To direct or be spontaneous that is the question . . .
When I was training to be an art therapist some 20 years ago I was taught to use a spontaneous approach. Simply put, it means encouraging clients to draw what ever comes to mind. It’s meant to get at what is currently needing to be addressed. The assumption is that ones’ inner wisdom will show the way via the art.
My own approach to my art has been similar: I paint or draw whatever wants to come out in the moment. I don’t actually think about it in the whatever comes to mind sense, but rather I allow what ever movement my hand wants to make and choose whatever colors I am attracted to in that moment. – a very intuitive and mindful approach I think.
Give me a directive on the other hand and I over think it. I have to take the suggestion in and let it seep in, then I just begin and see what happens. It can be a bit nerve-wracking at first, especially if you are one to focus a lot on outcome. Of course the process is just as much a part of the “outcome” but that is the subject of another post.
Some people struggle with a spontaneous approach, uncertain of the “Unknown” their imagination will possibly expose. Or perhaps anxious to get to the heart of the matter. Using a directive (“draw or make a . . . .”) in this sense can help lower anxiety for clients in art therapy when they are uncertain as to where to begin. But the directive needs to be tailored by the art therapist to the needs of the client.
With the art therapists in training I teach it tends to be a mixed bag: some shrinking away from a spontaneous approach, finding it a little too anxiety provoking, even overwhelming at times. While others welcome a spontaneous approach as a refreshing change from their art school days when constantly being told what to make.
So what is the advantage of a directive other than to lower anxiety for some? It’s a place to start. You dont’ have to over think what is being asked but rather think of it as planting a seed. The directive is spoken, there may be a brief moment of panic (“how am I going to express that? What if it doesn’t turn out? What if it reveals too much?”) but then you can “forget” it, as it has been has taken it in on some level by your unconscious. Then you can let it go and see what surfaces.
When you are doing directives on your own, not in the context of therapy, it can be feel less intimidating to have a starting place for your art. And if you do still find it difficult to follow someone elses’ prompt, just acknowledge the intention and begin, your inner wisdom where lead you where you need to go.
It really comes down to a matter of preference. I know for me I have learned to embrace directives a little more enthusiastically, particularly through art journaling. They can help me focus and get down to the task at hand of expressing myself and challenge my vulnerabilities to just the right degree. When I am working on larger art, outside of the art journaling I like to take a more intuitive and spontaneous approach. But that is just me. Everyone needs to find their comfort zone and step outside of it just a little bit to see what works for them.
If you would like to have a lot of starting places for your art journal you may want to check out 21 SECRETS Spring 2014 for some really awesome guides on art journaling. If on the other hand you would like to explore or strengthen your intuitive side, you may want to get on the Painting With Your Muse e-course waitlist or if you are in the Toronto area, join me for a live one day workshop.