Collage: The Path of Least Resistance?

Are You Feeling Resistance?

Collage: Familiar Materials
What might it take for me to grow through this resistance?

When I’m feeling it, what I notice first is all the excuses I make. For instance, in the case of getting down to my self-prescribed practice of making daily art I might procrastinate by saying, “I don’t have time right now.” “I’ve only got a pencil and I want paint.” “I’m hungry.” “This paper is the wrong size.” “I’m not in the right place.” “I’m alone and I’d rather do this with someone.” “I’m around other people and I’d rather do this alone.” I’m sure most, if not all, of those phrases sound familiar. Even if we don’t say them about art-making, we say them about something in our lives: exercise, making a doctor’s appointment, contacting an old friend…  We avoid. We resist. It’s in our nature. And yes, I’ll get to talking about collage in a minute.

Human beings favour stasis over change

We prefer the known to the unknown, and the same to different, in general. Sure, we all know an adrenaline junkie who thinks it’s great fun to leap off cliffs to feel the rush, but that rush is created exactly because adrenaline is produced when we are confronted with something we don’t expect or that our system interprets as dangerous! It triggers our biological fight/flight/freeze response!

And that’s a good thing. We are this way for a reason. It’s best to avoid the lions and tigers and bears. They bite. But not everything our bodies or our minds interpret as a tiger is a tiger. And that’s why we’re lucky to have the ability to think things through and to go beyond our first glance or our innate assumptions. That scary shadow in the corner looks like a monster, but I can turn the light on and see that it’s my pile of dirty clothes. If I worry about making art in a group, I can come to realize that everyone is not looking at me.

Resistance to our own creative urge

Open Door Collage
What treasures might I find if I walk through that door to the unknown?

In my experience as an Art Therapist, I’ve found that for those unused to making art, it’s important that I find a way to introduce the idea in as non-threatening way as possible. “I have to warn you: I can’t draw!!” is a panicky statement that I hear from many clients, even those who have bravely chosen to see me for counselling specifically because I do work with art. I hear that kind of exclamation as an expression of past hurts – someone, at some time, has judged you. Maybe it was just you doing it to yourself, but as often as not the judgement came from outside, and from someone whose high opinion was really important to you. It probably wasn’t even intentionally hurtful. “Neat! A pretty flower! Shouldn’t the leaves be green though?” Little corrections to our creativity when we are young or vulnerable can create a sense that we are somehow “wrong” in our selves.  Interestingly, even positive feedback (especially of the praising sort) such as, “Oh, that’s beautiful! Let me put it on the refrigerator!” can create resistance too. Even though it might feel great in the moment, somehow, underneath the praise, we can still hear the comparison to a hypothetical piece of art that isn’t good enough to be displayed! The result is sometimes the opposite of what was intended. Now I’m afraid I can’t live up to the expectations that have been raised by this success!

Overcoming Resistance

Fear drives resistance.
What I fear may be merely an illusion.

We don’t want to be governed solely by our biology or by the habitual thought processes that we’ve developed to deal with that biology! So what do we do when we know we would be better off just doing the thing we’re feeling resistance to? Sometimes we need to find a feeling of safety – an anchor if you like – that we can hang on to while we jump into the unknown or the frightening. The adrenaline junkie ties himself to a bungee cord, and he probably  has a trusting relationship with the person who set up the adventure in the first place! When I ask a client to jump into their creativity, it’s important for me to find out where they feel safe, and where they feel vulnerable. We move outward from a point of comfort and familiarity, with the assurance that we can always backtrack to safe footing if it gets too rough out there. 

Collage as the Path of Least Resistance

Collage has a few characteristics that make it a good choice for working through resistance. Magazine images, pictures from old calendars, catalogues, and greeting cards, and scraps of coloured paper of different types (origami paper, tissue paper, wrapping paper…) are all familiar materials that we do not necessarily associate with art, and especially not with that really scary thing, Fine Art. This is not to say that collage can’t be Fine Art, capitalized and everything: it definitely can. But when we are looking for materials and techniques that are going to ring fewer warning bells about lions and tigers and bears in our primitive brain, using the familiar and “everyday” is the way to go! You aren’t required to have particular skills in drawing. You don’t have to manipulate special tools; you might want to use scissors and a glue stick, but you can tear the paper instead, and you might even just want to arrange your images without anchoring them down permanently. Taking a picture of the arrangement and keeping that can work just as well!

