4 hours ago
Thursday, May 21, 2009
A long time ago in a previous life, I took an art therapy class. I was really interested in the intersection between art and therapeutic processes, being an artist and a family therapist at the time, and I eventually incorporated a number of art techniques into my work with families. Sometimes I would have the whole family work on an art project together, the point not being what they produced, but rather that along the way most of the family dynamics would reveal themselves during the process.
I especially found this experience moving, for some reason, when the dads would be involved. I guess that's because it seems like you don't often see fathers doing activities with their kids in public much beyond organised sports (at least where I'm from you don't). And to see a whole family down on the floor drawing together, the adults sharing crayons with the kids, (crayons usually being the kids' domain) always touched me.
One of the art therapy techniques that I picked up and modified a bit once I got to Paris and started taking night classes at Parsons, was the scribble drawing. In art therapy there is a consciousness about that tender passage point between going from the white page in front of you, to putting marks on it. You want to start out gently, without overwhelming people's sensations. For example you wouldn't want to use a liquid medium right away because it could be evocative of blood or other bodily fluids. And since I worked a lot with child abuse victims at the time, that was a really important point to me.
So I memorised the suggested way to start out with the simplest of tools. You can begin with a fresh piece of paper and a pencil. First instruction: put a dot anywhere on the page. There we go! The pristine aspect of the page is broken, transcended, might be a better word - and we're already in different territory. Second instruction: scribble - go ahead, let loose! Third instruction: faster! Forth instruction: Now take a new piece of paper put the pencil in the middle, close your eyes, hang on to the page with your other hand, and scribble for one minute. I'll time you. GO.
Then you'd have the person put the pencil down and take a look at the drawing. What do you think? Do you see any interesting shapes in there? A duck? A moon? A sailboat? A snake? OK, now turn it around and look at it from all the different sides, what do you see now? Then you'd have the person take up the pencil and color in some of the images they had identified. I didn't get in to interpreting any of the images (always more reflective of the person gazing upon the drawing than the person who did it, I think) but rather we just walked through the gate together - they had just made their first scribble drawing, from an empty space to a full page, and it was fun along the way.
And I loved, and still love, doing this exercise myself. I do it all the time to loosen up at the beginning of a drawing/painting session. And once I got to Paris and started taking my continuing ed class in figure drawing at Parsons (Parsons was pretty expensive and I could only afford one class at a time and still stay in coffee money), I had and instructor named Bill MacHenry who suggested we do an exercise of one minute, graphite or charcoal on the page, hand always moving - fast - and only looking at the model, no looking at the page until the minute was up. Gorgeous! How fun. Plus, there they were, my two loves (art and therapy) colliding with each other and melding.
The really fascinating thing I noticed in doing this exercise while gazing upon a model was that the masses of energy and form in the drawings had come through via an instinctual level - you could discern the figure, and the emotion in the pose once it was on the paper, without ever having analysed it or made conscious decisions about how to represent it on the page. No measuring, just gazing and hand perpetually moving. And at the end of the minute - it just existed, in another form in front of your eyes once you did take a look at the page.
Needless to say, I've stuck with this exercise and use it a lot to loosen myself up whenever I feel tight or frustrated or simply want to change tracks when doing my art. This drawing "Center" feels like a really good example of the experience - charcoal with a touch of white chalk, done in maybe 3 minutes with just a few indicative lines added in during, say, the last thirty seconds - in order to coalesce the figure and add some light/dark values, et voila! It exists. Amazing fun.