Book List for Marga T.
My West Coast Wild Librarian friend has put together a booklet of first lines from 36 of her favorite books. A delightful guide, you can find it here, along with volumes of her beautiful, life affirming poetry.
When I returned from Evanstan in May, bursting with enthusiasm to share my experiences with intentional art making, Marga T. asked for a list of books that might serve as inspirational resources for this practice. As I blatantly borrow Wild Librarian’s way of offering a tantalizing taste of her beloved books, here is a short list of dog eared volumes that I reach for often. Following the directly quoted first lines of the books, are my own brief impressions.
Art is a Way of Knowing, by Pat B. Allen. “ Images take me apart; images put me back together again, new, enlarged, with breathing room. For twenty years I have kept a record of my inner life in images, paintings, drawings and words- sometimes haphazardly, sometimes more diligently, but continuously throughout my days as an art student, art therapist, teacher, wife, mother and artist.” This book is a surprisingly practical guide with tips on how to approach various visual art media such as drawing, painting, sculpture and collage. The emphasis is on exploring the sensuality of the materials, and the resulting intuitive process unique to each of them. The writer frees the reader from pre conceived notions and places the authority for creative license firmly into the reader’s hands, releasing the tendency to judge results. This book has become an artistic bible of sorts for me and emphasizes one’s unique art making as a way to self knowledge. What is my own authentic personal imagery, and what can it tell me? As Carl Jung stated, “Understand yourself and you will be sufficiently understood.”
Concerning the Spiritual in Art by Wassily Kandinsky. “ Every work of art is the child of its age and, in many cases, the mother of our emotions. It follows that each period of culture produces an art of its own which can never be repeated.” This book is tiny and dense, filled with the artist’s philosophical reflections on the meaning of image, color, shape and design. This is a somewhat heady book that read like nectar to me. Following a trail to Kandinsky via my interest in Georgia O’Keefe, this book came into my hands at time when I could make space for inner exploration of symbols that were rich with personal meaning. Kandinsky gave me a vivid insight to the concept of abstraction, which had previously eluded me. What does it take to strip down my notions that are fed by society, media, and even art history, and to express something that is an essential and unique creation? Here is one of my resulting images from my In Reverence of Water series:Wisdom of the Psyche, Depth Pscyhology after Neuroscience by Ginette Paris. “Only once are we born and once do we die. Psychologically, howeer, we die a thousand deaths and are reborn at least that many times.” This book was written by a clinical psychologist who suffered from a traumatic brain injury and discovered that her near death experience opened up new discoveries for her in a way that psychotherapy could not. Her book explores the death principle or destructive forces that individuals may encounter over a lifespan and the impulses that can lead to depression, or broken relationships, anxiety or despair. She then reminds us that death is a part of a circle: As winter is followed by spring in the natural world, the psychological blights we may suffer can be followed by one’s own psychological spring, or period of reinvention, if we allows the process to unfold. My take away was about the value of being in life without resistance, through its ups and downs, and with appreciation for even the dark cycles. More fodder for the creative life!
Trust the Process, An Artist’s Guide to Letting Go by Shaun McNiff. “ We are living in an era when people hunger for personal relationships with the creative spirit. …There is a pervasive sense in our culture that creative expression is restricted to an anointed group.” For me the take away of this wonderful book is distilled within its title. Every artist knows that art making is messy, sometimes chaotic and can be filled with uncertainty. There can be moments of not knowing what comes next that require settling into that void and finding your feet beneath you when you cannot see the ground. Life is much the same way. This is a key reason why I find that the more I engage in the art process, the more comfortable in life itself do I feel. Yes it’s a metaphor. But it’s also the same thing. Life and art. Trust the process can be applied to anything, and to everything.Women Who Run With the Wolves, Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype by Clarissa Pinkola Estes. “ We are all filled with a longing for the wild. There are few culturally sanctioned antidotes for this yearning. We were taught to feel shame for such a desire.” This book is chock full of myths and legends that shine light on the inner complexities of the feminine experience. Tales like The Little Match Girl, Blue Beard and The Red Shoes discuss the need for nurturance and support, self awareness, self trust and self knowledge that serves a woman as she moves through stages of maturation. What are the unique and juicy gifts that a woman brings to this earth? How have these gifts been violated, exploited, chased into near extinction or had to go underground for sheer survivial? How has the contribution of women been tamed, diluted and controlled in cultures throughout the world? These are questions that arise for discussion here. Themes include embodied existence, sacred sexuality, finding your tribe, trusting oneself and living a creative life. I could say this is a must read for all women, but my husband read it with interest – his comment: I’m a Man Who Loves a Woman Who Runs With the Wolves – this book is for me, too.
