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Craving Voice Art Project for Social Change Part 3

In ENTREPRENEUR THE ARTS on August 3, 2009 at 5:51 am

Preliminary Observations to the Creative Act
After almost a year of working with opiate addicts as a counselor, I had heard what I felt to be almost every conceivable story. Even before this point, it was possible to see that there were similar story lines that characterized the population’s history despite the fact that the people, and some aspects of their stories, were so diverse. However, similar or different, the people coming to the clinic shared a common chapter of addiction and coming into recovery. Still, many of the people appeared to tell their stories as though they thought that they were the only people to ever have experienced them. It seemed to me that they could not imagine that everyone in the building, and likely many outside it, could probably relate to at least a piece of their story.
This sense of isolation is the product of marginalization. Marginalization is defined as “the denial to groups or individuals of access to positions and symbols of economic, religious or political power” (Corsini, 2002, p. 569). Marginalized populations are groups of people whose lives are affected detrimentally by not being represented within the society in which they live. For example, public misunderstanding about the nature of drug addiction and drug use leads to public policy that damages both drug addicts and drug users. An example of this was the difficulty there was setting up and maintaining needle exchanges and educating Emergency Medical Care staff in how to administer NARCAN, a drug used to stop the process of overdosing, within the neighboring communities of the clinic. Communication can collapse this segregating tendency, which can block positive change on so many different levels. Art, in my opinion, is one form of communication.
For example, the Laramie Project’s (Kaufman, 2001) purpose is to raise awareness of problems resulting from homophobia. The creators of this project conducted interviews with people that were in some way involved in the murder of a homosexual man in Wyoming. The material from the interviews was turned directly into a theatre script. The play is performed to inform people about this particular event and therefore hopefully to prevent hate crimes in the future. This project was effective because of its ability to communicate directly how violent acts are created by homophobia and general human ignorance.
Art can also give a voice to those who might often be left out of the dialogue. It can provide a way for people to work together and come to a deeper understanding of the other’s needs and ways of being. Because expression does not require educational degrees or financial backing, art can function to put people on equal footing. This can potentially break through many rigid social structures (Assaf, Bacon, & Korza, 2002, p. 6).
After almost a year of working in this environment, I was acutely aware of the bureaucracy that existed within the clinic. It was designed, whether intentionally or not, so that it keeps people dependent. By this time, I was aware of the power dynamics (Rogers, 1977, p. 4) at play, which sometimes forced the clients into demeaning and degrading positions and limited their ability to move on and heal (p. 3-28). There was also an intense and narrow focus on the drug addiction that was represented by a pervasive belief that if someone simply did not do drugs, his or her life would be better. Rogers writes, “To me it is entirely logical that a technologically oriented society, with its steady emphasis on a greater control of human behavior, should be enamored of a behaviorist approach” (Rogers, 1982, p. 57). Logical or not, I saw a supposed healing community that was set up to keep people from healing.
I also saw these defeating structures in the larger community. Many of the clients had histories of incarceration, criminal charges, debt, and medical problems. These histories left them with little chance of having successful lives within the larger community. For example, clients were refused adequate care from medical institutions, prescribed addictive drugs when they obviously did not need them, and refused drugs when they did. They often wound up unable to secure work or suitable homes. These dynamics frequently made clients dependent on even the inadequate care they could get from the clinic. It appeared to be their only chance.
After a year of working with the clients, I was also aware of their self-destructive behavior. If they did get a chance, many of them would destroy it much more quickly that they were able to attain it. They would attack people who were trying to help them. They would lie and steal so that no one could trust them. They would retaliate against their own self-constructed destructions, which appeared to them to be mostly external, with anger, guilt, shame, pseudo-nonchalance, or whatever technique that had worked thus far.
The reasons for these types of behavior are supposedly well known in the therapeutic community. However, I infrequently saw anything that looked like a real communication (Rogers, 1980) or a stance that was authentically supportive and not enabling (Corsini, 2002, p. 328; Rogers, 1980). I saw very little life-affirming change and many more deaths. I frequently wondered if these people had much of a chance and what it would look like if they had one.
