Art therapy is about process, rather than outcome. We don't look for specific artistic results, but pay attention to the creative process, and the relationship between artist and artwork. But it takes some skills to be able to attend to the process and be with our artworks in a meaningful exploratory relationship.
One skill that really supports a shift from judgement and criticism, to a more open and curious way of being, is noticing.
Noticing... mindfulness... awareness... a descriptive attitude.
In art therapy we slow things down. We pay attention to the feelings, thoughts, physical sensations that are arising moment to moment. We notice what's occurring as we make art... things like how it is to scrunch the paper between fingers, how it is to vigorously pummel the clay, how it is to layer the colours, how it is when the paint spills over or a we make a mistake. We notice these things happening, and we notice the patterns of our thinking and being in response to these things.
Sometimes we notice a judgmental voice shows up in our art making, or as we look at our artwork. The voice might say our art isn't good enough. It should be more this or less that. The voice might say the artwork you just created looks like a 5 year old made it. The voice has nothing kind to say. The voice can be nasty.
Perhaps that voice shows up in other areas of life. Perhaps that voice stops us from doing the things we would love to do. Perhaps we stay small, and hide our gifts away from others. We anticipate that voice will show up in the mouths of others. We anticipate that we'll be shut down, so we shut ourselves down first.
In art therapy, we notice that voice, see that it doesn't serve us, and have a moment of choice... perhaps we might choose self compassion. We can acknowledge that it can be vulnerable to make art. It can be vulnerable to try new things, to take risks. We can acknowledge the fear that is present and gently hold it as we make our tentative brush strokes.
We choose to be descriptive in our relationship with our artwork. Instead of calling the artwork 'bad', or 'childish', we notice the boldness of the colour, the contrast between light and dark, the warmth of the texture. We notice it reminds us of something. We share a story. We feel sadness, or anger, or fear, or joy. We allow the feelings to be present. Perhaps we return to the artwork and add more layers, words, resculpt a section, tear it up, draw it together.
Next time you find yourself in the grips of a critic voice, return to noticing. Bring curiosity to the process. I notice I feel.... I notice I'm curious about... I'm paying attention to the sound of the brush on the page...
If you'd like help to explore in this way, please get in touch. I'd love to support you in your creative inquiry.
Chelle is a practicing art therapist, researcher, and multi-modal creative. She regularly dives into the unknown to discover what is ready to be born, deepening her trust in the abundantly creative source. For Chelle, art is a means to inquire, express, and transform. If offers the capacity to soothe, making space for new perspectives and ways of being.