By Karen Lia Schlick
What is our goal when we set out to create something, whether it’s a piece of art, a dance piece, a hooked rug, poem, or a flower garden?
When we have done the first step, which is to banish our inner critic to a backseat and give them a muzzle, what’s next?
Often, our goal is to create something beautiful. We want to be able to admire our creation and have others do the same. Unfortunately this goal can undermine one of the most satisfying aspects of creating something: self-expression.
If the goal is only aesthetic, it can inhibit us from expressing ourselves fully. For example, we decide that only light and bright colours are beautiful. Black and gray might better express our feelings or who we are at that moment, but we have rejected them as being unattractive.
So rather than a goal of beauty, we could consider creating things that are meaningful. Setting the inner critic firmly aside, how do we start to create things that have meaning to us and worry less about beauty?
Art therapy has been opening the door to “art as meaning” since the 1950’s, and is now an established field in psychology and counselling. Does this mean we need to go to an art therapist to create in a meaningful way? It can be insightful and liberating to work with an art or dance therapist. Art and dance therapies can help us expand our boundaries about self-expression and explore meaning. Sometimes what is holding us back is fear. However we can venture into self-expression on our own without that personal support.
Domestika.com and Udemy.com feature art classes that focus on self-expression, creativity and healing, often at reasonable prices. There are also some excellent books; see the recommendations list at the end of this article.
There is a different focus when creating something with more self-expression. We begin to consider how it feels as well as how it looks. A question I ask my students is ,“What is the painting telling you it needs?” This question could be applied to any creative endeavor. We learn to listen to something inside ourselves, in response to what we are making. Instead of continually judging the work as a critic, we open ourselves to trusting the process.
In the next article we will explore more about self-expression and the creative life. In the meantime, as in Star Trek, “go boldly forth, explore new worlds, where no one has gone before.” Discovering your own possibilities for creativity can be an exciting adventure!
The Creative Artist by Nita Leland (good short art experiences for increasing creativity)
The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron (A guide to overcoming creative blocks and finding your creative self in any field)
The Art Therapy Sourcebook by Cathy A. Malchiodi
(Understanding personally meaningful art, with art therapy exercises to explore.)