It was at this point that I was asked to create a painting as part of an awareness campaign. My mouth eagerly accepted, a sometimes-unfortunate characteristic of many artists, before my brain thought it through, and I was instantaneously in a quandary. I was aware by this time that the major problem that held all the others in its frame was that everyone involved was only willing to listen to his or her own narrowly defined version of why things were the way they were. If I created a painting that crossed these distinct parameters of belief, it would likely be rejected as utter insanity. Although I might, if I had maintained this approach, have succeeded in confrontation, I would have failed to communicate. Confrontation in my mind is often chosen, and sometimes necessary, for political and social change. Communication is needed for healing. Communication was of essential importance in this situation where many of the problems experienced were exacerbated by its lack. To communicate effectively in an authentic and direct manner appeared virtually impossible. In the words of Carl Rogers: “How can I maintain my integrity and yet hold a position in a system that is philosophically opposed to what I am doing? This is a terribly difficult problem, often faced, I suspect, by many of us” (Rogers, 1980, p. 46).
I struggled with the issues brought to the fore in staff meetings so that I might nourish some ideas and make them strong enough to connect what was important to treatment as seen by the clinic and what I knew from experience. I kept wondering, “What was this awareness I was asked to campaign for?” The treatment issues, which were said to be important in staff meetings, were rarely what appeared to be most important to the clients. And although little changed with the clients (some made it; some did not.), many of the staff kept on pursuing ways to teach the clients how not to be who they were. Implied in the staff’s behavior was the idea that the clients would be happy if they could only learn to be and do as they were told. In my mind this is the antithesis of a healing environment.
The behavioral approach, which is found in many facilities aimed at improving mental health and is the predominant methodology for treating substance abusers, is effective at changing behavior (Mogenstern, 2003). However, this effectiveness does not translate into comprehensive healing (Tatarsky, 2003). For example, substance abusers, who have succeeded in stopping their intake of illicit drugs or alcohol, frequently continue associated behaviors. These continued behaviors are the same ones that were used to determine that there was a substance abuse problem in the first place. Failure to understand and treat the whole person rather than just the problem is a limitation of the behavioral approach. Broad-scale change in this area will most likely take much time. However, the implementation of supplementary programs that do not conflict with already-established clinic policies and increase the effectiveness of the facilities goals could prove to be useful in both the short and the long term. By examining the healing effects of art projects used to work with social issues and effect healing, it is possible to use these projects as supplementary programs. It is this gap, between the established clinical structure and the needs of the population it was intended to serve, that I attempted to bridge with this project.
I recognized that I could not address every aspect of being a drug addict in recovery. I could not speak for every drug addict. For a brief while, I had tried to play peacekeeper and I had recognized that there was no chance I could be creative from the clinical perspective or that I could create a useful piece that was an overview of the entire situation. At this point, I had to do what I had always relied on my art to do, tell the truth, to the best of its and my ability. The truth, within this context, was contained within the stories I was told by the clients.
It appeared that the best approach to this project was to attempt to “hear the deep human cry that lies buried unknown far below the surface of the person” (Rogers, 1980, p. 8). It appeared many clients had banished the “unsuitable” memories and thoughts to dark and deserted corners of their brains, similar to the ways the clients themselves had been banished by much of society; they were trying to believe that they were like they imagined everyone else to be (Colman, 1995; Perera, 1986). I decided I could try my best to honor these stories and the clients who experienced them. I understood this honoring as being facilitated by the healing agent of empathy (Rogers, 1980).
Maintaining an empathetic stance, I gathered the material and created the final product of the painting. In Up from Scapegoating: Awakening the Consciousness in Groups (1995), Colman describes the dynamics of the empathetic approach:
To work in a group this way, I need to know the compound better than the molecules, and the mixture more than the compound. I must soften my focus and my boundaries, then expand my awareness to include the experience of myself in the group, then the group in me, and finally just the group. The pattern of the whole must emerge full force. In temporarily accepting the group collective as my consciousness, I must trust that the “I” will be back later to translate what I have experienced in the language of individuality so that I can communicate it. But for now, I am reaching toward an “other side” of consciousness (Colman, 1995, p. 64).
The empathetic approach is natural for many artists. For me, it is an essential element in understanding my subject. Empathy is intrinsic to a theory of art that is socially conscious. Examples are feminist and New Public Genre Art. Susan Lacy says: “Empathetic listening makes room for the other and decentralizes the ego self. Giving each person a voice is what builds community and makes art socially responsive. Interaction becomes a medium of expression, an empathetic way of seeing through another’s eyes” (Lacy, 1995, p. 82). Within the project, “Craving Voice,” empathy was an important agent of change. The people with whom I was working did not have voices within their communities, families, or frequently, even the clinic. Creating an open and empathetic environment gave them a space to be and speak in a way they had not experienced before. This had apparent benefit.

