Monday, May 08, 2017

Guest Blog: Joan Stanford on Creative Expression

Joan Stanford, author of "The Art of Play," has graciously written a guest blog for Adventures in Art Therapy!  Read ahead for her wisdom and insight about the importance of expression through artmaking.

The universe is full of magical things patiently waiting for our wits to grow sharper.
—Eden Phillpotts

I recently attended the NORCATA (Northern California Art Therapists Association) conference in Berkeley and just watched A Beautiful Remedy, a documentary on PBS about arts in medicine so am feeling very connected to the healing power of art expression. While I have worked with various populations (and for several years in the local public schools) I now work mostly for and with people without a client/patient designation. I offer play shops and creative retreats. My intent is to invite anyone to explore with playful art making and through that to connect to themselves, to others and to the world around them with more authenticity and compassion. My book, The Art of Play, released this June, relates my story: how I, a busy innkeeper, wife, and mother found my way to expressive arts and how that opened up a whole new world.

Many of the people who play with me have not touched art materials since preschool or elementary school. Some were more actively engaged previously in some “artistic” pursuit but abandoned that as their adult working lives took over and, now, jump at the chance to reactivate those interests. Others are just curious.  Some consider themselves totally “non-creative” but want to see if they can discover something new. Of course, signing up is completely voluntary so that is a huge plus. We have all encountered resistance when clients are mandated to work with us. But my playmates bring their own fear-based resistance. Facing a blank page creates anxiety for most of us. Being asked to trust the process, to let something emerge from within is not easy. That is why I use the word “play.”

We begin with conversation; they may say why they came and what they hope for from the experience. I always stress that play is experimentation—there is no judgment, no mistakes. I offer total permission with the hope that the carefree child part will join in with a sense of curiosity and excitement. We do some warm-ups to stimulate free association, to activate imagination. This allows a shift—visibly sensed—from the outer world to the inner that the safe space provided facilitates. Safety allows risk-taking and the experimentation necessary for discovery. I display a variety of art materials to entice engagement of the senses by attracting the eye and piquing interest.

Self-expression through art making is a birthright of all and evident in the first traces of human existence. I want to help make the process accessible and available so people have a tool for introspection that they will turn to as easily as journaling. When we allow imagery to speak to us we learn something new. Images are our first language and evoke feelings, memories, and associations that our analytical left-brains may not have access to.

My personal practice is creating spontaneous collages in a small six-by-six spiral bound journal. I paste the collage on the right side, and then record the conversation on the left. I might ask, “Who are you?” or “What do you want me to know/remember?” Sometimes I create the collage in response to something happening in my personal life or world events. 

After the Paris shootings I did this:


And, later, after the Orlando shootings:


When strong feelings of grief, sadness, helplessness, or anger overwhelm me, the page is a good container. As I create these, the energy is released and can be transformed.

Another more playful image:


People I work with often cannot commit a lot of time or space to playing with imagery so this is a doable option. Tearing words and images from magazines is easy and can be done anywhere—even on a plane. No fancy materials are needed so there are fewer excuses, less avoidance. The words that come are surprising, often poetic and insightful.

As I just read, “The world speaks to us. We just need to learn how to become better listeners.” —Steven D. Farmer, Ph.D.

Hopefully by stressing the playful nature of this powerful work I can invite the wider population to try expressive art making. I know for me it is the key that unlocks insight, healing, and joy!

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Thursday, May 04, 2017

Movie - Nise: The Heart of Madness

This looks like a very interesting movie. It looks like Dr. Silveira was coming on to the idea of art as a form of therapy/treatment at the same time it was burgeoning in America (with Margaret Naumburg and Edith Kramer) and Britain in the 1940's, as their counterpart in Brazil. Cool! 


The territory couldn’t be more delicate, but “Nise: The Heart of Madness,” a mesmerizing drama from Brazil, navigates it skillfully to create a portrait of a real-life doctor who found an alternative to some of the more cruel trends in psychiatric treatment in the middle of the last century. 

