Art and Medicine: Primal Sir Dickie Bird
Recently I spent some open studio time with two of my art therapy colleagues. To set the scene: my generous friend lays out a banquet of art materials from canvas and paper to pencils, crayons and pastels, to paints and brushes of all kinds and ephemera, textiles and feathers thrown in. We talk, do a check in and then enter a parallel art making process that is characterized by the easy comfort level we have as friends. At times we talk, at times we are silent, we fall into an easy, organic and informal rhythm.
On this particular day, I was experiencing a certain level of frustration, some anger, and identified a need to speak up for myself, to be assertive and to set boundaries. As I began painting, I saw the image of an owl stamp and latched onto it as a symbol of wisdom worthy of exploration. The palette I selected was strong, perhaps expressive of the emotions I was feeling, and as I began to fashion the eyes and beak of the wise old owl, lo and behold, I saw something else entirely:
Oh dear god, I thought, is that a penis? And a fine pair of testicles? My face immediately became a bit flushed with embarrassment. The irony is that I am currently taking a graduate class in sexual issues in counseling. After a few moments of immobilization, I thought, “What kind of an art therapist would I be if the emergence of sexual imagery surprises or embarrasses me, for heaven’s sake! Get into your comfort zone, woman! Practice what you preach!” And so, I decided to honor the image and forged ahead fearlessly :My fellow artists were supportive and encouraging. Although we all chuckled together as I named my creation “Sir Dickie Bird” I knew there was something deeper beneath the imagery that would yield some real understanding for me. Later that week, I continued to work on this canvas, embellishing the sides with totem images of owls and nature symbols like clouds and mountains.
The back I have painted in colors of the mud and the sky, and left an open space which I intend to fill with some words of wisdom from my wise totem Sir Dickie Bird. The words will have something to do with honoring your emotions, or seeing things through to completion, they will be words of consummation and manifestation. I think. The words could be as simple as “I’m coming.” But I don’t want them to be facetious, really. I’m researching some of my Buddhist and Confucian texts to find a good fit.
The beauty of art is that it is a zone of permission, (thank you, Shawn McNiff) a zone of freedom, and an ongoing process. A painting, drawing, mask or collage can be revisited days, weeks or months later and will yield deeper understanding and insight. It’s all from one’s inner storehouse of images that mean something very particular, and though it can be shared, it has special meaning just for you.