Description of the Painting: Visual and Conceptual Form
As an artist I find the visual form of “Craving Voices” lacking. The painting has integrity because of its importance as a healing agent; however, it in no way pushes the edge of art. This has been, from the beginning, one of the most difficult aspects of this project for me. My ultimate goal is to have a very high degree of fusion between artistic form and healing effect. This did not happen with this project. However, the success of this painting as compared with others, with regard to its ability to effect healing, made it most appropriate for an evaluation from a psychological perspective.
The starting point for determining the aesthetic composition of the painting was the stories of the clients that were heard with an empathetic ear. It seemed natural and productive for me to write down the pieces of the story that I heard repeatedly from people with whom I was working. Telling their story meant to me that I was going to leave the words in the same language in which they were spoken. For example, the word “anguish” would not be used in place of the word “pain” unless this was the predominant way participants described how they felt. The purpose of this piece of writing was to capture the essence of what I thought this population was experiencing during the initial phase of recovery.
One of the most frequently asked questions was, “Will this get better?”  It appeared to me that the fear of pain, suffering, and confusion lasting forever was often one of the reasons for relapse. How can someone believe that things will be better when everything in their environment is negative? How can someone continue to suffer the trials of the moment without hope or faith in the process of life? I believe that one of the most important therapeutic elements at work during sessions was my belief that whomever sat in front of me could change to meet his or her heart’s desire. But quite frequently, it did not get better, nor did many even know what “better” meant to them. However, hope tempered with the realities of the moment might secure survival. In addition, the painting’s purpose was to create a pathway to healing, as well as to convey the messages told by participants back to them in a way that they felt they had been heard.
In the end, I decided to leave the words as words and not turn them into an image. I did this because the words represented the limited thought patterns of the clients and were limiting thought patterns in themselves. An attempt to translate limited thoughts into a less limiting form of a visual image is akin to trying to translate the Bible into God. Creations of this type look stiff and feel like cartoons or advertising. Much of what blocks healing in both therapeutic and societal settings, in my opinion, can be understood as attempts to take a single effective principle and expand it into a panacea for all. For example, equating a change in behavior to an achievement of total health. Allowing things their appropriate context is beneficial; this is what I wanted to do with the stories. Historical stories are limited and not expansive structures for the same reason that the past cannot be changed. However, one can change one’s relation to it. Respect required that I represent the stories true to their form within the painting. Thus, the stories remained as words placed into the more expansive possibilities of the canvass and possibly someday life itself.
When reading the words that were chosen to represent this phase of the participants’ lives, it is important to remember that they came from the mouths of people who had decided that they wanted to stop using opiates and had experienced significant difficulty in doing this. As an artist working empathetically to translate others’ stories, I am not making a statement about the larger category of drug use, but rather expressing the story of a group of people and their particular experiences with opiates. The words of the stories are as follows:
When was I addicted? Right away. It just worked. I kept going back. It didn’t take long. How much? Too much. I need it to feel normal. I lost it all: car, family, lover, house, self-respect. I mean, I lost everything. It was all about the drug. And now that I am clean, all I can see is loss, and all I can feel is pain. Mine and those that I hurt. Irony is it’s like my lover died when I stopped using. I don’t even know what to do for fun. My old friends are either dead or still using. I feel so alone. Sometimes I think that I should go back to using, but then I remember how I got here. I wonder will it get better? Yes.

