The promised rains from Florence are going south, once again leaving us dry.
The maple tree down the street has turned even earlier than usual, its leaves a dry brick red. The tree is about sixty feet tall, sits directly beside the road, and is likely both under-watered and undernourished. We have been concerned about its health for a while now; this morning a neighbor told me that, as we feared, it is dying.
While there is still much green in the woodlands, more trees are showing early color. Once again we wonder whether the prolonged warm, dry weather will impact the autumn color. Ideally we would have rain and cool temperatures by now, and while temperatures are forecast to return to close to seasonal norms by Thursday, a soaking rain appears unlikely to arrive anytime soon.
This is the time when those who took the summer off from therapy begin to drift back in. Jennie and I often urge clients to delve deeply into their experience by making art. We assure them that they do not have to make accomplished works, that simply exploring life through art making is rewarding and healing in itself. We remind them that even the greatest artists play, and that for every finished work there are usually many “failed” experiments. Indeed, most photographers are thrilled if they get one good photograph in one hundred snaps; therapy is also based on play and experiment, offering clients the opportunity to explore many ways of being in route to discovering a preferred way of living. No wonder we speak of art making and engaging in psychotherapy as “practice”!
I have always believed that the best art arises directly from life. Given this, I find the criticism of the arts in therapy, that art arising from the context of therapy is too much about lived experience, very odd. The implication is that such work is not really art, that art making is a heroic endeavor and therapy is not. The Abstract Expressionists, most notably Jackson Pollack, are frequently cited as makers of heroic art, ignoring the fact that a good deal of Pollack’s work arose from a therapeutic context. (The chief criticisms lodged against women Abstract Expressionists were that their work was too domestic and thus not adequately heroic. It remains true that the majority of people who seek out psychotherapy are women, and there is a persistent cultural bias, among those who have not experienced good psychotherapy, that therapy as somehow not masculine or adequately heroic.)
One can argue that much of the late work of the Post Expressionists, especially Matisse, Munch, and Bonnard, was also therapeutic, although not necessarily created in a therapeutic context. Clearly, visual artists, composers, and writers have always turned to making art as a way of addressing suffering, and many have spoken or written openly about this.
Art and therapy offer us ways to explore and understand our lives. Accepting the invitation to go on that journey is the difficult part. I suspect most of us are a lot like Bilbo and must be dragged, angry and scared, into the adventures that will forever transform our lives. The journey can be frightening, but it is also very often a blessing.