Editor’s intro: we always hear about art therapy in relation to the non-practicing artist looking to find expression. But what would a artist, with a full art education, think of the experience? We sent Ashley Kuhn to a workshop, and asked her to report on her experience.
Walking into a quaint studio space in Evanston was a new experience for such the big city girl. Strangers sat around a long table and wrote their names on masking tape, and open rectangles of once painted works are witnesses on the walls to work done by strangers before. I came into the Open Studio Project space, almost as a spy. I felt my intention was to write an article on my experience with their Introduction to the Creative Process one-day workshop, and technically it was. However, I did not think I would take as much from the session as I did.
As one of the youngest in the room, I was a bit intimidated by the women and men that I was going to spend the next three hours with. Each of us had different backgrounds, some art therapists, students, artists, however all of us were art enthusiasts. Personally, I fall under the recent graduate, artist, art historian, and art therapy nut categories. This newly buzzing topic of art therapy has been peeking its head into different industries more and more. But, what does that mean for me as an artist? That is what I was asked to explore.
Having never actively participated in an art therapy group session — I was excited. After hearing the rules — I was terrified. Associate Director, Sarah Laing and Program Director Erin Mooney, of the Open Studio Project, sat with us and explained that we were not to comment, verbally or nonverbally, on each other’s work. We were, however, encouraged to reference and copy each other. What? Have you ever been to a critique in any studio art class? Students are pseudo kind and compliment your work so that you refrain from ripping on their piece. Next, your almighty professor chimes in with “This is shit, I cannot believe you even planned on turning this in.” And you are saying I am encouraged to copy and no one can say anything about it here? Awesome.
First, I was witness to an image that I was drawn to. I sat before it and wrote whatever was on my mind, and kept writing. This was in preparation for the second half of the workshop. You can choose to share, or not. You are never forced to participate. Before each half, you write your intentions for the exercise. My intentions were very simple, “Today, I am not working, I am playing.” Some came for healing, others just to fall back into love with a medium that was lost, and others just to open their minds and express themselves.
The second half of the workshop is really what benefits us as artists. Standing in front of an empty sheet of watercolor paper, surrounded by others facing that same emptiness. Tempera paints are lined up along the middle of the room, causing you to walk back and forth, and actually look around the room at what is being created. This generates a constant flow of energy. No one is judging, no one expects a masterpiece; no one cares if it is abstract or figurative. The experience becomes about you and the materials.
After a good 40 minutes of painting and copying, you were to pull up a chair in front of your work and witness your piece just as you did earlier with the foreign image. This time it was not foreign; you were outside looking in on yourself. Some shared their writing; others just felt what was being read. Sarah believes this process can help heal artist’s block and the pain that accompanies. I know that between work and starting a new life after graduation, creating has been put on the back burner for me. This process helped me get what I love most back.
I encourage artists to put the taboo term ‘therapy’ aside and try this process, whether you are in a block or not. This process created by Pat Allen and Dayna Block, SAIC professor, Executive Director of Open Studio Project and art therapist, is about community and safety, not about who’s who and what kind of wine to serve at the opening. The people you meet and the stories you hear are enough inspiration. The part about painting is just the icing on the cake.