When I finally painted the words, I paid attention to how they fell on the canvas. I did not become obsessive about this. For the most part, I wrote the words as they fit. However, through composition, I accented both the phrase “I am” and  “remember yes.” With color I accented “now I can see, feel” and the words “love,” “feel,” and “right away.” As I wrote previously, I see these bits of story as limited thought patterns. Out of these reflections emerge the potential of a new thought pattern, new ways of being, which can be found in the text emphasized as well as the positive endnote of the reflective narrative.
Sketching one day, I drew an image and knew that it was the image that I wanted to use in this piece. However, I could not really understand how it would fit into the format in which I was working. It turns out that it did not. It, unlike the words, represented the live, real, organic, and growing form of the person in recovery. The figure was not leaping blissfully in an open space next to a golden sun, as depicted in much of the imagery in the recovery propaganda, which all but promises more radiant sunsets after entering the clinic. The figure is sitting curled around itself with its eyes closed. The figure represents the real, the potential of the person, which can be used in any way by that person.
Both Jung (1997) and McNiff (1992) discuss the benefits of free association with an image or symbol in order to draw out deeper levels of its meaning. Time meditating on this figure might bring one to some of the conclusions that it brought me. It is the figure of someone who had moved away from their past just slightly, someone who is in the trenches of recovery—uncertain, perhaps, if there is sunlight. This is how I perceived many of my clients. They appeared to be in a psychological space where all the fears and the questions might take them over and make them think that the path that they had chosen, most of them out of desperation and pain from loss, was not a worthwhile one.
This space of little movement can be seen in ritual—for example, the blindfolding and disorienting of initiates during the separation phase of ritual (Turner, 1977; Jung, 1964). It can also be seen in the mythological space of the hero. Campbell writes: “That is the basic motif of the universal hero’s journey—leaving one condition and finding the source of life to bring you forth into a richer or more mature condition” (Campbell, 1988, p. 124). Sometimes, the hero has to spend time frozen or in darkness. For example, Han Solo, a hero from the Star Wars Trilogy, gets frozen in a copper compound (Lucas, 1983). Part of his journey includes this conscious but immobile state. At points one has to surrender, as this figure appears to be doing, so that one has a chance of succeeding in one’s quest.
The figure appears embryonic, to be just coming alive, to be painfully aware, like never before, of the mistakes and losses that are often unchangeable. Whether we have been in recovery or not, it is a place that we have all visited. To further support this view of newness, the figure is also almost blank white, as if ready to be given more dimension, to be filled in. At this point in time, the person has the potential of being born anew. “The self is made up on the growing edge, of models, forms, metaphors, myths, and other kinds of psychic content which gives it direction in its self-creation” (May, 1975, p. 99).
The figure could also just have shot up. It could be an image of one’s past, one’s last relapse, or one’s last fix.
The figurative image, and all its possible associations which bring it meaning, came to rest on the words below it. In the context of the painting these words also have a pictorial as well as a narrative aspect. They can become the boxed-in words of the story. They are much too small to live in. These words contain truths but even in their pervasiveness do not create the whole picture, only a part of it. They can be the labyrinths of thought. These words add dimension and small bits of color—color, which is found in small amounts, dispersed throughout. It does not make a concrete form. It lends itself to neither beauty nor ugliness. The dispersed color creates a liminal feeling. The words can be seen as behind the image, as not restraining. The words can be a wall that stops one from going back. The words can be the pain of the story blocked by someone who just got high.
The eye refocuses. It moves away from these words towards a free form capable of stretching and expanding. What is this figure doing? Has is just finished shooting up? Is it tolerantly waiting for something to pass? Is it sleeping, waiting to be reborn? Is it a person waiting for solidity? Perhaps it is a figure that represents the noble part of the person that can endure until the time is ripe to extend beyond his or her previous limitations, whatever those limitations might be. Or maybe, it is a figure that is fertile with possibilities and strength enduring. Or yet, it may be a figure that is free to develop whatever relationship it wants to the story that is an element of the same picture. The figure is a person, whom, like any person, is able to decide what his or her life should be like.

