Sometimes I get letters that are so passionate about the expressive arts, it opens my heart with a surprising jolt. Here is a recent letter from a 22 year old expressive artist.
"I have always had a passion for art, but I never created it for the finished product. I have always been more fascinated by the marks that appear on a surface, and how I feel during the process. It is difficult to describe, but when I make a mark, it feels as though something flows from within me onto a canvas. It's as if the media in my hand bridges the gap from my soul into reality.
Whenever I have had art projects in school, I always put my soul into it. I never cared much for how my works turned out, but the process of making them was always very involved for me. The projects that I always loved the most in school were ones where I was offered the opportunity to explore who I was and why I am the way I am, and somehow translate that onto a canvas.
Now that I have accepted my love for the art process and have determined my life purpose, I am stuck on how to merge the two. How can I help others to realize, accept and develop their authentic selves through the art process?" ~ Genefer
From Product to Process
I remember discovering spontaneous art making 20 years ago. I could not find many mainstream books on intuitive/process art. I was a gallery artist at the time, painting for an aesthetically pleasing end-product instead of being true to my need to express my emotions and thoughts authentically.
Just as I was scheduled for my first solo show in a major gallery at age 30, I started to feel the intense urge to paint and draw "strange" things that were not pretty. So rather than create more "saleable" paintings, I cancelled my solo show and started to draw spontaneously. Used to creating pretty paintings, my intuitive drawings at first seemed disturbing - yet intriguing. My spontaneous sketchbooks were filled with faces with sad eyes and shrouded mouths.
Yet, the process of creating my honest drawings enlivened me more than my most beautiful "end-product" focused art ever did. Still, I questioned my tender love for my expressive art. Then, I discovered a book called, "Life, Paint and Passion" and I met one of the authors at a painting retreat. That blessed encounter was a friendly mirror for me. I started to draw, paint, write and dance from the inside out - and it changed everything about my life.
We are not taught to create from the inside-out in mainstream art classes. Mostly we are encouraged to be "good" artists in the eyes of others. We are cautioned only to create if we have artistic "talent." When we first discover that we can paint, draw, write or dance authentically - without the requirement for a pretty end product - it can open us up to a bright new, honest world inside.
It is interesting to allow our expression to be raw, messy and alive - no matter how our art appears. By not covering up the messiness that we feel, we can start to look deeper for emotional patterns. We can sit with the discomfort of what we have expressed, and transform uncomfortable emotions at their root. Instead of making everything we create socially presentable, we can allow every aspect of ourselves to be seen fully.
In the spirit of Rilke's famous "Letter to a Young Poet" I offer some guidance to artists who are just discovering the joy of honest, expressive art.
1. Create Authentically Every Day.
Before I became an expressive artist, I was bored with myself. When I was with others, I did not often share myself honestly. I was a people pleaser. I used to feel that I could only be myself when I was alone. When I discovered intuitive creativity, I invented daily creative practices to keep me honest. My private creative time was a sacred point in my day where I was raw, open, alive, messy, angry, sad, wild, inspired and joyful. I still create everyday. I still feel the need to live deeply within the expressive arts process.
2. Be Expressive in the World.
As I expressed myself more in my private time, I changed socially. My body shifted. I felt taller - more real - and my speaking voice changed. To my surprise, my honest art and writing journals would suddenly speak through my voice in social settings. I became more interesting to myself and others. Instead of pandering to the ego comfort in myself and other people, I found myself taking more risks to tell the truth in my relationships.
3. Share Share Share!
By being more honest about the hidden aspects of myself, I started to have authentic growth stories to share with others that inspired me to write and publish my findings. Ten years ago when blogs were young, I started an art process blog where I created spontaneous art and honestly wrote about it.
It was a very vulnerable blog as I wanted to be a living demonstration of the expressive arts process. There was not much talk of spontaneous creativity on the internet back then, but slowly I found my truth through sharing my honest creativity with others. I gathered interest, colleagues and friends along the way.
4. Connect Connect Connect!
So much of my work in the past 10 years as an expressive artist and facilitator has been to gently share and explain the benefits of the expressive arts on a day-to-day level with everyone who is interested. When I was an artist in healthcare, I invited the doctors and nurses to visit my art groups. I loved sharing stories about the creative process of each artist with staff, family and managers.
Many people still do not know what the intuitive/expressive/process arts are. Process art is not yet taught in mainstream curriculum. As expressive artists in our collective journey, we have grass roots education work to do. The more people see the value and benefits of the expressive arts, the more it will be valued, funded and respected.