So, to get back to my promise to myself to make art every day as a way of taking care of myself, keeping my “baggage” to a minimum, and generally staying happy: what about those days when I’m feeling particularly burdened by anxiety about it? What about my days of heavy resistance? What about those days when the good paint and the high quality paper scare you and your self-talk is all “you’re going to waste it!” “what’s the point?” “it’s not going to be good anyway?”

No specialized materials necessary!
The familiar can be a safe gateway to the adventure of traveling beyond our resistance.

Pull out the recycling bin. Take a deep breath. Spend at least five minutes roughly tearing out images and words that just feel right – whatever appeals or feels important in whatever way. Try not to get caught up reading the latest article! Then look through the pile you’ve collected and refine it- cut or tear the images more precisely if you want, and start to arrange them on a larger piece of plain paper. Glue them down – or not. Stand back and look at what has arisen out of the exercise. What feeling tone does the new image have? How do you feel while you look at it? You can write about it in a journal, or just ponder it for a while. Give collage a try and see if it might be a way to move through your resistance! (…and while you’re at it, make that appointment for a mammogram, and get in touch with an old friend!)

What is an Open Studio?

An open studio is where you are accepted and encouraged, wherever you are on your creative journey.

The Open Studio
Ready for you to come and make art!

Open Studios are places that are built on the principle that engaging in the creative process is a healing activity.

The Open Studio is a concept that has been in place in Art Therapy for many years, and many examples of them exist. Some are found in institutional or residential settings, and others are embedded in communities, offering a place for artistic engagement to people of all ages, abilities, and backgrounds.

Open Studios are OPEN! They invite the participation of everyone who comes, at whatever their skill level. The Open Studio at St. George’s in Victoria, BC is an almost-two-year-old program held in the Parish Hall of an Anglican Church in Cadboro Bay Village. Begun in 2013 as a brief, 12 session pilot project, it has bloomed into a vibrant community of artists – teenagers and twenty-somethings right through to retirees – who hang out with each other once or twice a week to create everything from hand-made clothing to acrylic paintings. Certainly sometimes you will find a senior helping a teen learn to sew, sometimes it’s the younger ones helping their elders with taking a digital photograph with their phone, but it’s rarely a stereotypical interaction. I’ve seen tears shared, subtle and tender expressions of caring, and raucous laughter. There is mutual respect, a sense of fun, and true joy in this varied and expanding community.

Lately I’ve noticed that at least once a week, someone we’ve never met before walks in to the Open Studio and tells us “I saw your sign outside and I was curious!” As often as not, that contact is the beginning of another person’s journey at the Open Studio. Of course, it can be intimidating to join something new, especially if your personal history does not include a lot of positive messages about your creativity. Our invitation to you is to check out that feeling of discomfort when you think about creating art in the company of others. What’s it like? When have you felt it before? What  might be different in a place where the focus is on how you feel while you make art instead of on what you make? We try our best to make everyone as comfortable as possible. You can work in solitude; you can work at a table with several others; you can ask for help; you can ask to be left to your own devices. We’ll offer you some coffee or tea!

The unique thing about an Open Studio that practices Art as Therapy is that you will have the opportunity to reflect on your creation with an art therapist. An art therapist is trained to help you look at the images with compassion for yourself, encouraging you to listen deeply to your own inner wisdom. You may find parallels between the way you make art and the way you live your life, or between the image you have created and your life circumstances, or between the way you feel about the image and the way you feel in a particular situation. It is your interpretation that counts – we are there to support you in your search for meaning.

You are invited to join the adventure! Come to the Open Studio at St. George’s on Monday mornings from 9-12 or on Wednesday evenings from 6-9!