Trying to find my own balance with the connection between spirituality and art has taken me to a number of books, not the least of which would be The Artist’s Way, and Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, neither of which I am directly talking about here (which is good, because I have not yet finished either of those books). It also introduced me rather directly to a book by Heather C. Williams called Drawing as a Sacred Activity.
It isn’t exactly a new concept: using art as a form of therapy has a lot of history behind it. But then, the issue for me has never been an ignorance of the merits of art. My issue has always been (and continues to be) getting past my internal censor to allow myself to DO the art. I do not have the technical ability right now to be able to create what appears in my mind’s eye, not as I would like it to be. Because of this, I am extremely critical of my own work, and allow myself to become paralyzed by this self deprecation. Which leads me to the blurb on the back of the book:
…many people are not encouraged to embrace their creativity. So they quietly shut down that part of their inner lives. Even people who learn to embrace their creativity may find themselves blocked by past emotions. Heather Williams has developed playful yet profound exercises to teach not only the technical but also the emotional skills that artists and nonartists alike need to create and heal their lives. (Back Cover)
Help me get past my past emotions and help me get back in touch with my creativity? Sounds good to me! It was this blurb on the back cover that got me to check the book out of the library. At worst it would be hokey, and I could lampoon it in my annotation. Instead, I was impressed with the honesty of her writing, and found that her advice genuinely made sense. While I have not managed to put much of it into practice, I have every intention to do so.
A good deal of the book is spent doing exercises, and ways to interpret those exercises. They start out very simply, with drawing basic lines, then moving onto doors and windows, then tables, chairs, and finally moving on to clothing and living things (trees, flowers, et cetera). She also recommends drawing with your non-dominant hand for a while, particularly in free-drawing, because it taps distinctly different parts of the brain, parts that often end up being tied to emotional response and memory. It is through this non-dominant drawing that we can often finally come to terms with things that have been blocking us for years. I definitely plan to work on this more, in the hopes that I can finally get past whatever it is that is keeping me trapped in the sentiment that my artistic ability is no better than a third-graders, no matter how good or bad it actually is. (In some ways it is more annoying to those around me than it is to myself. I merely trash my own work, which is an established routine for me at this point… those around me, though, are left confused and exasperated as to why I’m so hard on my work.)
I found her chapter on drawing animals far more interesting on an intellectual level than I did on a technical level. Her opinion (and I tend to agree) is that animals are an excellent way to learn to draw compassionately, which is more in tune with your own emotional well being. Animals (especially pets like dogs and cats) love unconditionally, and do not hide behind false pretenses. They will behave in exactly the way that most suits them at any given time, regardless of who is watching. This really struck a chord, because that is what I seek in my close relationships: an ability to behave exactly as I choose, without fear of judgment. I can be as goofy or relaxed as I’d like, without fear of reprisal. I can think of nothing that makes me love as absolutely and be as unconditionally happy as having that feeling with someone else. THAT, to me, is one of the core essences of love.
I’d say the biggest thing that I learned from this book is that a drawing doesn’t have to be technically perfect to be good, as long as it is emotionally honest. The corollary to that is that not every piece I draw must be technically good in order to not be a failure. There are some very childish, simplistic drawings in this book (admittedly, most of them were done with the artist’s non-dominant hand), but they still succeed in their goal: to honestly convey the artist’s feelings.
If the spoken and written word is the way that our thinking mind communicates, then the visual image is the way our emotional mind expresses itself. That may be an over generalization (where, for instance, does music fall in that range? It is an imperfect analogy at best), but it does convey what I am trying to say. I look forward to putting this (and what I learn from other books) into practice, and perhaps, finally, become comfortable with my own creativity.
I was a bit skeptical when I started the book, but now that it is finished, I am glad I took the time to read it. Anything even brushing up against the spiritual runs a strong risk (in my opinion) of being hokey rubbish, so discovering that I had not wasted my time with this one is really rewarding. I would definitely recommend it to anyone in a similar position to me.
Williams, Heather C. Drawing As A Sacred Activity. Novato: New World Press, 2002.