Glória Pires stars as Dr. Nise da Silveira (1905-1999), who as the film opens is taking up a post at a psychiatric hospital near Rio de Janeiro in 1944. She settles into a seat in a lecture hall where the benefits of lobotomies via thin spike are being extolled, then witnesses a cruel demonstration of another favorite technique, electroshock therapy. 

“I don’t believe in healing through violence,” she tells colleagues, but, especially since she is a woman, they are dismissive. They assign her to what they think is busywork. 

She transforms the insult into opportunity, creating a unit in which patients who had been written off are given a chance to express themselves through painting and other art forms. The results are startling. 

The movie, full of characters behaving erratically, could easily have taken on the aura of a freak show, but the director, Roberto Berliner, somehow stays respectful of the subject matter even while depicting extreme psychiatric conditions. It’s a study of courageous innovation against an entrenched medical orthodoxy. 

“Our job is to cure patients, not comfort them,” one colleague chastises. 

“My instrument is a brush,” Dr. Silveira replies curtly. “Yours is an ice pick.”

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Tuesday, May 02, 2017

Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award winner states "Children need art...as much as they need love and food and fresh air and play."

Philip Pullman, who received the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award for Children's Literature in 2005, had words of wisdom with this that he wrote for the 10th anniversary of the Award in 2012:

Children need art and stories and poems and music as much as they need love and food and fresh air and play. If you don’t give a child food, the damage quickly becomes visible. If you don’t let a child have fresh air and play, the damage is also visible, but not so quickly. If you don’t give a child love, the damage might not be seen for some years, but it’s permanent.

But if you don’t give a child art and stories and poems and music, the damage is not so easy to see. It’s there, though. Their bodies are healthy enough; they can run and jump and swim and eat hungrily and make lots of noise, as children have always done, but something is missing.

It’s true that some people grow up never encountering art of any kind, and are perfectly happy and live good and valuable lives, and in whose homes there are no books, and they don’t care much for pictures, and they can’t see the point of music. Well, that’s fine. I know people like that. They are good neighbours and useful citizens.

But other people, at some stage in their childhood or their youth, or maybe even their old age, come across something of a kind they’ve never dreamed of before. It is as alien to them as the dark side of the moon. But one day they hear a voice on the radio reading a poem, or they pass by a house with an open window where someone is playing the piano, or they see a poster of a particular painting on someone’s wall, and it strikes them a blow so hard and yet so gentle that they feel dizzy. Nothing prepared them for this. They suddenly realise that they’re filled with a hunger, though they had no idea of that just a minute ago; a hunger for something so sweet and so delicious that it almost breaks their heart. They almost cry, they feel sad and happy and alone and welcomed by this utterly new and strange experience, and they’re desperate to listen closer to the radio, they linger outside the window, they can’t take their eyes off the poster. They wanted this, they needed this as a starving person needs food, and they never knew. They had no idea.

That is what it’s like for a child who does need music or pictures or poetry to come across it by chance. If it weren’t for that chance, they might never have met it, and might have passed their whole lives in a state of cultural starvation without knowing it.

The effects of cultural starvation are not dramatic and swift. They’re not so easily visible.

And, as I say, some people, good people, kind friends and helpful citizens, just never experience it; they’re perfectly fulfilled without it. If all the books and all the music and all the paintings in the world were to disappear overnight, they wouldn’t feel any the worse; they wouldn’t even notice.
But that hunger exists in many children, and often it is never satisfied because it has never been awakened. Many children in every part of the world are starved for something that feeds and nourishes their soul in a way that nothing else ever could or ever would.

We say, correctly, that every child has a right to food and shelter, to education, to medical treatment, and so on. We must understand that every child has a right to the experience of culture. We must fully understand that without stories and poems and pictures and music, children will starve.

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