Here is an interesting article from the NYT about the brain and art from a professor of brain science at Columbia University.:
…… The portraiture that flourished in Vienna at the turn of the 20th century is a good place to start. Not only does this modernist school hold a prominent place in the history of art, it consists of just three major artists — Gustav Klimt, Oskar Kokoschka and Egon Schiele — which makes it easier to study in depth.
As a group, these artists sought to depict the unconscious, instinctual strivings of the people in their portraits, but each painter developed a distinctive way of using facial expressions and hand and body gestures to communicate those mental processes.
Their efforts to get at the truth beneath the appearance of an individual both paralleled and were influenced by similar efforts at the time in the fields of biology and psychoanalysis. Thus the portraits of the modernists in the period known as “Vienna 1900” offer a great example of how artistic, psychological and scientific insights can enrich one another.
The idea that truth lies beneath the surface derives from Carl von Rokitansky, a gifted pathologist who was dean of the Vienna School of Medicine in the middle of the 19th century. Baron von Rokitansky compared what his clinician colleague Josef Skoda heard and saw at the bedsides of his patients with autopsy findings after their deaths. This systematic correlation of clinical and pathological findings taught them that only by going deep below the skin could they understand the nature of illness.
I’ve read many a book and chatted with art therapists about the psychological process involved in art and art making and this article comes from a different perspective; brain science.
One Creative Therapy Tool that I use is to paint. Some times pictures of actual ‘things’ like trees or boats; but I usually paint shapes. Lately I have been using water colors to paint shades and gradients of color. Colors shifting from one type of purple(for instance) to a deeper purple.
There is a lot going on in the simple act of painting color that involves cognitive processes, emotional expression, mindfulness practice, amongst others. There is the hand eye coordination, and the movement of the body (hand,arm shoulder), to apply the paint to the brush, water and paper. There is the picking and choosing of colors that I want to use; sometimes I pick a color that has a pleasing effect on how I feel, and sometimes that choice changes how I feel. The act of painting requires focus and at least a little concentration being in the here and now.
I have been turning my gradient paintings in to therapy cards. I work a lot with groups providing therapy and often participants have difficulty expressing their feelings and/or thoughts. The cards provide an avenue for people to share/start a conversation. I have created affirmation cards, feelings cards, drama therapy cards, movement cards, yoga asana cards, and many others.
(click image for larger size)
Grounding Techniques are activities you use when you feel overwhelmed by feelings, thoughts, sensations. These techniques help a person move their focus away from what is overwhelming them to something else. That something else is preferable healthy and supportive to their wellbeing. Below is a list that clients and patients have mentioned over the years of things they do that help them ground.
- Get ice or ice water
- Breathe – slow and deep, like blowing up a balloon.
- Take your shoes off and rub your feet on the ground.
- Open your eyes and look around. See yourself in a different place than.
- Move around. Feel your body. Stretch out your arms, hands, fingers.
- Peel an orange or a lemon. Notice the smell. Take a bite. Focus on the taste.
- Pet your cat, dog or rabbit.
- Spray yourself with favorite perfume.
- Eat ice cream! Or any favorite food. Pay attention to the taste.
- Call a friend.
- Take a shower.
- Take a bath.
- Go for a walk. Feel the sunshine (or rain, or snow!)
- Count nice things.
- Dig in the dirt in your garden.
- Turn lights on.
- Play your favorite music.
- Hug a tree!
- Touch things around you.
- Frozen Orange – put your nails into it – the cold and the smell can bring you back
- Pull up the daily newspaper on your browser. Notice the date and read a current article.
- Stomp your feet to remind yourself where you are. Press your feet firmly into the ground.
- Try to notice where you are, your surroundings including people, sounds like the t.v. or radio.
- Concentrate on your breathing. Take a deep cleansing breath from your diaphragm. Count the breaths as you exhale. Make sure you breath slowly so you don’t hyperventilate.
- Cross your legs and arms. Feel the sensations of you controlling your body.
- Call a friend and ask them to talk with you about something you have recently done together.
- Take a warm relaxing bubble bath or a warm shower. Feel the water touching your body.
- Mentally remind yourself that the memory was then, and it is over. Give yourself permission to not think about it right now.
- Realize that no matter how small you feel, you are an adult.
- Go outside and sit against a tree. Feel the bark pressing against your body. Smell the outside aromas like the grass and the leaves. Run your fingers through the grass.
- If you are sitting, stand. If you are standing sit. Pay attention to the movement change. Reminding yourself — you are in control.
- Rub your palms, clap your hands. Listen to the sounds. Feel the sensation.
- Speak out loud. Say your name or significant others name.
- Hold something that you find comforting, for some it may be a stuffed animal or a blanket. Notice how it feels in your hands. Is it hard or soft?
- Eat something. How does it taste, sweet or sour? Is it warm or cold?
- If you have a pet use that moment to touch them. Feel their fur and speak the animals name out loud.
- Visualize a bright red STOP sign to help you stop the flashback and/or memory
- Step outside. If it’s warm, feel the sun shining down on your face. If it’s cold, feel the breeze. How does it make your body feel?
- Take a walk outside and notice your neighborhood. Pay attention to houses and count them.
- Listen to familiar music and sing along to it. Dance to it.
- Write in your journal. Pay attention to yourself holding the pencil. Write about what you are remembering and visualize the memory traveling out of you into the pencil and onto the paper. Tear the paper up or seal it in an envelope. Give it to your therapist for safekeeping.
- Go online and talk with an online friend. Write an email.
- Imagine yourself in a safe place. Feel the safety and know it.
- Watch a favorite t.v. program or video. Play a video game.
- If you have a garden, work in it. Feel your hands running through the dirt.
- Wash dishes or clean your house.
- Meditate if you are comfortable with it.
- Exercise. Ride a bike, stationary or otherwise. Lift weights. Do jumping jacks.