Art Storm

This past weekend I, along with the East Coast of the United States, was in the path of Hurricane Irene. I share a home with my brother and we rushed to and fro to bring in every single thing from the porches and yard, procure supplies and in general batten down the hatches. And then we waited. And waited. For two days. We had a few trees down in the neighborhood and lots of wind and rain but mercifully we emerged unscathed from the storm. What does this have to do with art? Well, I had an unexpected bounty of time and while I spent some of it working in an altered book, I had trouble dedicating much time to art making.

Part of the problem was anxiety about the  storm. I had a terrible stomach ache and couldn’t sleep. Another problem was that I had a lot of preparation to do for my classes and I spent a great deal of time reading and working on my lectures. But then there was the un-allotted time where I could have made art but did not. I wrestle with this all of the time-when do I push myself and when do I take a rest? Is not art making a form of rest at times? Why is art making one of the last things I push myself to do? I  want  to devote my full attention and energy to art making-and I rarely have that  kind of attention and energy when all the other tasks of the day are completed. I think that  I want to make Big Art every day but when I did that on my Art Vacation the mental exertion and challenge of it totally wiped me out. Ah, I go around in circles all of the time trying to find this balance, trying to make something really special part of my daily routine, seeking nirvana and catharsis  on a regular basis.

So the art storm was not a storm of art making unfortunately. Rather, it was the internal storm that goes on in my head and  maybe even your head  too. I will  probably never resolve the conundrum of how to relax and  make art while still needing the tension to make art. I hope that I can learn to exist peacefully with the thought that there is no resolution, that for me anyway art making and creative  tension will always  go hand in hand and I should just go in my studio and make some art.


Creativity and Mental Illness

School starts soon and this semester I will teaching one of my favorite classes, Art Therapy with Adults with Mental Illness. The class  covers the history of treatment of mental illness, from asylums to various means of reducing symptoms to deinstitutionalization to current therapies. I love teaching this class because I find the subject matter so fascinating. It reminds me of how far we have come in our understanding of mental illness and best practices and how far we have yet to go.

One topic of the class is the question of how mental illness and creativity are intertwined. Does having a  mental illness predispose one to greater heights of creativity? Or does being a creative person lead to greater frequency of mental illness?  There are many examples of artists who struggled with symptoms of mental illness: Vincent Van Gogh, Frida Kahlo, Jackson Pollock, Georgia O’Keefe, Pablo Picasso, Mark Rothko, Edgar Degas, Paul Gauguin, Michaelangelo, and Joan Miro to name a few. And these are just visual artists, there are many musicians, writers and other creative types who fill out this list. Did these artists channel their internal psychological experiences into their work? No doubt they did, but did this make them more creative than they would have been had they not been dealing with their symptoms? And did the artmaking itself intensify their symptoms?

I will take Frida Kahlo as an example as her work  strongly typifies the entanglement of internal struggles with her creative output. As a young woman, Kahlo was in a horrific accident which almost killed her and left her infertile. She spent many months recuperating in a full body cast. Her father was a photographer and she always had an interest in the arts, but it was during this forced bed rest that she began painting. Her mother set up a mirror over the bed so that Kahlo could study her likeness and paint self-portraits. Throughout her career, Kahlo painted images which captured her physical and  psychic pain. Her husband’s infidelities (and her own), her inability to bear a child, her physical infirmity-all were immortalized in paint. Kahlo struggled with depression and physical pain, which unfortunately lead to significant substance abuse. Going back to the original question-did Kahlo’s symptoms lead her to be a more creative person? Or did being a creative person intensify her symptoms? What would her artwork have looked like if she had not suffered from mental illness and substance abuse?

The rates of suicide, bipolar illness and major depression are actually much higher amongst artists. To me, this means that this is a population that deserves our focused attention for treatment, understanding and support. In a way it doesn’t matter whether being creative leads to mental illness or vice-versa. The fact of the matter is that many creative people deal with mental illness in all its many facets.

In my next post, I will discuss the role that art therapy can play in the treatment of adults with mental illness.

Obsessed with Polymer Clay


My newest “work art” project is working with polymer clay as part of the vocational arts program. I am officially obsessed with it. I hesitated to get involved with polymer clay for two reasons: 1) It involves some special equipment which therefore equals an outlay of cash,2) I knew I would fall in love with it and immediately want every piece of special equipment. Guess what, I am in love.

Polymer clay is a pliable medium that is basically made out of plastic. It comes in a rainbow of colors which can easily be mixed to fantastic effect. Sculpted clay is baked in the oven for a short period to “cure” it. If you are working with polymer clay you will definitely need: a pasta machine, acrylic rolling pins, tissue blades (like a long razor blade but thinner), plexiglass or glass sheets to work on, a bead roller and if you are really hard core a dedicated craft oven.

Clients in my vocational arts program are making beads from the polymer clay that are then assembled into jewelry that we sell at various venues. We have done some beads with the bead roller which is a very handy tool because it makes beads that are uniform in size. We are also making canes out of the clay that are cut into slices for chunkier beads. The canes are surprisingly easy to make and there are endless variations. I am attaching some pictures to show you what a couple of amateurs did their first time out of the chute.

As always, I love how the energy invested in a creative endeavor seems to build on itself. There is a synergy that happens when the idea meets the medium. I continually shake my head in wonder that working on these kinds of projects with my wonderful clients is something I get paid for. Sitting at my desk making jewelry is my job. Thanks to the Goddess of Creativity for the gifts you give me!

6 Degrees of Creativity

Between my day job at the hospital, my night job at the bookstore and my weekends spent preparing for the fall semester, I am busy getting ready to make a video for the 6 Degrees of Creativity project.

I find that the preparation for a project is almost more energizing and rewarding than the project itself. I cannot stop thinking about the video: how do I want to organize it, what angles will I shoot from, what do I want in the background, what is the best lighting set-up, the list goes on and on. Shooting starts next weekend so I have a little more planning time and I can’t wait to start working on it.

I do hope you plan to join me and my colleagues for the 6 Degrees of Creativity project. I am thrilled to be working with this talented group! I look forward to sharing the magic medium and techniques of beeswax collage with you. Registration starts September 1st and you can register through a link that will be on my blog. I hope you have an artful day!

Check out this inspiring online workshop series!

Workshop descriptions are now posted for 6 Degrees of Creativity. Check out these inspiring online workshops! Only $49 for all six workshops! Registration starts September 1. Please register through the link on my blog-thanks!

May you have an artful and art filled day!

Announcement about 6 Degrees of Creativity coming tomorrow!

I wish I could learn how to make this prettier! In the meantime, go to the following link for info on the 6 Degrees of Creativity online workshops. Announcement tomorrow about the workshop content. Registration starts September 1.


<a href="<a href="Click here to visit Art Therapy Alliance 6 Degrees of Creativity." title="6 Degrees of Creativity" target="_blank"&gt;here ” target=”_blank”>6 Degrees of Creativity

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