Twin – The irony of being a twin is that although it’s unique, you are also genetically exactly the same as someone else and you could arguably say that you are literally conceived at the same moment in time and space as someone else. It calls to question all sorts of challenges around identity, individuality, being existentially alone or collectively connected, etc.
Artist? – My mother is a painter, and from the time that my twin Jenny and I could talk, she let us experiment in her studio. Although you could say that I had some talent, I was by no means a prodigy. In fact, I was always ambivalent about being an artist.
Not Artist, Art Therapist – When I was younger I had a good friend, Len Parker, who spent all of his free time drawing elaborate fantasy characters inspired by artist Frank Frazetta. Then in my twenties, I dated another consummate artist, David Moyer, who invented a painting technique called Farbelism. Everything Len and Dave did was in the service of their art. Not only did I not have that kind of passion, but I also didn’t particularly like what felt like the solitary life of the artist and I had no clear message that I needed to communicate through art. When I discovered art therapy, a field that uses art to help others, it combined my artistic sensibilities with a way to connect with others. But I stopped making art regularly because for me it had been so fraught with ambivalence and perfectionism.
Death and Mandalas – In 2005, my brother ‘T’ died of bile duct cancer within 6 months of being diagnosed. Although Jenny and I were 40 at the time, we had somehow escaped major loss up to that point. I got stuck in grief and couldn’t seem to get out. I realized that like the proverbial physician, I needed to heal myself and that, logically, I should be using the tool I offered to my patients—art. I needed to make art! But I couldn’t imagine getting back into the relationship I’d had with it before, in which everything I made had to be perfect. I started making small 4 x 4 inch mandalas, little circular drawings I called art thoughts. Sometimes, even though some of these ‘thoughts’ were just disorganized scratches, they did for me what art can do—they helped me get out what was stuck inside and work through my grief.
Watching Others Do Art and Make Beautiful Things – Throughout the many years that I’ve been an art therapist, it never ceases to amaze me what stunningly powerful art people make. This realization comes from a deep appreciation for the unique ways that people express themselves in the art process—even the simplest sketch tells the story of the person who made it. It’s also been eye-opening to see how consistently people who are self-avowedly not artists seem to enjoy making art. For example, my sister Jenny took up making mandalas and now regularly does art on her own. She takes great pleasure in doing so and is happy with many of the pictures she’s made. This was intriguing to me, having had such a conflicted relationship with art. I realized that I really needed to revisit my assumptions about being an artist and, if nothing else, have more fun making it!
Making Art for the World – One of the ways that I found more fun doing art was illustrating the coloring book for Miraval (now titled Coloring Creates Wellbeing: The Desert Mandalas Coloring Book). Although coloring books are usually not considered ‘high art’, they testify to how healing art-making can be. Most people coloring them find it deeply relaxing and they’re often really pleased with what they’ve done. Learn more about the benefits and science of coloring. The coloring book became a springboard for a series of drawings and paintings that, whatever their designation—art or play or both—have been an avenue for me to get back into being a fine artist.
Pushing Past Convention – In the backdrop of it all has been two characters that have inspired me the most; my aunt Joan (Susannah) Sadler and my husband Kimler (KC) Corey. Susannah switched to her middle name when she was 70 because she wanted to shed the conventions she’d been constrained by, including a name she never liked. She also took up art and photography and created a daily blog of photos accompanied by poems, Joan’s Stones, (go check it out, it’s still up!) which she was still posting to literally days before she died at 95. She taught me how to age well and continually reinvent myself (HERE is a post, Gioia and I wrote about her at CWW).
KC, the other unconventional character in my life, unlike me, has no infatuation or preoccupation with identity and art. You could call him a scientist, entrepreneur, maker, and manifestor, but more than anything he just lives by the motto “experience, create, and then discuss … if you feel like it”. KC continuously pushes me to go beyond the limits of my conventions, find out what might be possible, and then figure out what is congruent and right for myself. You can probably imagine how a call for that kind of psychological flexibility and adventure could impact my art.