Craving Voice Art Project for Social Change Part 2

In Uncategorized on May 23, 2009 at 8:55 pm

Approach
One might assume, with all the previous supportive literature, that it would be easy to document exactly what makes an art project created to effect social change healing, and with this information to be able to develop and enhance this process in a way that is of benefit to the psychological community. However, this is not the case. Scholarly thought is highly structured; this is its strength and weakness. Academics from different areas, in whose hands the responsibility falls for theoretical documentation of ideas, frequently have a difficult time communicating them to others. For example, artists rarely discuss with psychologists their findings in the field, so that both might more deeply understand the implications of their work. Although much progress has been made with regard to research on creativity and the expressive arts, one must still span multiple academic disciplines in order to discuss the topic found within this paper. Yet, this is just one small part of a much more involved issue. One factor is that artists are frequently unwilling or unable to document their actions in a way that is useful to psychologists. Many people in the crossover area of the expressive arts are not at all interested in doing research because, for them, tacit knowledge is enough. And many psychologists find it difficult to deal with topics such as art because it is not easy to measure or even discus in a way that sounds intelligent to the rest of their peers.
In this project, I used what I will from now on be calling “informed artistic inquiry” to gather information both about participants in the project and about the nature of the project itself. If there was a definition for the expression informed artistic inquiry it would most likely be: Aan open-ended approach to data collection based in curiosity and a desire to know (similar to heuristic research), where the intent of the researcher is to translate the information collected into both an artistic creation (i.e. dance, painting, song) and research narrative, while recognizing that all known information prior, during, and after the inquiry develops the final outcome of anything produced. As an artist studying psychology, I believe that artistic inquiry has much to contribute to the psychological community. In addition, art is able to break through conceptual boundaries. Informed artistic inquiry could be of incredible benefit in finding new and beneficial ways to deal with social problems.
An additional benefit is that as an artist, I do not need to have any other objective with my interviews other than to understand deeply. As I sit here, the overturned book on the table says: “Artists, with their humanizing holistic approach, are challenging the specialists, the tunnel-vision experts who have put humankind on the brink” (O’Brien, 1990). Because I can remain truly open to the individuals that sit in front of me, because I do not need to have my research questions prepared, I am in a better situation to understand them. Informed artistic inquiry is paralleled in psychology by phenomenological and heuristic research; however, these methods require that the topic being researched is determined before the interviews or observations take place. This prioritizes the phenomenon being observed before the event prioritizes them for the researcher. Therefore, these methods are still directive and imply a failure at understanding the entire person.
There are additional reasons, as well, to continue on with this approach. The community of humanistic psychologists might benefit from hearing phenomenological accounts of artists’ work which facilitates social change and healing so that it can develop the much-needed documentation and methods of research necessary to account for such phenomenon. Eugene Taylor and Fredrick Martin in their article, “Humanistic Psychology at the Crossroads,” state:
The single most important contribution that humanistic psychologists can make to modern psychology is to bring the attention of experimentalists to focus on the phenomenology of the science-making process and, once the attention of the discipline is focused on that point, to articulate a phenomenological rather than positivistic epistemology as the basis of new experimental science (Martin &Taylor, 2001, p. 26).

Although it is not at all the intent of this paper to refocus the attention of experimentalists, it remains in my power to support a method of inquiry that has a phenomenological orientation, thereby creating a knowledge base on which a new type of experimental science can be based. This appears to me to not only be a means of promoting humanistic psychology, but also a potential means of creating peace.

The Population
Before continuing the discussion about the project, “Craving Voice,” it is important to create a general profile of the population with which it was done in order to be able to clearly understand the context in which the following observations were made. The predominant characteristics of the population of the clinic at the time of the project were the following: there were approximately 500 clients. They had a high-school education or less. They were at or below the poverty line upon entering the clinic. They were frequently between the ages of 30-50. They predominantly came from rural areas. They had been using opiates heavily for 5-10 years. They were mostly white.
While these characteristics were probably the most common of the community, the program contained people from all different backgrounds. However, the population was all over the age 18, with the exception of two members. Since approximately 60% of the population was receiving state funding because they were below the poverty line, 40% of the population was not receiving state funding, which implies that they were above the poverty line. In addition, two population characteristics were on the rise: the number of younger people between the ages of 18 and 25 years old with reported significant histories of substance abuse, and the number of pregnant women attending the clinic.

Craving Voice Art Project for Social Change Part 1

In Uncategorized on May 5, 2009 at 11:14 pm

CRAVING VOICE:
A RETROSPECTIVE ANALYSIS OF THE HEALING EFFECTS
CREATED BY AN ART PROJECT FOR SOCIAL CHANGE

The following article is a explanation of the use of a painting used to facilitate healing. The specific focus is on a single painting: “Craving Voice,” which was created at a moment in the past as a way to express the forces at work in the experiences of addicts at a treatment center. The painting is described through the artist’s narrative of the creative process, reported feedback, and behavioral changes noticed in participants by the artist. These observations are then related to previous research and theories in psychology, particularly from a humanistic perspective. This reflective analysis helps clarify which elements are effective for healing. Such elements include: communication, empathy, respect, and increased access to information. In addition, the subversive nature of art, which makes it a useful method of social change, can in itself effect healing. By using art to express that which is unspoken, the unconscious of the addicts and the collective unconscious of the system that treats them is revealed.

