Friday, November 28, 2008

Reporting on the AATA Conference

I feel like I should do a post about the American Art Therapy Association conference, because it was the first time I was involved in art therapy on a professional level.

First, I do want to mention that the field is very new and it shows in many ways.  Art therapy has only been around as an organized "profession" for about 50- or 60-ish years, so we still don't know exactly what we want to "be."  Are we artists with training in therapy, or therapists who use art as a major part of their therapy?  Although the continuum is important, it's still telling to see some of the research that was presented at the conference.  Not only that, but it was interesting to see the way research and findings were presented.

For example, many of the presenters that I went to were showing the results of some research in the field.  One that I was particularly interested in was doing art with adolescent patients in a children's hospital.  I was interested in this because I had spent some time volunteering at Texas Children's Hospital and noticed that the teenagers were relatively uninvolved in their surroundings (even though Texas Children's does a good job of not infantalizing the surroundings for the most part, in my opinion).  The presentation was interesting, but focused more on the case studies than on practical applications of the findings.  This was similar to pretty much every other presenter I saw.  I went to one presentation on art books as a transitional object for patients with eating disorders, and the entire presentation was case studies.  Fascinating, yes!  Applicable ... not really, well, at least not for me as a student with no experience with people with eating disorders.  I wished that we had learned more about HOW TO USE art books as a transitional object, or HOW TO GET adolescents involved in art making in a children's hospital, but I didn't leave those presentations feeling like I had learned those concepts.

Also, many presentations felt the need to justify using art therapy - in general - with that particular population.  I think that this was simply preaching to the choir.  Yes, art therapy allows the client to feel more in control and have choices over their lives, builds self-esteem through skill acquisition, etc etc.  How about you skip over that and get to the good stuff?

One more less-than-positive ... this was just one presentation, but it makes me wonder about the quality of some of the research.  Someone presented a digital poster (not sure what that means, anyway) about an experiment that she ran, and the experiment was full of holes.  Way too many variables.  She didn't run it herself, as she only has a BA, she ran the experiment with the help of a working art therapist with all kinds of licensure and blahdieblah, and there were just so many variables she got no results at all.  It makes me wonder because a lot of people feel the need to justify art therapy to the mental health community (which was kind of what this experiment was about, in my opinion), but how can you justify us with bad experiments?


I went to Shaun McNiff's student session.  HOW AWESOME.  Basically, McNiff is quoted in all of the research I am doing for a presentation on the importance of art therapists participating in the art community.  I was so excited that I was able to sit in his session, and not only that, (I am telling everyone about this) I asked a question and he said GREAT QUESTION, THAT IS REALLY IMPORTANT.  He talked about negative view so many people have of art therapists, ie: "Anything you paint can and will be used against you," (this was not the first time someone has said this but it is still funny).  I asked him how do we make people NOT feel that way when we are with them.  It was great.  I took a lot of notes.  I will be using this in my paper and presentation on Tuesday.

The keynote speaker was of course hilarious and great.  He showed us a video of two neurons making a synaptic connection - like when you pair the visual image of a cow with the word "cow," how does that connection get made but through repetition.  He did a funny little "performance piece" about it, with his two hands wiggling fingers towards each other and finally connecting while repeating COW COW COW.

Also, there was this "open studio" available to everyone at the conference - at any time, you could go to the studio room and make art using the materials provided.  It was really great.  I managed to squeeze in there before Shabbat and made some monoprints.  I also talked to a lady who says she founded City ArtWorks in Houston, which was really interesting, I am glad that I met her!  I think I applied for a job there back in the day, if only I had known her then.

The open studio was especially great because I think it really sets the art therapy conference apart from other psychology/therapy conferences.  Yes, there were the art workshops that people could sign up for (for extra money, ahh), but there was also this studio space that anyone could go to at any time.  I don't know what the participation was like, as there were about a thousand people at the conference I highly doubt that even half that many went to the studio - but you never know!  I would be interested to find out if anyone had been keeping track.

