Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Process not product

When I was in counseling school, immediately after getting that great and seeminly useless BFA in ceramics, trying to figure a way to make a living and share the glorious therapeutic benefits of creative art...I learned that the process was often more important than the product.

Art therapy was what it was called.

So I geared my Masters and Specialist in Counselor Education toward a University which didn't have anything dealing with Art Therapy...a field which actually was beginning to be recognized in therapeutic which licensing criteria were just being defined..  So I designed the degree that didn't exist, a kind of independent study, interdepartmental thing.  I had Art Education classes that fit perfectly, as well as the Counselor Ed. classes that were required.  So a 2 year graduate degree (full time) became a 3 year degree for me.

And was it marketable?  Nope, not at all.

I did counseling.  I seldom did a thing that had to do with the process of creating art.  And many of my counseling jobs were not that at all.  For almost 2 years I helped organize and deliver substance abuse prevention training to public school faculty and staff in a North Carolina county.

I am not complaining, really.  Well, not much. 

There wasn't any one else deciding what I was doing with my life.

The Art School dean told me that I wouldn't be getting a job with that BFA.  The counseling advisor said I'd have to work my way up the ladder. 

I sure didn't intend to talk about this when I started writing today...
but it's about process, so let's see where it next goes.

Yes I did have steady work for the last 15 years of my career.  But I switched from counseling to doing Activities Director work with senior citizens.  It was certainly more enjoyable.  Did I do much with that dream vocation "art therapy" finally?  Nope.

I taught a few people how to do watercolors.  Did they wish to examine their painting and discuss their feelings about it?  Nope.  These were senior citizens.  They had feelings, but they shared them just with their best friends, or nobody at all.  They didn't come to a class in order to do "group work."

I led a couple of one-day workshops on making Mandalas, where people did share what their drawings represented to them...but they were the "sharing caring" type people already.

So I've really never felt that art therapy happened for me, career wise.

However, I've nudged it along in more casual ways in the community pottery studio. (The other teachers and assistants in the local studio do most of this process).   Much as working in ceramics offered me a sense of personal centering, calming, and perhaps a meditation, I've seen others arrive at these same places.  I've seen how encouragement and praise move a discouraged individual into a deep sense of worth, a self-pride that means as much as any counselor working to aid in self-esteem development.

A product in clay may be the medium for this self-development, but the end result isn't what the pot looks like.  Actually there's a big jump that must occur when the pot is fired and comes out looking like something the cat dragged in, instead of the imagined beautiful art.  This jump from fantasy to reality can usually be smoothed with lots of reasoned and rational soothing support.  Some people never make it...and return to more certain media like acrylic painting.

So the end result when you look at the art therapy viewpoint, is how a person adjusts to disappointment with a fired object that doesn't meet well as the hours of creativity which gave personal satisfaction to the individual (a process).  Going home each day with this feeling is a healing of sorts...from whatever wound that person may have had in the outside world.

Some of the talking in the studio may bring out these events from a person's life.  Sometimes the topics are never heard.  But there is a camaraderie which begins slowly, gently, and eventually becomes intimate between the regular studio attendees.  It's like a "group."

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