Category Archives: life long learning

It’s All About The Process

People tend to ask me the same question when they find out how I help people.

“Do I have to be creative, or an artist?” they ask, with a look of fear in their eyes. I get the feeling that if they were less polite they might have already left Art Processmy office, leaving a person-shaped hole in the wall like in the cartoons. I always answer them the same way, “No, this isn’t about making pretty Art, with a capital A, it’s all about the process.” I love this question, and I’ve never gotten tired of it, because it leads so nicely into why I use art materials with my clients to help them find their way through their struggles with grief, loss, and life transitions.

So what does art that’s all about the process look like? Honestly, it can look like anything at all, from a page left blank for an hour, to a piece of clay that has gone through a thousand shape changes, to a piece of art that could earn a place on a gallery wall. Art made for the purposes of personal growth, change, or healing is united in its intention, not in its form. Some professional artists do begin with an intention to focus on process, and then shift their intention to form and outcome after some experimentation. The line can blur. But what I’m asking you to do when you come into my office-studio is truly ALL about the process.

Let me give you an example. I’ve been talking with a dear friend a lot about mid-life, and about how our purpose and perspectives change so radically. She left me with the beautiful and challenging question, “Who are you?”  When I was a teenager, that question had the power to throw me into instant turmoil. It often came in the negative form of “Who do you think you are?” when I would do or say something that wasn’t what those in authority wanted to see. It’s also the question that comes up in the middle of the night for many of us when we’re feeling unworthy or incapable.

“Who are you, now?” is the question I work with on a daily basis with my clients who are readjusting their entire life to fit around the loss of a vital person, relationship, or role in their life. But it’s been a long while since I’ve intentionally sat with it, in a curious way, about myself. Not trying to come up with a definition of myself in the old ways, like “I’m a mother, a therapist, a wife, a friend….” or “I’m a person who likes…” or believes or does certain things. Just to sit with the huge question of “who am I?” and to wait for an answer. Clearly the only way for me to hang out with this question was with art!

I start with the paper.

Art ProcessIt’s a terrific (= terrible, terrifying) question, so: big paper – 4 x 4 feet. How about some movement to start, to pull me down out of my head? I cover the paper with plain white gesso – big, loose strokes with a huge brush. The paper’s too thin, it’s stretching and just about to tear… why didn’t I use something stronger? Just breathe. Wave the hair dryer around; my head is as noisy as it is. What’s my next step? Keep moving. I pull out some big charcoal and make as big a circle as I can. It feels good to do it, so I keep going. The black on white and the crackle of the paper as it reacts to my movement reminds me of newspaper, of text. I write the question, “Who Am I?” as big as I can, in charcoal and then in white paint. I hate how it looks – aggressive. It’s never asked just once though, I think, so I settle in to the effort of writing the question over and over across the whole paper. I look up how to write a proper cursive “I” on the internet. Nice avoidance, but the effect feels better, friendlier. Keep breathing, keep trying not to just jump in there with an answer.

Black and white get boring… and my arm is really tired and sore! Yellow, then oranges and reds. More circles. What’s important in my life? I’m thinking as I paint. How much space and time do I give myself to be with those things, to even know what those things are? Lines happen, dividing up the space, filling in, covering up. Feeling a tightness around all the things I don’t give time or space to, and a desire to just run away from the question. “Who am I?” I’ve given it a few hours of work so far. It’s not done yet – in the same way that I’m not done yet. I’m thinking of pulling it out to work on it progressively (once a week maybe?) over a long period of time, just to see what will happen.

Art ProcessIt’s not supposed to be pretty (but I do like parts of it.)

It’s not immune to my self-judging voice that fears rejection and embarrassment above all else (but I think it’s important not to make my clients do anything I’m unwilling to do!)

So, yes, even though it’s not about the end product, I do recognize that asking you to do art that’s “all about the process” is still a mighty scary thing. I promise that I know what it’s like to put paint on paper, or form to clay, in front of someone else. I know what it’s like to wait for the other shoe to drop – of judgment or disappointment or failure – to watch the paper tear and the clay crack and fall apart just when it might have been becoming beautiful. But what I also know, and know deeply and for certain, is that it IS the process that’s beautiful. It’s the learning and the yearning in YOU that are beautiful.

Flexibility and Curiosity: Life Lessons from Children’s Literature

What I learned about flexibility and curiosity from the stories of my childhood.

Three books taught me the value of flexibility and curiosity long before I understood why they were important. I read James and the Giant Peach* by Roald Dahl, The Phantom Tollbooth, by Norton Juster, and The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles byJulieEdwards** so often in elementary school and beyond, that I still quote passages from them. I did so often enough that my own children probably thought they were my words, until I introduced them to the originals. 

