The creative urge is within us all – an art therapist’s approach

The creative urge is within us all – an art therapist’s approach 2017-07-21T12:37:06+00:00

“Creativity is a general condition of humanity. It is often perceived as an individual gift and usually associated with an individual act.”
Anneke Elwes, Creativity Works

The creative urge is within us all. This is a desire to do something different, make something out of nothing, to change our environment, decorate our homes, cook an interesting meal, or even have a baby! I have met many people who express this desire as a need. “I need to do something creative” they say, sometimes overlooking the fact that their party planning for their children, or their upholstery course, is indeed a creative activity. However there may be an unrequited need to do more than this. To engage with colour and form on a big scale; to have a go at expressing the non-tangible and the non-verbal inside of you. We may talk about our internal landscapes, our thoughts and feelings and urges but often words fall short of expressing the fullness of what we feel.

Myth No. 1: If you can’t draw you can’t be good at art.
Many people express a desire to ‘do some art’. But many have a little voice inside that goes ‘but I’m no good at art. I can’t paint or draw!’ This may be true in some sense. At about the age of 7/8 when children are learning joined-up handwriting and developing pencil skills, they are also learning to be competitive. Many children will feel they are ‘no good at drawing’, as their pencil skill development may not match the best kid in the class. Pencil skills (writing and drawing) develop at different rates and by the age of 11, most children have a similar ‘standard’ of handwriting. However many will also feel they can’t draw, having failed initially to be as good as the rest. And some will have given up the idea of artistic expression altogether by this stage.

The expectation here is that to ‘be good at art’ means you have accomplished a sufficient standard in the ability to depict. That is, to make an accurate representation of what you see, in pencil or other drawing materials. This skill is certainly useful for when you want to draw something accurately but it is not a pre-requisite for being an artist. Drawing skills can be learnt (it took me about a year) and then can be used as and when needed in image-making. There are a few technical rules (light/dark/shadow/perspective etc) but mostly good drawing is about being taught to see and observe well.

Myth No. 2: A picture has to depict something recognisable.
Art history has taught us that there are different fashions in art and each has a statement to make which usually reflects the cultural phenomena and attitudes of that time. The period in art which most closely fulfils the need to be creative is that of Abstract Expressionism. In this era, feelings and energies were captured in colour, form and shape and exploded onto the canvas, captivating a whole generation of art lovers. This is art that moves you, gives you strange warm feelings that you relate to, are familiar with yet can’t always find the words for. The images are generated from the internal landscape of the artist and can mirror our own experiences of joy, confusion, sadness, elation etc. When people learn to paint in this way, they experience a sense of lightness, and sense of release.

We are continually stimulated by the world around us. There is the physical landscape to inspire us; from urban ugliness to nature’s beauty. We also have a social and emotional landscape; from warmth and love to confusion and fear. We take everything in through all our 5 senses, digest it and then churn it out. But some things don’t know how to come out. We don’t always know how to release, or let things go. Some people will have a deep tissue massage, others will dance, make music, or have sex. Others will go to a football match and shout, but these experiences are ephemeral. Once released they no longer exist. By contrast, making an image is a tangible record of something originally intangible. You can keep your painting for as long as you wish and it serves to remind you of how you were feeling when you made it.

There is an alchemical process in making art whereby our experiences become transformed into different matter. We are able to configure and reconfigure our experiences through making expressive paintings. This, I believe, is what lies behind the need to be creative. The need to fulfil that creative urge. And then the creative act is by its very nature, healing.

Part of my work as an art therapist involves enabling people to be creative. I encourage people to work in a large scale, to find the fullness of expression they are seeking. We often include work with the non-dominant hand to enable a release which does not rely upon the ability to depict. And we always spend some time reflecting on the creative process and how this satisfies a deep need in our daily lives.

Hephzibah Kaplan

Biographical note
Hephzibah Kaplan is an art therapist and psychotherapy supervisor. In addition to her private practice, she runs regular art therapy groups for adults interested in exploring their creative nature.


Originally published: Thompson Dunn – Psychology in Management Newsletter; May 2005