the universe of images available to all of us through using what therapists call “expressive art’. I still find the term to be somewhat annoying, but not the concepts or use. Accessing images that are available to us through the many states of altered consciousness allows us to dip into the unending pool the “collective unconscious” as Carl Jung so wonderfully explored and wrote about. If you don’t know about him, you can certainly learn more on the web.
Taking a class is the best way, but here are some of the many books on Expressive Art (but doing it, not talking about it is what works) Here are some that I like, but there are many ways to do this. Some people like step-by step exercises, I happen to hate that approach, but tolerate it in a class. We are all different. I prefer to jump in and just do it.
Visual Journaling: Barbara Ganim and Susan Fox
Art and Healing: Using Expressive Arts to heal your body, mind and spirit, Barbara Ganim
Trust the Process: an artist guide to letting go
Art Heals: How creativity cures the soul
Imagination in Action, all by Shaun Mc Niff