The Words of the Fefferman Family

Art as Therapy: Healing Oneself through Discovering the Artist Within

Susan Fefferman
December 1, 2012

I offer this as an insight from an artist, art teacher and from a woman's perspective.

All of us, all human beings, struggle in life. Our world is filled with challenges and difficulties, ups and downs, disappointments and some victories. Women, especially, are burdened by a feeling of not being enough while trying to get everything done, enduring much stress and often never feeling they have succeeded. All the while, they are hoping to catch a bit of happiness. Some people are successful and happy, but not all the time. Why are some happier than others? I think, in part, because they are able to express their creativity which satisfies an innate need within every single human being. The need to express our creativity comes from God, our creator, our masculine/feminine creator who continues to be creative. When we are creative, we get to 'taste' a bit of the divine within ourselves. If our creativity is aimed at the greater good, we have the opportunity to allow our creator a chance to express through us, through our own creativity – unique and owned by us both.

In the sessions I offered at the recent WFWP-USA "Turning Point" conference in Las Vegas, I wished to inspire the sisters to delve inside themselves and find their "artist within," and make a plan to mindfully be more expressive and artistic and thus let the life force flow towards healing, self-discovery and happiness. *

The first known use of creativity in writing was in 1875. Other than in religious texts, creativity wasn't emphasized as it is today. Synonyms for creativity may include: cleverness, creativeness, imagination, imaginativeness, ingeniousness, ingenuity, innovativeness, invention, inventiveness, originality.

I think creativity is the ability to produce something new through imaginative skill; whether it is a new solution to a problem, a new method or device, or a new artistic object or form. The term generally refers to a richness of ideas and originality of thinking. Psychological studies of highly creative people have shown that many have a strong interest in apparent disorder, contradiction, and imbalance, which seem to be perceived as challenges.

Such individuals may possess an exceptionally deep, broad, and flexible awareness of themselves. Studies also show that intelligence has little correlation with creativity; thus, a highly intelligent person may not be very creative. So you don't have to be smart to be creative!

Flexible self-awareness is a good thing, people who have it are healthier in mind and emotion than others; they can be more successful in their endeavors. Those who are not flexible and not very self aware, have more stress and are less successful in relationships with people, whether personal or professional. And they usually can't easily laugh at their own foibles.

Dealing with "apparent disorder, contradiction, and imbalance" is a natural human past time. When we enjoy the challenges, we grow. When we wish to flee those challenges, or keep putting them aside (in hopes that they will 'just go away'), we experience frustration and stress and create an imbalance within. Normal stress is needed to keep the juices flowing, but stress that is not resolved becomes unhealthy.

I remember the days, months and two years of the International Women's Friendship conferences (WFWP) in 1995 and '96 where I had many 18 hour days. Someone else took care of my kids and stress is what I ate three meals a day. My health began to weaken, my temperament became sharp and I didn't enjoy what I was doing. Thankfully, our dear creator and several spiritual experiences in prayer, helped me to realize that my mental state was not handling stress properly and I needed to change my outlook. It took me quite awhile to change my mental habits but slowly I began to look at these challenges as an avenue to growth. I also began to enjoy my family more, which gave me happiness.

Not only do we need to balance the desire for order with the need to digest the contradictions of life, we need to be creative in order to feel satisfied with life. The necessity to be creative is as essential as breathing.

There are many blocks to being creative. The most pervasive one is simply negative thinking, having a wrong self-image, and the fear of failure – resulting in ill health, spiritually, physically and mentally. We forget how to be playful and loose energy. Life is no longer fun or satisfying. We can get seriously depressed. Our family and friends feel bad around us. Also, the inability to value yourself/love yourself and give yourself time to yourself, blocks our freedom to be creative. We need to remove those blocks and rejoice in our own unique creativity.

Creativity is a central source of meaning in our lives. When we're creative, we feel we are living more fully than before. Creativity leads to a richer, more complex and satisfying future.

Inherently EVERYONE is an artist! Just look at how different people walk, talk, laugh and eat! But specific creative activity will give each one of us an additional reason to get out of bed in the morning. And in this creative activity we find much self-satisfaction and a peace of mind that will enable us to deal with all those stressful "must do-s" in life. (I am still a practicing potter, I find myself feeling joy regularly when I not only do pottery but just think about it.)

Chaos, disorder…artists are people who seemingly embrace and utilize the contradictions in life. They adapt to almost any situation and make do with whatever is at hand. They are complex people, a 'multitude' not an individual. But, we are all artists in some way. So we should enjoy the contradictions, make use of the contradictions, ride the contradictions of life. Look for possibilities in everything and unleash your artist within. A little chaos can be healthy!

While I taught art at New Hope Academy in Landover Hills, Maryland, my students (aged 5-18) struggled with their own self-criticism and the burden of what I can the "McDonalds culture." At McDonald's everything is delivered fast, with the same quality and quantity. This same fastness is seen in many video games and in the use of the remote on all sorts of electronic devices. Quick, easy results are expected by us all but especially by our youth who haven't yet understood that anything worthwhile must be worked for. Thus, in my art room there was a rather large sign, high on the wall which read: "THERE ARE NO MISTAKES IN ART, ONLY LESSONS." When the frustration level of one or more of my students rose too high in the struggle to master a particular task, I would point to the sign and ask them to read it aloud. They eventually got the point and could ease off their frustration and continue to work creatively. Patience is a healthy virtue needed especially when dealing with our own selves.

Another point is that many people will say, "I am just not artistic" or "I am not an artist." Many of us had bad experiences with tired, frustrated art teachers or parents who said "art isn't necessary, you need to make money." The bad experiences add a further block to us being creative and satisfied. But I say to you all, every single one of us IS artistic in some way or another, we just need to 'discover the artist within' and cultivate it to feel happier and healthier. We even need to celebrate and stimulate the artist within and allow it to fully function. I suggest making a regular "date" with your inner artist to let it express itself as a necessary aspect of living.

Try taking a simple picture, cut it into four pieces, and draw each piece on a single paper – upside down. Yes, upside down. Why? So you can actually draw what you see, not what you think you see. (Another axiom repeated in my art classes.) Does a human face have a curvy line as a mouth? NO, it is shades of light and dark that show three-dimensions of flesh. When you finish, turn all four pieces right-side up and put them together, you will see something amazing. Your four pieces actually – in some way – look like the original picture you started with. Rembrandt? Michaelangelo, no but it is art. And it is you, your little artist within that has some ability to be creative.

So make a date with your creativity every day, or plan a weekly project, reflect, imagine and examine, keep a record through journaling to see your growth and development, take pictures. Just remember: patience and growth, everything needs a growing period.

What else can we do to stimulate the artist within? "Change the chatchkies", rearrange something in your home or office. Take risks, embrace a contradiction anew, think outside the box, try something new-just look, taste, touch, smell, feel, breathe and always share it with a loved one. Take a 'pregnant pause' (wait and see the unexpected) and smell the roses of life. Just raise your eyes up and try to find a shape in a cloud. Let your mind wander and discover where it takes you.

Negate the negative…chant "I am a wonderful, creative human being worth the time and effort to express myself beautifully." Allow yourself to live creatively, to love creatively, to laugh and cry and be the unique and powerful artist that you were meant to be. And always remember, it is God who made you creative and wishes to share in your creativity.


*This is not a psychological approach but an artistic one with awareness of the human being as a naturally creative being. 

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