Another great aspect of the conference was the bonding in our program.  So many people from our class went to the conference this year and I think it was a really great experience for us to have together.  I especially bonded with the five people who shared the hotel room with me, with our late night conversations sharing embarrassing stories, tarot readings, and group therapy.  It was really great and even though I got no sleep I felt really inspired by everyone.

So much happened last weekend and it is really hard to process!  Good thing there are pictures, hilarious pictures, like the ones of our department head and assistant department head boogeying on the dance floor.  AWESOME.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Thanksgiving and Chag (a non-art post)

This was last year's Thanksgiving dinner.  Last year I didn't make it to New York to have dinner with my family, so JewishGuy and I hosted a dinner for our friends.  This was it!  How pretty and colorful and full of turkey leg!

I just wanted to write a note concerning Thanksgiving now that I am observing Jewish holidays.  It feels WEIRD not to have to be on "chag" (holiday) tomorrow, like tonight I can still watch TV, and I can still watch TV tomorrow and in fact I am going to the Thanksgiving parade.  How bizarre for me, now that I've gone through the High Holidays, where every other day (it feels) is "chag," where there is an immense amount of preparation to make sure you can not work or cook or drive tomorrow or the next day.  Now everyone is gearing up for chag, and we are making arrangements for dinner (since we aren't going to make it to New York this year, either), and the idea that we can drive to a friend's house for dinner is really weird to me.

I was having dinner at a rabbi's house recently and we were going around the table introducing ourselves (it was a big group) and the question was, what is your favorite holiday.  Not, what is your favorite Jewish holiday, just what holiday in general.  The rabbi's wife said, "I know my kids hate it when I say this, but they are in the other room - if they were here, I would say Passover, but since they aren't... Christmas!  I know, I know, my kids say, it's not a holiday we celebrate, it can't be your favorite - but it is!  The rest of the country is gearing up for chag, and I just get to relax!  It's great!"

So that's how it is!  Weird.

Of course, I do celebrate Christmas - by going out for Chinese food and a movie, as is tradition.  This year I will actually be with my family for Christmas so my brother and I will party together.  But I wonder, if this is how I feel on Thanksgiving - which is a holiday I celebrate - I wonder how it will feel on Christmas.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

AATA Conference

Wow!  I just got back from the American Art Therapy Association 39th Annual Conference and I had SO much fun!  Will write more about it later... one day I will actually write about art therapy on this blog.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

A Product of my School?

My presentation in two weeks is about art therapists in the art community, and how it is important as art therapists to keep making art for real and not just superficially, and how important it is not to "clinify" artwork, etc.  Its going to be an exciting paper for me because I think I really agree with it.

Funny thing, all of my sources are from people who teach or have taught at my school (or grad students' theses from the school).  It's no surprise, since this school - of all of the schools I applied to - puts the most emphasis on creating art as a student and an art therapist (one of the reasons why I liked this program so much).  Other schools, students are not required to take studios, they are recommended but not required - at least that was my opinion.  Taking the art classes was important to me, as was making art in class.

Also, my internship is in an organization where my job will be to help members make art, and maybe I will meet individually but it's not a clinical setting.  It's basically exactly what I want, at least from what I know of my options now!

I do tend to clinify the art we make in my role play sessions in classes, because that's all I can think of to do.  It's hard in the role play to just make art together and allow the therapy to happen the way these authors propose it should happen in art therapy, because the role plays really are only 20 minutes long or less.  These processes seem to take a lot longer, require more contact with the clients than twenty minutes, and also require the art therapist to make art as a model.

I will write more about this as I think of it ... this was a perfect research topic, I think!  Also, I am getting ideas relating to the Jewish art summer program for teens I was an intern at a year and a half ago, if not things they would be directly interested in doing then something to consider for the future for myself...

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Capturing Shadows

Today I went to the studio to try to get a better image of the shadow I have been working with all week.  The sun was out and bright, I thought, today I am finally going to get my shadow!