I now see flexibility and curiosity as the two most vital lessons in my life and work. –

Life lessons from children's literature
What books stayed with you into your adulthood?

By their very nature they are also lessons that I have not finished learning. I didn’t know it at the time, of course, but the young protagonists in these books all start out in various states of stuckness, of unhappiness with the way things are. They have reacted with despair, boredom, pride, or fright, and they are each convinced that how they see things is the only way. They are all on the cusp of becoming more true to themselves and more independent, but change is uncomfortable, and feels dangerous, even if it’s exactly what they want.

After the death of his parents and horrible treatment by his aunts, James embarks on a fantastic journey from rural England to New York City inside the pit of a giant peach. He rolls down a steep hill, bobs in a shark-infested ocean, and flies over the Atlantic in the company of equally giant insects who have a very hard time getting along. Milo begins what he thinks is an imaginary, and probably really stupid game in his city apartment, and ends up, hounded by the demons of Ignorance, rescuing the Princesses of Rhyme and Reason who have been imprisoned in a castle in the air. He is aided by Tock the Watchdog, who values time, and by an oddly appealing creature called the Humbug, who, despite some pretty bad character defects, manages to help anyway. Lindy and her brothers travel with a Nobel Prize winning scientist to another realm where all the creatures that human beings no longer believe in are hiding. Together they explore the country in search of the last Whangdoodle, hindered by hostile creatures who are determined to send them home.

Somehow, by the ends of their stories

Flexibility and Curiosity
There’s almost always another perspective…

James, Milo, and Lindy and her brothers have seen life from a broader perspective. They have been, for a while, embarrassed by their faulty assumptions or endangered by their own foolishness. They have been able to endure the discomfort of how things are, and have learned how to hope (and work for) something better. They’ve all walked the path between imagination and reality, and found that a healthy dose of one always enriches the other, and vice versa. They’ve learned to look closer, to be open to wonder, and to ask questions, lots of them, and not just the questions they are “supposed” to ask. They’ve all stood up to someone in authority, and seen that even someone who has good intentions can still be wrong. They’ve all learned to change their minds, to shift their position if it’s not working for them, and to accept that sometimes they are the well-intentioned person who needs to hear the difficult truth from someone with more wisdom.

My own story is not over yet, and I know I’m not done with these lessons.

I’m glad that I have such good, old friends to accompany me on the journey! I hope you have your own favourite stories that help you through the challenging times.

*The movie produced by Tim Burton just wasn’t the same, and was even more heavy-handed in my opinion.

**Yes, she’s the actress from Sound of Music that you know as Julie Andrews, married to Blake Edwards.

If you are feeling overwhelmed, misunderstood, or alone as you navigate a change or mourn a loss, I help people find their way through their unique grief. Please  contact me if you feel I might be of service.

 

The Fourth Piece of Art – Sharing Our Art Therapy

Not everyone who makes art in Art Therapy stops there,

with what they made in their session. Sometimes, even if we began a piece in the spirit of pure emotional expression, we feel an urge to bring it to some form of completion that we DO want to share with others. We might simply share what we’ve created during Art Therapy, as-is, or we may move from the immediate therapeutic expression to creating a fourth piece of art, where we begin again, with a plan and a direction in mind. This piece of art requires patience and the exercise of skillfulness. The intention in this piece of art is what we usually think of when we say “Art.” It’s a piece that is meant to be seen by others, and we allow it to be judged on qualities beyond its ability to mirror our feelings back to us. We expect it to communicate something to an audience beyond us, and perhaps to fit into certain parameters of skillfulness or quality of medium.

How we share our art says something about us

Whether we share it in its “first draft” form, which we may have created during an Art Therapy session or from a moment of inspiration, or whether we start over again with a plan, how we go about the process can tell us a lot about ourselves in other situations. If you’ve ever worked with me, you’ll know I always urge my clients to use caution when thinking about sharing anything they’ve made in Art Therapy with people who might not understand. The example I give (only somewhat jokingly) is of the risk of showing someone your deeply emotional piece, and having them say “what a pretty picture of a cat!” when to you it’s a gut-wrenching image of your relationship with your mother… Not a comfortable situation, I assure you! So, with due caution, let’s talk for a minute about what might be useful about sharing your art. 