Spirituality and Art Therapy, Living the Connection edited by Mimi Farrelly-Hansen. “Compiling this anthology required a delicate balance between the eye of the eagle and the eye of the mouse. How to combine the broad panorama of truth or meaning with the reality of life on the ground, in the narrow passageweya of a thousand hospital corridors, mental health agencies, community art studios, nursing homes and prisons where art therapists seek to alleviate suffering throught the use of imagination and media? “ This was a textbook for a class on Spirtuality and Art Therapy that I registered for but was cancelled. I found the text so compelling that I read it for summer reading. The fact that it came into my hands not long after the deaths of my mother, father and sister, is, in my opinion, just one more example of serendipity. This book is a collection of writings presented from a variety of spiritual perspectives. Each essay asserts the belief that respectful awareness of spiritual life is an essential component when working with people, particularly in a counseling or therapeutic capacity. This book contains descriptions of actual sessions and art based interventions by practicing art therapists working in the aforementioned milieus.
Studio Art Therapy, Cultivating the Artist Identity in the Art Therapist by Catherine Hyland Moon. “ This is a time of the interdisciplinary. Boundaries of each of the sciences and arts have become permeable as it becomes clear there are fruitful insights that can come from working with two or more fields together.” This book fascinated me as it introduces a concept of aesthetics that is based on relationship or connection. Instead of merely focusing on formal elements within a piece of art, what about the piece enables me to connect with the other? Moon gives us a glimpse into her life with the dual identities of artist and art therapist, along with anectdotes from the field. One poignant story relates to how she was able to overlap her clinical view of a troubled boy she was working with a poetic understanding of his acting out behaviors. This shift in perspective led to a positive breakthrough in the therapeutic relationship. What difference would it make in my life and work if I can stop and consider how each person is like a living poem? A work of art? Can I have the eye of appreciation for the daily rituals of a coworker or family member? The point of view opens up a telescopic lens to life and relationships if you let it. Written for art therapists and those who seek to use art based techniques, this is a book that may be of interest and application for one’s own art making.
Existential Art Therapy, The Canvas Mirrror by Bruce L. Moon. “ According to Highwater (1994): Art doesn’t want to be familiar. It wants to astonish us. It wants to move us. To touch us. Not accommodate us, not make us comfortable.” (p.9). The title of this book is an expression of my desire to link the practice of art therapy to the ultimate concerns of life, as expressed in existential philosophy and therapy.” If I were to identify with a particular theoretical framework as an art therapist, it would be Existential Therapy. Finding meaning in one’s life is a central concern to one’s existence, and on a very personal note, art has been a life long companion for me as a way of navigating through the journey. Art has served me long before I had any conscious awareness of its ability to nurture me. Bruce Moon’s book enlightens the reader to his life work of bearing witness to the suffering of others and how he provides sacred space in the art studio for individuals to process through the challenges of life. Integral to this practice is Moon’s own life as an artist and I love how he has found a way to make art alongside his clients in a safe, respectful and collegial manner. The Golden Rule put to practice amidst the paint and canvas. The art therapist is not an authority, but rather, a helpful fellow traveler, who has walked a similar path.Images, my own. Pastel, multi media.