“That is exactly how I feel,” says a 34-year-old man in work clothes who sits across from me as I take a sip from my morning cup of coffee in a small drug clinic. He is looking intently at the painting on the wall.
“Who made that?”
“I did,” I reply.
“You did?” he says incredulously.
“Yup.”
“About us,” he persists.
“Yup.”
We sit for a few moments appreciating each other before we continue with the counseling session.
Brief exchanges analogous to this contain what many therapists work to achieve, the seed of trust. Trust is one of the many healing effects that were created through the project called “Craving Voice.” The elements of the project that helped create the potential of this moment will be discussed in the following article.
In this project, I used the process of interviewing to gather information about a small population of opiate addicts in recovery.  This information was used to create a painting that was later displayed to the entire community of the clinic.
The process used in this project is not unique to this particular example. Nayo Watkins, an artist, creates theatre scripts from community stories, which are put on by community members to increase awareness of relevant issues (Hamilton, 2000, para. 6-7). Although Watkins’s medium differs from the one I used in “Craving Voice,” both the process and the effects are similar.
Other artists, who have also used art to create social change, include Lucy Lippard, Susan Lacy, Luis Valdez, Amiri Baraka, Karen Finely, Adrienne Piper, Adrienne Reich, and Alice Walker. Each one of these individuals believes that art is his or her most effective means of communicating with the public about social issues. Anthologies such as Reimaging of America: The arts of social change (O’Brien & Little, 1990), Mapping the Terrain (Lacy, 1995), The Subversive Imagination: artist, society and social responsibility (Becker, 1994), and Mixed Blessings (Lippard, 1990), all describe the work and opinions of these artists. These books also illustrate the work of groups who use art to effect social change. Some of these groups include: Gran Fury, the entire cast of characters that helped produce Eve Ensler’s Vagina Monologues (1998), The Gorilla Girls, the production crew for The Laramie Project (2001), Raging Grannies, and Bread and Puppet. These groups work together to effect social change. For example, the Raging Grannies use song and humor to protest social injustices. Larger organizations — for example, Arts for Democracy and the Community Arts Network — are designed to develop projects, promote artists, and support research in the use of art for social change.
Art that is made to effect social change and art made to effect healing are not necessarily one in the same. Art created to effect social change is not always useful to effect healing. Sometimes, art projects of this nature are more like ripping the scab off of a cut. Other times, they are the punch to the stomach of the neighborhood bully. These pieces effect change through art-induced wake-up calls posed as confrontational visions. This is not to say that art projects that effect social change cannot be healing, or that the previously mentioned artists and groups are not related to healing. They quite frequently are. However, this article is not designed to debate which projects are considered healing. It is designed to increase understanding of how projects of this type might be successful in effecting healing, and thereby, how they might be understood and utilized by the psychological community.
As mentioned above, change cannot be directly equated with healing. I change my socks. At a certain point, this might become a healing event, but most times it remains just a change. Healing implies, in the words of Maslow, change that is “growth fostering” rather than “growth inhibiting” (Lyons, 2002, p. 626). Another humanistic psychologist might articulate healing as one becoming more of oneself and therefore existing more fully in the world (Rogers, 1977). Art that heals, by this definition, would have to facilitate a change in an individual or a group that makes the individual or the group become more fully itself and part of the world. Understanding the healing elements of an art project that creates social change can both increase the effectiveness of this type of action, as well as offer the psychological community one more method of supporting positive change.
Some artists whose contributions have shown that they have made healing the main emphasis of their work are Gabriella Roth, Anna Halprin, Alex Grey, and Ilchi Lee. Suzi Gablick in her book, The Reenchantment of Art (1998), critiques the practices of the art world and discusses alternate methods for the creation of art. She included descriptions of art projects that are intended to heal which exist throughout the United States (Gablick, 1998). Organizations such as The Arts in Healthcare, the Survivors Art Foundation, and Arte Sana, in addition to websites such as The Healing Arts Network, attempt to create opportunities and promote the work of healing artists. For example, the Survivors Art Foundation creates opportunities for artists, while attempting to support survivors of sexual abuse through works of art. The Survivors Art Foundation is an example of how art that effects social change can be healing. Change is effected through the awareness generated about sexual abuse by the foundation. However, survivors of abuse, through the creation of art, receive healing benefit. Healing is extended to other survivors of abuse when viewing the art. The chain of healing is continued through the support the foundation gives to other healing artists to continue their work. Despite the effectiveness that has been demonstrated by groups like this, I have yet to see psychologically based literature that examines this type of work and the artists who do it, even though projects of this type have been documented in other branches of thought, particularly within the field of sociology (Mittlefehldt, 1990; Petty, 2001; Swartzman, 1998).