Intention is important

What do I want, need, or expect from showing someone what I’ve made? Am I feeling solid in how I feel about this piece? Will someone else’s approval or disapproval create really big waves in my life, or just a ripple? I doubt anyone is capable of having no reaction whatsoever to other people’s opinion, but to become aware of how much impact it has on you is a great exercise in boundaries. The bottom line is that we don’t have any control over how someone else feels, and to fight this reality is to lose every time. It can be helpful when sharing your art to hold an intention to be compassionately aware of what happens within you. Am I tempted to change or explain away any aspect of my creation? Can I hear what the other person says about it in a spirit of curiosity?

Certainly, if one of your aims in showing your art is to work on aspects of skilfulness, then learning to hear helpful technical critique while maintaining your own unique style will be a major task. In fact, it’s probably an artistic skill just as much as how to hold a brush. If your aim is not technical but is to share from your heart with someone who is important to you, then it can be helpful to let them know that from the start. So often we expect our friends and families to know what we are feeling or wanting, but that is often unfair and unrealistic. How much kinder it can be, instead, to let them know. It is o.k. to only want them to see it and to hear you explain what it means to you. You’re allowed to be interested in hearing how it makes them feel (if you are) or that you’d just like them to ask you questions about it. It is even allowed to ask them specifically not to tell you whether they “like” it or not! What might it be like to do that? What might it be like for you not to know what their opinion was, but just to know that they were willing to be with you in your vulnerability of sharing? What would it be like to ask for their honest opinion, and to hold on to your own even if they differ?  I don’t ask these questions with any sense of knowing what the “right” answer is, by the way! I think it’s probably different for everyone. But I do believe that being willing to ask ourselves these questions is a courageous way to get to know ourselves (and other human beings!) on a deeper level.

And of course, the more we sit with the questions, the more we are working on that wondrous “third” piece of art, always in the making – ourselves!

Three Pieces of Art

 

There are always three pieces of art being created when you are making art as a way to heal.

The first is the one that came to life in your imagination. This is the image, symbol, or even just the feeling that arose in your mind that was full-blown all at once. It often becomes the piece of art that you end up trying to recreate, in “real life,” with your brushes and paints or clay. This first artwork is done the moment that it has been imagined. We might call it the inspiration, or just an idea or feeling, but I believe it has an energy of its own. Anyone who has agonized over their work, trying to make it look or sound like the painting or symphony that happened in their heads, or to make it match the emotion inside them, will know what I’m talking about.

            The second piece of art is the one that I ask you to allow to take physical shape during an art therapy session. This kind of art happens when I invite you to look and feel within yourself (to allow the first type of art to arise), and then to capture something of what you find there and put it into form with art materials. You go from a moment of inspiration to your paper or canvas and you try to get down the original idea, the original feeling, in its raw form. This is the pure expression, straight from your heart or your gut through your hands. You might not be satisfied with it as “a work of art” just yet, but it is one nonetheless.

            While these two pieces are being created, there is always another work of art emerging. This is you. And not just “you in your role as artist” – but YOU, your Self. You are growing and developing in the way that you approach the task of creation. You appear with more and more clarity each time you allow the first and second forms of art to emerge, uncensored. You become more yourself each time that you find it in you to accept, and even eventually to love what comes forth, whatever it looks like. With compassion for your fledgling images, you find compassion for your authentic self. When you can meet your authentic self with compassion instead of the defensiveness of ego or self-hatred, you are well on the way towards true healing.

For thoughts on what can happen with your art beyond the session, my next blog post is about the fourth piece of art: what happens when we share our art!

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!

On Success and Failure

Walker Doll: Success and FailureA lot of graduation speeches are being  made across the country this month.

I’m sure a lot of them are all about success  and failure, and how to achieve one and avoid the other.

What I liked best about the one  I heard at my daughter’s graduation was that it was mostly about failure.  Success and failure are awfully loaded terms, aren’t they? One gets you the ticker tape parade and the best seats in the house; the other leaves you staring at your own toes, left behind while the “cool” people go to the dance. They seem to be mutually exclusive, but in real life I believe they are merely two sides of the same coin, and you can’t have one without the other.

So why was a speech about failure so great?

Firstly, it wasn’t all about how great and unique and special each one of the thousands of graduates was, and how they were all destined for greatness. I’m glad we, as parents, were allowed to simply appreciate our kids, whatever their potential. More importantly, it was very real. We all fail. We cannot hope to pass through life from one mountain top or cresting wave to the next.

There are downhill sections of every trail. And frankly, those times are what we  need the caring advice of our elders for!

Not the days when everything is coming up roses or when we get the job of our dreams. But the days when we just KNOW we’re not EVER going to get the job of our dreams (even if we might, actually, some day). Those days are the hard ones. It’s good, at the beginning of a long journey, to see someone we admire admit that they have failed on their journey, not once but many times, and admit that the fear of it still causes nightmares!  And when that someone is practically a synonym for success the way Martin Scorsese is, all the better!

