Monday, March 30, 2009


Scene: crowded gallery in the south loop sometime during the SGC conference at Columbia College Friday night. I run into an old professor from undergrad. We hug, and I am akward as usual.

Sarojini: Hi Anna!, I almost didn't recognize you without paint all over your clothes!
Me: yeah, I don't get to paint as much as I'd like to these days.
Sarojini: Oh, What are you up to?
Me: Um, I am getting a Masters in Art Therapy at the Art Institute.
Sarojini: (pause).. but you were such a good painter! What happened?
Me: (defeatedly) I know. I needed a job.

and the weird thing is as soon as i said this i realized it wasn't really true anymore. I did originally pursue art therapy simply as a means of better employment. I thought as a career it would actually create more time for me to paint by simply being around art more. I thought it was something I could pursue without much commitment. I am absolutley surprised at the ways in which it has activated certain interests and inspired a level of inquiry I didn't know existed inside me...or at least only existed in private. I do miss painting but it has at least temporarily been replaced with reading & reading & reading & talking & a little bit of writing. And even though i still don't really get art therapy, I am happy to be thinking.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Art Saves

I attended a performance by Guillermo Pena-Gomez that had a significant impact on my perception of art’s ability to save lives. At the end of his performance he stated that he very much recognized the inherent contradiction of his umbilical relationship to academic institutions and his radical political positions. I appreciate his embrace of contradiction and I think it alleviates a certain tension to admit as much.

The message that he left us with was one of hope. He stated that for oppressed people who have no access to traditional notions of power, whose voices are not heard in mainstream media and whose experiences are not accounted for; Art is the only means to achieve control of one’s story and in effect have power.

I can agree to the above premise. However, I think that Guillermo alludes to a very specific kind of art making and story telling.

What does it mean to save a life?

In class, one of my peers, in reaction to another classmate’s very critical evaluation of art therapy, responded by making a video in which she stated that “Art saved her life.” Her response went on further to state that she didn’t need anyone to validate her art making, because she fully believed in art’s ability to save lives.

My response (in my head only) to her is that to believe that art saved her life is to ignore the many other things in place in her life that contributed to it’s saving such as being from an upper class, white, educated family. I have no doubt that art contributed to her ability to process a traumatic event but I am not so convinced that it “saved her life” and I think to make such a claim is to expect that someone from an entirely different socio-economic situation would utilize, need or value art making in the same way. I feel that it is a really privileged assumption that art could impact someone with significant other social restraints or that they would benefit from art making alone. Save it from what? suicide, death, poverty, obscurity?

i am a communist art therapist

If I were to critique the projects that I have initiated at my site which include a collaborative banner that reads We All Belong, and a series of collaborative letter projects that read Everyone Matters, Art Belongs to Everyone and Art Is Essential, I would say that the collaborative nature of these projects actually obscures individual experience and becomes instead a series of socialist mantras. The original idea was to create powerful slogans that were to be placed in public spaces to challenge perceptions of the mentally ill and to spread positive messages in the community.

My supervisor felt it was important to recognize the role of art making in the lives of the participants of art therapy groups at C4, thus the instillations Art Belongs to Everyone and Art Is Essential were created. The participants at C4 fully embraced these messages and seemed by all means to really enjoy making the letters. At this point, I hadn’t quite articulated my hesitancy to endorse Art’s role in empowerment, but I think it has something to do with the oversimplification of this idea that art alone can heal anything.

Check out this show at the Cultural Center

C4 Community Counseling Center of Chicago (my internship site) was one of the participating agencies invited to showcase client art work for the Inquire Within: soul searching and truth seeking by artists with disabilities show at the Chicago Cultural Center. I was able to be involved in all the frantic, nervous preparations and some of the curating of the pieces shown by C4 artists.It was exciting to also have one of the collaborative letter projects (Everyone Matters)that we have been working on in the community art group that I started at C4 included in the show as well! The show will be up until May 17th, so check it out if you get a chance.

"Project Onward, the Chicago Cultural Center's studio program for artists with special needs, presents an exhibition of paintings, drawings, photography, and mixed media created by artists living with mental and developmental disabilities. Inquire Within seeks to break down barriers between mainstream culture and people with disabilities by focusing on the inner life and everyday experiences of people with special needs, from their own perspective, in their own words, and on their own terms. Featured artist are participants at community-based studios Project Onward, Esperenza Community Services, El Valor, Community Counseling Centers of Chicago (C4) Little City, and the Nathan and Kiyoko Lerner Foundation Art Studio at Thresholds."

Sunday, March 15, 2009

It is our humanity and all the potential within it that makes us beautiful

The coolest thing about the way Aimee reframes her disablity is that she takes it one step beyond "see, I am just as good as you" to " I think I am actually better than you." (and the thing is, I totally believe her and think so too)....cheetah legs, and beautiful wooden hand carved boots, and fancy shoes that make her tower...pretty awesome.