The psychological community’s contributions to the study of the arts are diverse in form. Many influential psychologists have discussed aspects of art and creativity (Freud, 1989, p. 436-543; Kris, 1962; Maslow, 1954, p.158-168; May, 1975, p. 36-94), but few have discussed its potential as a healing agent. Jung is by far the most notable. Jung’s inquiries, which covered both active imagination (Jung, 1997) and extensive observations on the nature of symbols, including the function of myth (Jung, 1964; 1990), were explorations of art as a potential healing agent rather than art as a diagnostic tool. Art as a diagnostic tool, grounded in theory, based on determining dysfunctional elements, was a more common approach of psychologists such as Freud and Kris (Freud, 1989; Kris, 1962). This diagnostic perspective can still be seen in portions of the practice of art therapy.
Theories such as those of Jung, May, and Maslow, developed the two branches of art-as-therapy known as expressive arts therapy and art therapy. The philosophical and theoretical orientation of expressive artists makes their work useful in understanding the healing effects of a project for social change. The expressive arts are well represented by names such as Sean McNiff, Natalie Rogers, and Michael Samuels. Each, from his or her own perspective, helps to define how art can be used as a therapeutic process. McNiff’s (1989) origins in depth psychology, Natalie Rogers’ (1997) grounding in humanistic practices, and Samuels’s (1998) medical orientation influence each one’s view on how the expressive arts can be used to heal. These expressive artists also contribute to the broader picture of the usefulness of art as a therapeutic modality.
Both May and Maslow stressed the importance of creativity as an essential ingredient of human growth (Maslow, 1954; May, 1975).  Marc Runco and Steven Pritzker contributed to this area by defining the elements of creativity in their two-volume work Encyclopedia of Creativity (Runco & Pritzker (Eds.), 1999). Understanding the nature and human necessity of creativity allows one to comprehend some important nuances of how art can be healing. In addition, Maslow’s (1954) writings on organizations, Rogers’ (1977) writings on both education and social change, when added to recent research by organizational psychologists, could be highly supportive of understanding the elements that are essential to this type of work.
Despite this, there is insufficient documentation about the use of art to effect healing within projects employed to create social change. This lack can most clearly seen in the shortage of material discussing the possible relevance or importance that this type of project has for both the general public and the psychological community. However, within these texts, there are key pieces for understanding what components make art-for-change projects healing. For example, the connection between contemporary art practices, ritual, and religious art forms is fertile ground to understand why art is a particularly effective medium through which to evoke both healing and change with people on multiple levels (Campbell, 1988; Jung, 1964, 1990; Lippard, 1983; Turner, 1977). This is just one of many connections that can be made, but the only one that will be alluded to because of the brevity of this article. Art’s historical function of connecting us to basic universal energies should, in my opinion, create the desire for psychologists to understand art as a means of social change and healing and perhaps integrate it into their many methods.
In this article, I assert that particular elements make art projects that are oriented towards creating social change successful at effecting healing. Although many healing agents can be found, some appear more effective than others. These elements, in my opinion, can best be described as humanistic values (Hazler & Kottler, 1999, p. 355). This point of view has also been explored. Natalie Rogers (1997) uses humanistic approaches to create and facilitate a method of expressive arts. She explores the combination of various artistic techniques that can work as a catalyst for deeper understanding of self and the world. Her workshops demonstrate the way the group process and art can be combined to make societal issues more comprehensible and therefore addressable. Humanistic values have been found to be effective in organizations attempting to facilitate social change. Lyons portrays humanistic principles as supportive agents in the efficacy of social change organizations (Lyons, 2001, p. 625-634). In the “Craving Voice” project, it is the humanistic principles that appear both to hold together and to create the most widespread and effective dynamics for healing.
The last section of this article briefly discusses the healing components, as they existed within the project described. Sources that relate to the healing components are given to show that many different scholarly theories and types of therapeutic practices can be used to support the fact that these reported components are healing. However, this information also suggests that art may be effective in integrating therapeutic modalities. This is a potential additional benefit.
The “Craving Voice” project is founded on the belief that art is a particularly effective means of communicating issues to both individuals and groups as a process of creating social change. Lack of appropriate documentation by psychologists shows an area where psychologists have been slow to embrace art’s therapeutic effects, or at the very least, consider them of worth. I believe that understanding the nuances of how an art project can be used to both effect societal change and heal could be of substantial benefit to the psychological community; and, at the very least, should be a topic of discussion. I believe that one of the best ways to understand the qualities of art projects used to heal is though a narrative account by the artist about the project; therefore this is the method of presentation chosen for this article. Through the artist’s observations one is able to more clearly understand the important elements of this type of project, and to subsequently be able to develop both methods and a body of research that serve to explain this type of healing event from a psychological perspective. (To be continued…)

