For many folx approaching therapy for the first time in life, there is already an idea they have about what counseling or art therapy is. Many who have had negative experiences of therapeutic systems or professionals, are hesitant to return. For those of us living with trauma or living in poverty, we often are navigating moments of split decisions in cycles where we are stuck between two problematic choices. Our experiences from the past and our predictions of future experience are inextricably linked. One way in which art therapy and counseling can approach the ways we feel stuck in life, or stuck in cycles, is through the exploration of materials and processes.
Below is a video of a piece of art made entirely of paper cut into a singular shape: strips with a pleated cut on one side. A little glue, a pair of scissors, and paper are all this project required.
For those experiencing art-making for the first time, I like to breakdown that art-making is not a process for trained professionals. Art is a human process of making. With very few things, and very little skill, beautiful results and dynamic work is possible. If we can re-imagine our skillsets in art-making and our self-label as ‘not artists’ we can begin to question whether other labels applied to us are true or not: we can begin to approach what it would be to re-imagine our skillsets, our identities, and our perspectives in other areas of our life. Those thinking from a clinical framework, might want to think of this as an exercise in building functional flexibility. For those considering art therapy, I encourage you to consider that art is not one thing, and that you do not need a degree or a paycheck as an artist to create something in a therapeutic setting.
Additionally, art making is not for the wealthy or the privileged. Art is made up of whatever surrounds us, whatever is nearest, whatever we wear. As such, exploring all the things the material of our lives can do, in very simple explorations can help us see our environments with a lens of possibility rather than of a lens of scarcity. This does not mean that art-making will suddenly give us housing, or food security, or freedom from oppression. This process is not making lemonade out of lemons. Material and process exploration is about low-level, low-risk exploration that can help our bodies re-acclimate to non-crisis decision making. When our bodies go through trauma over and over again, our tolerance for even low level decisions tanks. We begin to get so used to operating in a crisis, that anything but a crisis no longer can hold our focus. By re-engaging with low-level, low-risk explorations and learning s we re-teach our bodies what it is to be frivolous, to not-care in a place and space where care is not required and carelessness is not punishable. Only through re-learning to navigate different environments, and identifying environments where we can take risks without consequence, can we can acclimate our minds and bodies to a new normal.