5. Document and Practice
Long before I garnered any therapy or teaching designations, I documented everything I did relating to the expressive arts. I decided to became an expert in my own field of interest which is to meld counselling with intuitive art and writing directives. I read art therapy and psychology books. I networked everywhere I went. I interviewed people who were doing the kind of work I wanted to do. I kept ongoing notes on all of my findings. I wrote courses and designed workshops.
In the early days, I volunteered to facilitate art so I could learn how to work with different populations. I gathered recommendation letters stating all of my hours worked. I took photos of people's hands painting and kept diaries and portfolios of my facilitation work. I blogged about my experiences. I kept track of all my facilitation hours. To pay my bills, I worked other "day jobs" to fund my passion for expressive arts discovery. I worked as a nanny, a cafe chef and a store clerk. I led my workshops and art groups on the side.
When I had no arts facilitation work, I created "workshops" at home for my daughter and my family. When my daughter came home from school I had an art directive ready for her to try in my studio. At Christmas, I set up our coffee table for a family collage workshop. In my early days of arts facilitation I often had only one or two people show up for my workshops, and I made very little money at my craft. Yet, it was all great practice.
6. Trust Your Emotional Process
We all have a unique part to play in bringing the expressive arts more fully to our world based on what we need to heal within ourselves. Whatever we most need to heal becomes our place of deepest inquiry, learning and wisdom. As we heal ourselves, we can contribute to others in a beautiful and particular way.
Depending on what you most need to learn about to healing, your journey might involve training as an expressive arts therapist or intuitively leading others to create authentically in your community or online. Always be inwardly-led about your unique path. I never give concrete advice on what educational route to take. We are all so different.
I "schooled" myself very deeply through my own lived experience before seeking formal credentials. As a former people pleaser, I was very concerned about being overly influenced by other's thoughts and opinions, and I needed to stay away from standard curriculums. I needed to solidify my own curriculum of learning first.
I privately art journaled and process painted alone in my studio for ten years before I started facilitating art. I facilitated art with teens in jail and in healthcare with special needs populations without any sort of formal designation. I found confidence through living the expressive arts process from the inside out. I only pursued extra training once I was financially secure in a full-time job.
7. Don't Measure Your Worth by the Money You Make
Do not let the money you make - or do not make - as an expressive artist affect your self-esteem. I sense that we are in a "proliferation" phase in the healing/expressive arts where many of us are passionately creating while facilitating part-time or on a volunteer basis. We might need to be open to other streams of income to support our practice. There is no failure in this.
As we solidify the expressive arts as a valuable emotional healing modality in the world, forerunners such as yourself have to be willing to demonstrate, illustrate and proliferate the work. Be a living example of the expressive arts in action. You are important. Trust your passion, and take action on all of your intuitions step-by-step.
8. Be Part of the Expressive Arts Movement.
Because we are now in a proliferation phase in the expressive arts, there are not many "ready-made" high paying jobs in the established job market. We are not yet widely recognized or funded by the current medical and psychological model. Still, there are many of us dancing freely, writing expressive poetry, and painting authentically, and we are sharing loudly about it! As a creative collective we are beautiful!
We are opening art and dance studios. We are marketing our classes and web pages online. We are sharing the value of the expressive arts with all who can hear. We are spreading the word, and great interest is now erupting in art therapy, expressive arts, intuitive art, and art for healing. Part of our task as an expressive arts collective is to continue to write, teach and share the benefits of what we are experiencing, so that the expressive arts can become more mainstream.
9. Trust your Passion - Intense passion for your unique approach in the expressive arts carves the path to your purpose and can override common consensus opinions about what is possible. Daily, practically combining passion with action in my area of interest has carried me far. I still make every effort to follow through on every intuition to further my purpose - step-by-step - every day.
So many people ask me what route to take in the expressive arts and I always say sense into what you uniquely want to give to the field. There are no known rules or formulas for financial success. We are still blazing new trails. You might have to be a passionate self-starter. I have seen intuitive artists make a full-time living in the field while trained therapists struggle to make a go of it. Follow your intuition and be real. Take daily action and let your passion carve the way.
10. Always Be Yourself and Never Give Up
As the poet e.e. cummings so aptly said, "To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else - means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting."
Even when you see and feel no outer validation for your unique path, never give up. There is a place for you and your purpose here. Sometimes the unfolding of something new takes time, yet even though the financial rewards might not always equal the intensity your work, your place in the collective process is needed. Leading edge therapies and holistic practices often take time to gain a foothold in the consensus consciousness. Keep going. Keep creating and never give up! xo Shelley
There is a proliferation of expressive artists bringing their unique work into the world. If you are an artist interested in facilitating your own workshops, or are already fully established in sharing your expressive arts expertise with others I invite you to join this peer support group HERE.