Understanding Creative People at Work

In Uncategorized on April 22, 2009 at 3:15 am

Although creativity is a new buzzword for desirable in the business world, the creative traits that are desired by many employers are not the same as the traits displayed by many creative personalities. Employers and organizations, who are looking for creative personalities, are generally looking for people who will use creative thinking towards any end the company picks (Warner, 2008). In short, these work environments measure creativity by the results produced. This demand, placed by these organizations and employers, is in direct opposition to the actual needs of the creative personality. Koch (1992) discovered that highly creative people are frequently blocked when they need to produce on demand. This example helps to demonstrate the difference between the creativity sought by organizations and the actual needs and abilities of the creative person.

A person with a creative personality type faces specific challenges due to the fact that truly creative ways of thinking and being have been marginalized by our culture (Siner Francis, 2008). This intrinsic misunderstanding of the creative personality within our culture, which shows itself at many levels of thinking from common thought to academic thought (Siner Francis, 2008), leaves the needs of creative personality subject to the same treatment–even from themself. Because of this marginalization, being a creative thinking person and pursuing career sucess frequently means having experiences such as communication challenges or misunderstanding about one’s work style (Vance, 2007). If a creative individual chooses to step outside of the mainstream work world and doesn’t have money and connections, it often means they meet with frustration or, even, failure. Even if a creative person is successful in his or her pursuits, this success can be accompanied by feelings of failure, even then, because the creative individual’s standards and values are not reflected by the world around him or her.

The key to changing this is to increase awareness.

Creativity is important in both conventional work environments and for those who choose to use their creative skills outside them. Frequently, it is only a matter of awareness that makes the difference between productive and happy, and unproductive and miserable. Many creative people I work with do not see some of their personal needs and preferences as being the result of their creative personality. Some try to change these traits in themselves in order to fit in. Some give up and believe that they must settle for being marginalized. The more informed creative people are  about the way they work, the reasons for the way they work, and the incredible benefits of working this way, the more likely they will be able to offer their gifts in a powerful ways.

Topic of next post: What Creative People Need to Succeed

References uses in this post:

Koch, S. (1992a). The aesthetics research center. In D. Finkelman & F. Kessel (Eds.), Psychology in human context, (pp. 43-50). Chicago & London: University of Chicago.

Siner Francis, K. (2007). A Reconstruction of Sigmund Koch’s Artist on Art Project. Can be found at www.largervisions./Articles.html

Vance, C.M., Groves, K.S., Yongsun P., & Kindler, H. (2007) Understanding and measuring linear and non-linear thinking style for enhanced management education and professional practice. Academy of Management, Learning and Education. 6, 2. (pp. 167-185)

Warner, C. (2008) How to manage creative people. Retrieved on: November, 3, 2008 from: http://www.charles warner.us/mgtcreat.html.