Alas....  when it was time to make the screen, the sun had gone behind some clouds, and was close to going behind the buildings, lost forever until tomorrow.  I tried anyway, but nothing came out.  A total loss.

This is how Peter Pan must have felt. :(

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Me + Art Therapy + Blog

Here's the deal: I love to share.  Share, share, share.  I talk a LOT.  I like to blog about things that happen in my life.

Starting next semester I will be working with clients and I can't share those stories.  It's confidential so I can't even share it with JewishGuy.  How frustrating!  I mean, today in our Counseling Techniques class we had a role-play with our on-going clients (classmates who we are partnered with for the semester-long video project) and I thought I did a good job, but I can't even talk about it as a kind of practice for me not being able to talk about working with clients.

But I WANNA share...

Of course, I could always share what happens in MY therapy sessions, but I wouldn't do that in public.  So just like I wouldn't share what happens in my therapy sessions in public, I won't share what happens in others' sessions in public.  But it's so hard!  Already, it's so hard!

4 Nov 2008


For my Materials and Media in Art Therapy class, I am doing a body of work on shadows and shadow puppets.  I had to do a research paper about it that I just finished last Thursday (hopefully, unless I have revisions to make), a presentation about puppets, and now I am working on my body of work that will be due at the end of the semester.  I have been wracking my brain all semester to come up with a way to combine my studio class and this body of work.  I have written about it before, how it's so hard to work on so many disconnected projects, so it has in a way been a semester-long goal to find a way to integrate at least two aspects of the program.

Well!  Last week we had a demo in the printmaking class where we were shown how to burn a screen using shadows!


So this week I cut out a figure and burned the screen using the shadow.  There were complications with each one I did today.  It was a pretty exhausting day, because I was burning the screens and printing and washing and burning and printing and washing ...  PHEW!

The figure I cut out was based on the image below, not that it matters, the shadows are pretty unrecognizable!  But this is from my sketchbook.

And now for the prints from today...

This is the first attempt.  You can kind of see some of the lines (it is a mirror image), but I didn't expose it long enough.  It still looks kind of cool, your brain wants to make images of a large floating face and a small person's body in there, which is interesting.  Also, maybe a hand.  So this one was done in ideal conditions, ie it was done inside under a window in direct sunlight, other than it was only exposed for 1 minute.

This was made in less-than-ideal conditions.  After cleaning off the screen and putting new emulsion on, ready to make another exposure, I realized I had run out of sunlight.  It was getting close to 4pm and the sun was disappearing behind the buildings.  Luckily there was some sun outside on the sidewalk, so my teacher and I ran out there to expose the screen.  We had not accounted for wind.  The shadow was all over the screen, and not much exposed, as you can see!  Duh - we are in Chicago, mere blocks from the lake!  It's late Fall!  Of course there is a lot of wind... Also, I messed up and accidentally blew out some of the emulsion when I was cleaning it after it had been exposed.  I still like it, it kind of embodies the feeling of a shadow, I think (?).

Today I felt truly lucky to be at this school and in this city.  There are always tours going through the building during classes.  Today, they saw my teacher and I running into the hallway to sit under the perfect light for 1 minute and then race back into the studio.  It was very exciting.  I can only imagine what they thought.  I can only imagine what the people thought who saw us huddling around my little screen on the sidewalk, desperately trying to protect it from the wind!

But in essence this goes along with what I was writing in my research paper.  Shadows are inherently transient and ephemeral.  You can't really "catch" them, but they will come back when conditions are right.  Maybe next time I will be able to get a good exposure on the screen and I will have really caught a cool shadow.  Also, after this, I think I am going to get bring my glass casserole dish and fill it with water and agitate it over the photo emulsion and see what happens with those shadows, I bet that will be cool.

I walked home from class just feeling good.  I looked up at the skyline as I turned the corner from the building and couldn't believe this was my life!  Okay, it's a little colder than I like, but there is something delicious in the sharp cold air - I definitely remember liking Fall, even though I hate winter.  Something feels so good about it.  And today was great day, besides!
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