I often get letters that are passionate about the expressive arts. Here is a 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 discovered spontaneous art-making 20 years ago. I was a gallery artist at the time, painting for an aesthetically pleasing end-product. Just as I was scheduled for my first show in a major gallery at age 30, I started to feel the intense urge to express strange and dark things.
Rather than create more pretty "saleable" paintings, I cancelled my solo show and started to draw spontaneously. My intuitive drawings seemed disturbing at first. My 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 pretty art ever did. Soon after, I discovered a book called, "Life, Paint and Passion." I met one of the authors at a painting retreat. That encounter was an affirming mirror for me. I started expressively draw, paint, write and dance every day - and it changed everything about my life.
Creative Expression Redefined
Most of us 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 opens us up to a bright new honest world inside.
It is interesting to allow your expression to be raw, messy and alive. By not covering up the "messiness" that you feel, you can start to look deeper into your emotional patterns. When you sit with the discomfort of what you have expressed, you can transform uncomfortable emotions at their root. Instead of making everything you create socially presentable, you can allow every aspect of yourself to self-express.
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.
“Have patience with everything that remains unsolved in your heart.
...live in the question.”
~Rainer Maria Rilke
1. Create Authentically Every Day.
Before I became an expressive artist, I was bored with myself. 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, my daily creative practices kept 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. And, over 20 years later, I still create every day. I love to live deep within the expressive arts process.
2. Be Expressive in the World.
As I expressed myself more honestly in my private journals, I changed socially. I felt taller - more real - and my speaking voice changed. To my surprise, my honest voice would spontaneously speak out in social settings. Suddenly, 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 my truth.
3. Share Share Share!
Ten years ago when blogs were new, I started an art process blog where I created spontaneous art and honestly wrote about it. Being more honest about the hidden aspects of myself, I had authentic growth stories to share.
I wanted to be a living demonstration of the expressive arts process. There was not much talk about spontaneous creativity on the internet back then, but slowly I gathered interest, colleagues, and friends along the way.
4. Connect Connect Connect!
Many people still do not know what expressive art is. The expressive arts are not usually taught mainstream curriculums. As expressive artists, we all have grassroots education work to do. The more people see the benefits of the expressive arts, the more it will be valued, funded and respected. When I was an artist in healthcare, I invited doctors and nurses to visit my art groups. I loved sharing stories about the creative process of each artist with staff, family, and managers.
5. Document and Practice
Long before I garnered any of my therapy or teaching designations, I documented everything I did. I decided to become an expert in my own field of interest. I read art and psychology books. I networked. I kept ongoing notes of my findings. 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 and kept diaries and portfolios of my facilitation work.
I also blogged about my experiences. I kept track of all my facilitation hours. 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 expressive art workshops 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 expressive 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 art facilitation, I often had only one or two people show up for my workshops. I made very little money at my craft. Yet, it was all great practice.
6. Trust Your Emotional Process
When we emotionally heal through our personal creativity, we each contribute to others in a uniquely beautiful way. And, whatever we most need to heal becomes our place of deepest inquiry, learning, and wisdom. We all have a unique part to play in bringing the expressive arts more fully to our world. Depending on what you most need to learn, your journey might involve training as an expressive arts therapist or you might intuitively lead others in your community or online.
As a recovering people pleaser, I was very concerned about being overly influenced by academic standards. I needed to solidify my own inner curriculum of learning first. I "schooled" myself very deeply through my own lived expressive arts experiences before seeking formal credentials as a REACE.
I art journaled 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 lived the expressive arts process from the inside out. I only pursued more expensive professional training once I was financially secure in a full-time art government-funded facilitation job.
7. Don't Measure Your Worth by the Money You Make
I sense that we are in a "proliferation" phase in the expressive arts. Many of us are passionately 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. Do not let the money you make - or do not make - as an expressive artist and facilitator affect your self-esteem.
Before we solidify the expressive arts as a valuable healing modality to the mainstream culture, 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 your intuitions step-by-step.
8. Be Part of the Expressive Arts Movement.
The expressive arts are not yet regularly funded by the current medical and psychological models. There are not many "ready-made" jobs in the current job market. Still, many of us dancing freely, writing expressive poetry and painting authentically.
We are sharing loudly about the expressive arts. We are opening up expressive art and dance studios. We are starting poetry and singing groups. We are marketing our expressive arts classes online.
We are spreading the word, and interest is now erupting in art therapy, the expressive arts, intuitive art, and art for healing. Part of our task as a collective is to continue to write, teach and share the benefits of what we are experiencing so that art and authentic self-expression can become more mainstream.
9. Trust your Passion - Passion for your unique approach carves the path to your purpose and can override the consensus opinions about what is possible. You have to be a passionate self-starter. Combining passion with action in my area of interest has carried me far. I make every effort to follow through on every intuition - step-by-step - every day.
Many people ask me what route to take to become an expressive arts facilitator, and I always say sense into what you uniquely want to give. I do not offer advice on what route to take. We are all so different. There are no known formulas for financial success. We are blazing new trails.
I have seen that an expensive academic education does not presently offer the guarantee of a steady job in the art facilitation and therapy field. I have witnessed intuitive artists making a full-time living in the field while trained therapists struggle to make a go of it. I have seen the opposite to be true as well. Follow your intuition about what is best for you, 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 feel no outer validation for your unique path, never give up. The unfolding of something new takes time. And, even though the financial rewards might not equal the intensity of your work, your place in the collective process is needed. New paradigms take time to gain a foothold in the consensus consciousness. Keep going. Keep creating and never give up!
With love and support,