Over the past 20 years, Paolo Knill, Shaun McNiff, Natalie Rogers and Steve and Ellen Levine have pioneered the evolving theory of intermodal/multimodal expressive arts practices as a way to "increase the range of play" in therapy. As a way to care for yourself, you can regularly take breaks from habitual states of mind by designing your own regular expressive arts practice sessions. In this article, I offer ideas on how to set up a multimodal expressive arts practice at home.
In an expressive arts practice session, it is encouraged that you try two or more disciplines of artistic expression to deepen the meaning and momentum of your experience. You might, for example, transfer from painting to dancing, and then write a poem before your session is complete. As you move from one creative discipline to another, it is helpful to keep notes about how your process has deepened, enriched and progressed through each creative discipline.
We transform painful emotional states by entering into the imaginative world of play, dreams, visions, free association, guided imagery, making art, interacting with art, and using metaphors and brainstorming. Expressive arts practices create a container for change which Paolo Knill calls "alternate experiences of worlding." After a period of expressive arts practice, we re-enter the regular world with all our adult concerns and responsibilities, changed and opened, with a newly enlivened perspective.
Entering into a regular expressive arts practice, you can temporarily leave the troubled logic of your practical life behind, and enter into the "intuitive logic" of your imagination." Helpful symbolism for forward-growth arrives through right-brained creative play, imagination and intuitive exploration. Right brain imagination has its own intuitive logic that differs from linear left brain thinking. Entering into your imagination through structured expressive practices, you can temporarily move away from problem bound states to resource surprisingly new solutions.
The expressive arts could be considered a kind of play for adults. The expressive arts provide ways for you to leave your logical mind and experiment spontaneously into ever-new realms of imagination. Creating spaces and times to create spontaneously every day can loosen you from the world-weariness of adult concerns and invite the long-forgotten innocence from your childhood to reemerge.
The aim of an expressive arts practice is to explore two or more artistic disciplines within a single session. Regularly changing up your creative practices can keep you imaginatively nimble. Expanding your range of play by creating a drawing and then writing a poem about it, or dancing to a song you are singing can deepen your connection to your imaginal world.
To "decenter" out of regular linear consciousness and "expand your range of play," you can open the door to your imagination through the combination of two or more expressive arts disciplines. You might consider combining some of the following: painting, drawing, writing in your journal, creating a poem, collage, singing, playing an instrument, acting out a play, dancing, or whatever else feels right at the moment.
Knill refers to expressive arts explorations as finding "freedom within limits." To set up regular expressive arts practices, I invite you to explore spontaneity within the following structures:
- Choose a time duration for your practice: I typically prefer to set up expressive practices that fit into my working life. I commit to exploring my imagination for at least 15 - 30 minutes a day.
- Choose two or more practice modalities: Choose your own combination of creative processes. You might combine collage with free association, story writing with dancing or singing with painting.
- Choose your practice materials: Choose the combination of art materials that you want to explore for the length of your practice commitment. You might dedicate yourself to playing with oil pastels and writing a poem, scribbling with pencil crayons and vocalizing your drawing, or dancing and painting to music for 30 days or more.
- Choose the length of your practice commitment: I love short practices, and I typically commit to a minimum of 30 days of creative practice before moving onto the next one. Periodically, I commit to longer 365-day practices to deeply explore two or more creative disciplines.
- Enter your practice experience: You might light a candle, say a prayer or recite a poem to consecrate your art-making space in a ceremonial way. You can ask your logical mind to step aside during your practice time so your imagination can more freely come forward.
- Execute your practice experience: Take imaginative action based on the structure you have committed to. Know that each expressive arts session will feel different depending on what needs to emerge from your imagination each day.
- Exit your practice experience: Create a closing ritual that brings you back to your daily life. You might sit in stillness for five minutes, blow out your candle, neatly store away your art materials, and offer gratitude to the imaginative processes you have just experienced.
- Document your practice: You might want to take note of how you deepened or changed through your varied creative experiences. Keeping a detailed practice log of what you experienced as you progressed through each artistic discipline will remind you of how you are steadily guided to grow forward - in an out of the box kind of way.
- Record key insights from your practice: Each expressive arts session will likely yield at least one key insight. You might want to keep an abbreviated diary of the main inspirations that arise from your creative practices - as they are easy to forget once you re-enter logical left-brained thinking.
- Extend your creative practice medicine: You might want to create totems and altars to your expressive arts explorations in your home so that you can touch into the magic of your imagination between practice times. Mount your art on a wall where you can meditate on it. Recite your expressive poems as you tend to daily tasks. Regularly hum a tune you invented as you walk.