Monthly Archives: June 2014

Just doodling around

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYears ago when I worked at a hospital, every day started with morning rounds, in which staff going off night shift gave us day shift staff members a comprehensive report on each patient. I am not a morning person, so rounds was a great way for me to start the day. I could just listen, ask the occasional question, and…doodle. I doodled through rounds constantly in my Week at a Glance book with my favorite pen at the time, a Rotring cartridge pen. It might have looked like I was still half asleep, or bored, or not listening, but that was actually not true. In fact, I think it was the opposite; I think I was in an exceptionally tuned in zone. Throughout the years, doodling has remained an art activity of choice for me, both personally and in work with clients.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe think doodling is something you do when you lose focus, but in reality, it is a preemptive measure to stop you from losing focus. Additionally, it has a profound effect on creative problem-solving and deep information processing.  -Sunni Brown, author of The Doodle Revolution

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADoodling has gained more attention recently as a mindfulness technique. Good old doodling in book margins during class or meetings will probably always be around, but the use of more varied media and more methodized doodling techniques abound. Zentangle, for example, is a method of creating beautiful images by drawing structured patterns to enhance focus, relaxation, and creativity. When I searched doodling on youTube, I found a TED Talks presentation by Sunni Brown, a visual thinking consultant, instructional doodling videos, and many videos that people have made of their own doodles. Here’s a CBS report called The Higher Purpose of Doodling:

I also found numerous articles on doodling, including I Draw Pictures All Day by designer Alma Hoffmann, Doodling Your Way to a More Mindful Life by art therapist Cathy Malchiodi, and an interesting article about doodling as an art therapy process on a site called Enchanted Mind. You can cite these sources the next time your teacher or boss calls you out for not paying attention because you’re doodling.

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Volcano

Another week, another school shooting, more dead. A lot of heartbreak and agony. Opinions, discussions, arguments, demonstrations. I thought I’d weigh in from one art therapist’s perspective.

People are traumatized by so many things. Most people associate Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder with war, child abuse, domestic violence, natural disasters. There’s plenty of that around. But people can experience trauma for many other reasons. Traumatic experiences usually involve a threat to life or safety, but any situation that leaves someone feeling overwhelmed and alone can be traumatic, even if it doesn’t involve physical harm. Objectively there may not be any apparent reason for someone to feel traumatized, but it is the subjective emotional experience that counts. An illness, accident, loss, or humiliation can be the cause of trauma, for example. A sense of abandonment can be traumatic. As we have seen, bullying traumatizes many victims. Trauma is more common than we’d all like to admit.

Anger is a hallmark of PTSD, a response to feelings of powerlessness and the loss of a sense of safety. Alternating states of hyperarousal and numbing are common, intensifying chaotic and overwhelmed feelings. There is a pervasive sense that danger is all around. A fight-or-flight response, a physiological reaction to the threat, kicks in.

Back to volcanos:

vol·ca·no   noun

  1. An opening in the earth’s crust through which molten lava, ash, and gases erupt.
  2. Something of explosively violent potential.

Volcanos are by far the most common image I have seen in the many years I have practiced art therapy. A volcano is kind of a perfect metaphor. So many of the traumatized clients I have seen struggle to contain a rage which is pushing to erupt. Most live in fear of their own rage, terrified of destroying those around them.

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Some feel less aware of their own dormant volcanos, but their images convey that they may sense the impending shifting of tectonic plates that precedes an eruption.

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You would not believe the size of my collection of volcano drawings, most of which I don’t have permission to show you here. These drawings can be seen as self-portraits, as the depiction of the subjective experience of their makers. Most of these artists had a healthy fear of their emotional volcanos. I always thought this child directed a huge wave at his volcano to put out the fire and make it safe for himself and those around him.

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You help people by restoring safety, by helping them regain control, not by handing them the means to lose control and cause harm. People don’t want to cause harm. In my experience, they’re scared of their anger.

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When someone is suicidal, we take away the sharps. With so much trauma in our midst, let’s make sure we take away the guns.

Smile though your heart is aching

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Smile even though it’s breaking

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When there are clouds in the sky, you’ll get by

kids art028If you smile through your fear and sorrow

kids art029Smile and maybe tomorrow

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You’ll see the sun come shining through for you…

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If only! All preceding artwork done by desperately smiling children. The truth is in their art. Try and give them whatever they need.

Good advice

Here’s some wisdom from artist Chuck Close:

The advice I like to give young artists, or really anybody who’ll listen to me, is not to wait around for inspiration. Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work. If you wait around for the clouds to part and a bolt of lightning to strike you in the brain, you are not going to make an awful lot of work. All the best ideas come out of the process; they come out of the work itself. Things occur to you. If you’re sitting around trying to dream up a great art idea, you can sit there a long time before anything happens. But if you just get to work, something will occur to you and something else will occur to you and something else that you reject will push you in another direction. Inspiration is absolutely unnecessary and somehow deceptive. You feel like you need this great idea before you can get down to work, and I find that’s almost never the case.

Close was successful in the contemporary art world by the 1970’s, painting huge portraits in a photo-realistic style. In 1988, he suffered the sudden rupture of a spinal artery, which left him confined to a wheelchair, partially paralyzed with limited use of his limbs. Despite this, he continued to paint with a brush taped to his wrist. He went on painting enormous portraits, but in a more abstract style. An interesting fact: Close suffers from a condition called prosopagnosia, or face blindness, an impairment in the ability to recognize or differentiate between human faces. Close has said that he feels his portraits are a way to help him recognize the important people in his life.

Big Self-portrait, 1967-1968

Self-portrait, 2004-2005

Chuck Close at work