Wednesday, March 13, 2013

It's therapy. But is it art?

Screaming polymer clay face with Mohawk 3-13-13

Art therapy.

I tag that label onto a lot of my posts here at the AFAD2013 blog.

There are myriad "official" and "accepted" definitions and ideas about what art therapy is. I don't really care about definitions. Definitions aren't always helpful. For me, if it's creative and it helps carry me through a day or a week or a moment without totally losing my shit, then it's art therapy.

I began taking daily self portraits on Jan. 1, 2011 as a self-imposed 365 days art project. It was definitely therapeutic. With the important guidance and support of someone a whole lot steadier, wiser and settled than me (I'll call her "M"), I journeyed through some pretty delicate and dangerous emotional, psychological and spiritual territory.

I didn't show the photographs to anybody outside my own immediate family and one very trusted friend, and they saw only a very select few.
 "M" saw every photograph.
Even the ones I didn't want to show her.
Especially the ones I didn't want to show her.

Those 365 days were transformative. Not to get all maudlin and dramatic about it, but those 365 days probably saved my life. At a time when I felt like I was disappearing -- dissolving -- the task of making a self-portrait every day gave me a reason to get up, to look around, to move forward. I created a photographic record, concrete visual proof, that I was indeed still there.

And I had a witness.

Screaming polymer clay face with Mohawk (2) 3-13-13
Sharing the portraits with "M" gave them importance. Urgency. Gravity. It made them real. It made whatever I was thinking or feeling or saying real. I wasn't just spitting into the wind or shouting into the void.

I am still imposing art therapy on myself because I need it, and I know it.
And "M" still sees every photograph. Her tender and willing participation in this project (along with my family and that very trusted friend) has encouraged me to open the door to a wider audience (you!)

I am not going to pretend for even a hot second that I believe that the portraits on this blog will rock anybody's world but my own. And that's OK, because whatever the accepted definitions might be, art therapy isn't about rocking anybody else's world. It's about keeping my eyes wide open as I travel through my own personal interior landscape and being brave enough to document what I see. It's about daring, and caring, enough to be an observant and curious sight-seer along the highways, back roads and dark alleys of my own life.

Polymer clay face with Mohawk (3) 3-13-13
At the end of the day, creating and  capturing faces for this blog is less about art, and more about art therapy. Whatever is happening inside and around me, whether I'm feeling happy, sad, angry, confused, sure, inquisitive, silly or volcanic -- art therapy gives me the tools (and the toys!) to say what I need to say. Or in today's case, to scream what I need to scream.