Maybe that speech was more typical of one delivered to graduates of an art school, or maybe not- we are living in times where a gritty realism is appreciated- but I do think that the reframing of failure as a natural part of success is more likely among artists. Failure is where we learn, where we refine our ideas and our ways of communicating them.

An artist sees failure as a necessary element of the rhythm in art making.

Florence Cane, in The Artist in Each of Us, pointed out that there needs to be both active and passive modes in creative work. We need to sit still and consider, ponder, and discern just as much as we need to be engaged in actively applying brush to canvas or hands to clay. I believe we also need to experience what doesn’t work just as much as what does work in order to sustain an artistic process (or a happy life!) over the long term.

If it weren’t for our moments of not-knowing, for our mistakes, we would never experience the magic of serendipity or the glorious surprise of something truly new and unexpected.

If we let go of a narrow definition of failure and start to see it as an enrichment of our knowledge and experience, a re-calibrating of our compass, or a refinement of our technique, we can also transcend our narrow definition of success, and begin to enjoy each moment of our creating, our journey, and our life as the jewel that it is!

DISCLAIMER: This information is not a substitute for professional psychological advice, diagnosis, or treatment. All content provided by Frances Bryant-Scott, RSW, BCATR is intended for general information purposes only. Never disregard professional medical or psychological advice or delay seeking treatment because of something you read in this blog (or any blog for that matter!)

Therapy – Am I Too Old?

Art Therapy: Stops Along the Journey
“Stops Along the Journey” 2013, Wool

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mostly, I just want to jump up and down yelling “NO! Of course not!! Never! No No No!” when I hear this question, but I know that’s not really helpful, and probably wouldn’t come across as very professional either, what with all the jumping and everything. Maybe what would help is a quick discussion of what therapy really is (regardless of whether it’s the talking kind or the art kind).

What’s the Point of Therapy Anyway?

Do you feel like you’ve done what you wanted to do with your life? Have you been who and what you wanted to be? Do you believe that human beings are not only capable of growing and learning for their whole lifetime, but actually meant to do so?

Therapy is all about Growth, Learning, and Positive Change!

You’ve probably heard of several theories about stages of growth and development. But in all likelihood, you’ve associated them with childhood and adolescence, and haven’t thought of what happens after that. The reality is, we  don’t stop changing! Certainly, some of the changes associated with aging are in the category of loss, but that’s only part of the story.

We are developing (and that means AGING!) from the moment we are born!

A young adult struggles with defining themselves as separate from their parents, with finding a vocation, and possibly seeking a romantic adult relationship. The middle years of maturity may revolve around the dual roles of providing for one’s family (of whatever composition or size) and caring for children. From mid-life on, you may  be  preoccupied with efforts around your “peak earning years” at your job, possibly with launching children as adults, and increasingly with attending to the needs of an aging parent or other family member. Issues of identity and meaning come up again and again through each of these stages, especially if, along the way, you experience losses (of job, marriage, health, or from a move) that make a re-negotiation necessary. What often gets ignored are the continuing changes past what we think of as “retirement” age, which include concerns with spirituality, legacy, mentorship, integrity, and reminiscence.

Changing priorities and developmental transition can be daunting at any age.

In  my view, good therapy takes the whole person into account: their body, mind, heart, soul, community, culture, and environment. Keeping your eye on all those things isn’t easy, either for a client or for the therapist, but it’s vital to at least be open to information from all those areas. Willingness to be a witness to “the whole story” is something I see as a really important part of my job. Being truly seen and heard is something deeply needed, and deeply yearned for by many people during times of transition. Only by knowing our needs can we meet them. Only by knowing where we are can we choose our next direction.

Therapy is meant to be a safe space in which a person – of any age or stage – can freely explore their journey thus far, taking the time to find its fruits and heal the wounds incurred on the way. At its best, therapy can be experienced as a protected and sacred moment, outside of “ordinary” time, in which a person can meet themselves anew, with fresh eyes. The goal of this exploration, of this sacred moment, will be very different for different people.  It may be moving on to new plans and adventures; it may be the consolidation of your learning and wisdom. It will certainly be to create your best possible present, regardless of your age.

If you do find yourself on the older end of the developmental spectrum, here are a couple of links to sites that deal specifically with positive aging:

DISCLAIMER: This information is not a substitute for professional psychological advice, diagnosis, or treatment. All content provided by Frances Bryant-Scott, RSW, BCATR is intended for general information purposes only. Never disregard professional medical or psychological advice or delay seeking treatment because of something you read in this blog (or any blog for that matter!)