The Inherently Creative Family
There are moments in our lives, there are moments in a day, when we seem to see beyond the usual. Such are the moments of our greatest happiness. Such are the moments of our greatest wisdom. If one could but recall his vision by some sort of sign. It was in this hope that the arts were invented. Sign-posts on the way to what may be. Sign-posts toward greater knowledge.
– Robert Henri1
All individuals are inherently creative. But we typically reserve the title of “Artist” as a sacred one for which only specially anointed individuals are worthy. However, our humanness makes us all creative. My son, E, has no interest in initiating drawing on his own. Although when there is drawing time at school and all of the other children are involved, he will create fascinating pictures that give me insights into his thoughts and feelings.
This week his teacher asked each student to do a sketch. His depiction of “what I did over spring break” was a picture of the Earth as viewed from the moon with our family faces in orbit. We had gone to the Neil Armstrong Space Museum and out of the many other activities of the past week, that is what he chose to draw. He often brings home drawings and we discuss what they mean to him. He proudly displays them on our refrigerator and becomes an “Artist” each time.
Art for the purpose of the expression of feelings has been a central theme for centuries. The famous painter, Rothko (1903-1970) created simple rectangles of color with the expressed purpose of evoking raw emotion in the viewer. Art is also used to tell stories and define cultural experiences. Picasso painted Guernica, perhaps his most well-known, as an anti-war reaction to the Nazi bombing during the Spanish Civil War. And art has been used effectively to heal. Art therapy has been promoted healing since the 1940s. There is research to suggest that art therapy has had a healing influence on cancer patients and children with asthma.2 “Art making may reduce anxiety and stress reactions…”3
Not only can the arts heal but they can also connect us to one another as we get to know the deeper parts of who we are. In our busy family lives, connecting on an intimate level can become difficult as we attend to the obligations of day to day life. But art can be used as a tool for bringing families together, building self-awareness and self-confidence, dealing with intense emotions, exploring perceptions of the world or even envisioning the future.
Remember when you engage in creative activities together, there are no faults, only expression. And in fact, what we might judge as imperfections add only to the uniqueness of the work. Famous artists such as Claude Monet and Mary Cassatt struggled with cataracts and may have viewed the world quite literally through an Impressionist and later, Expressionist haze.4 Ideally, work only on your own piece unless you are creating a collaboration. Though tempting, try not to comment. Even positive comments can change artistic focus, intentions and outcomes. Do focus on the joy of the process itself. And use the outcomes, the end products, as representations of your time working together. Try out one of the following art experiences with your family and see if it might help you connect on a deeper level.
1. Create a hopes and dreams vision board. Put to use that stack of magazines that may collect in your house as they do in mine. Lay out scissors, glue sticks and a poster board. Label the poster “Our Family Dreams” and start cutting and pasting. Do you want to travel to Tahiti? Climb a mountain? Sail on a yacht? Write a poem? Skateboard? You can create your poster in an evening together or leave it out on a table to contribute to over the course of a week. See how it builds and develops over time. Then hang it on a pantry door or bulletin board so that your family can refer to it and talk about how to make your hopes and dreams come true.
2. Create family portraits. For young children, create a full body self-portrait. Have them lay down on a long sheet of paper and trace them with a crayon or marker. Then have the family write qualities or aspects of the person they love. We tried this as a family last night and even the teddy bear and best bunny friend had a full body portrait made. For older
children, I like to use colorful construction paper and cut and paste shapes to make a portrait. But you can also simply use crayons or markers. Put out supplies after a pizza night dinner. After self-portraits are made, pass them around to each other. Write your favorite qualities you see in that person on the border. “Kind,” “funny,” and “generous” are some examples. If you like them, frame them in place of photographs and create an interesting conversation piece for visitors!
3. Identify feelings. Draw together with your child to express emotions. Sometimes children will be able to express more about what and how they are feeling through drawings rather than words. Allow them their own expressions. Keep your drawings on your own paper and about your own topics of exploration. You might say, “Let’s draw pictures about what we are feeling today” and see what your child creates.
4. Express upset or hurt. If your child is hurt, sad or even angry, giving her paper and crayons can be a way for her to express her emotions. We keep crayons and paper at the ready in E’s calm down safe space just for that purpose. If your child is not taking initiative, model it by expressing your own upset feelings through drawing. Maybe your child would do better with something more tactile like sculpting with clay? Try out various mediums and see what works best for your child. You may want to ask if she wants to keep the drawing as a reminder of how she felt. Or you may offer that she ceremonially rip it up and stick it in the recycle bin as a symbol of letting go of the emotions she has expressed.
5. Codify your family Identity. Create a crest or symbol that represents your family. Incorporate things you love to do together or pictures of yourself, your pets and your friends. What symbols represent who you are and what you love as a family?
Let your inner artist out and involve your family to reap the benefits.
* Special thanks to Linda Smith, my editor and a talented artist who has struggled with cataracts, for her research and knowledge of art history.
1 Henri, R. (1923). The Art Spirit. NY: J.B. Lippincott Company.
2 Beebe A, Gelfand, EW, & Bender B. (2010). A randomized trial to test the effectiveness of art therapy for children with asthma. Journal of Allergy & Clinical Immunology. 126(2):263-6, 266.e1.
3 Walsh et. al. (2007). A Pilot Study to Test the Effects of Art-making Classes for Family Caregivers of Patients with Cancer. Oncology Nursing Forum. 34, 1.
4 Gugliotta, G. (2007). Simulations of Ailing Artists’ Eyes Yield New Insights on Style. The New York Times. Dec. 4.
Art with Heart – a Seattle, WA based nonprofit organization promoting healing and child well-being through art therapy.
Barber, V. (2002). Explore Yourself through Art. NY: The Penguin Group.
Cameron, J. (2013). The Artist’s Way for Parents. Raising Creative Children. Los Angeles, CA: Tarcher Books.
Malchiodi, C. (2013). Yes, Virginia, There is Some Art Therapy Research. Psychology Today; The Healing Arts, February 27.
Soule, A. B. (2008). The Creative Family. KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa: Trumpeter Books.