musings

Neuroplasticity and art

Neuroplasticity is a newer idea emerging into pop culture. At its simplest level, it means that our brains are actually much more mailable than we ever thought possible, allowing us to stretch to the limits to learn new things and accommodate for deficits. This topic has been written about extensively, even for lay people not well versed in neuroscience. How can this apply to art and how can this apply to you? In many ways, this paradigm shift in thinking puts us front in center of having a lot of control over our lives. In the past, we could blame our genes and other factors for limitations. As new studies emerge, it is clear that we really can tap into parts of ourselves to expand our creativity and learn new things. It turns out that you can teach an old dog new tricks.

For today’s art project, we will just spend some time wrapping our head around this idea if it is a new one for you. The following link is of a TED talk on this topic if you want a more in-depth understanding of this fascinating topic: http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/en/michael_merzenich_on_the_elastic_brain.html

For an art project to accompany this idea, please find some paper, and write down some things you didn’t think you could do ( things within reason, please avoid things like getting super hero powers etc) such as learning a new language, to speak in a public venue, master a new hobby or skill, write a book etc…Write down your fear or the first thing that comes to mind which might prevent you from following through with some of these plans. With this newfound knowledge of neuroplasticity, do these excuses for not trying something new still make sense? Can you pick one thing off of this list to try? Can you try this new thing for 30 days?

TEDx

Are you familiar with TED and the TEDx phenomenon? If you have not discovered this remarkable website please check out http://www.TED.com. I am including this information about the wonders of TED and their concept of “Ideas Worth Spreading” to promote this incredible source of information and my own TEDx event. I have secured the license to host a TEDx event in my city. This event will take place on 10/17/12 at the Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art in Overland Park, Kansas. The theme of the event is “Game Changers” and speakers include: an Art Therapist, Theoretical Physicist, a Plant Geneticist and several other game changers in their respective fields.

This event will be live streamed through my website, http://www.tedxoverlandpark.com, and more information can be found on the soon to be released IPhone App called TEDxOverlandPark. Thanks!

Victim or Survivor?

We all have baggage. Depending on our age and life experiences, some of us have more baggage than others. Our baggage might come from of some type of trauma, bad adults from our childhood, or even a recent bad work experience. Resilience is a buzz word getting thrown around these days, but the essence of being a resilient person boils down to how we categorize ourselves in relation to our baggage. Are you a survivor or a victim of these things that happened to you? We cannot change these things. We really can’t even change the people who did them to us or are doing them to us….We can only change ourselves and our attitude.

Please find some paper and draw or write about an experience in which you feel like you were victimized. This art exercise has the potential to be powerful and downright scary if you are exploring some serious trauma. If this is the case, please find someone you trust or feel safe with to explore these experiences with or even bring your art to a mental health professional. The simple explanation of the power of art making with brain science is that trauma is stored as images in the right hemisphere of our brains. When we try to explain our trauma to someone, this proves to be a challenge, because we are attempting to couple language (a left brian activity) with these images. By drawing the image onto paper, even in metaphor, we are suddenly giving ourselves something with which to have that dialogue. Art therapy has proven to be a very powerful tool for soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, and has been a powerful tool for alleviating symptoms connected to PTSD. In very simple terms,  by taking the images out of this right hemisphere and onto paper, we can take time to analyze it and re-file the memory into our brain in a safer region, one that stores memories, making the experiences more distant and less sensory oriented.

If you are a victim, the road to becoming a survivor might involve a tremendous amount of work on your part, but is well worth the effort. If this post strikes a chord with you, please seek help from a trusted person to guide you through this process. Another way to approach this exercise is to ask yourself if you control your feelings or if they control you?

Yesterday’s Art Exercise:

Were you able to assign a person to each negative voice in your head? Sadly many of them might belong to teachers or adults from your past. Were you able to trace the roots of the voice owners’ own negativity? Realizing that these voices are not really in your head, but real people form your past or present is a great way to separate yourself from them and replace them with positive thoughts and voices of your own.

Overcoming Negative Voices

Can you hear the negative voices in your head? The ones telling you that you can’t do it, whatever it may be. Most likely these voices are not auditory hallucinations, but negative people from your past or present. For today’s project, we will explore the source of these voices. Please find some paper and draw a simple stick figure of yourself. Think of an idea you have and write this in a balloon caption near the stick figure.This idea should not be one that compromises your safety, well being, or bank account, but one that involves stepping out of your norm and taking a risk for a positive outcome. Now write all of the negative comments that might prevent you from executing this idea.

We are note done yet! Now look very closely at the negative comments and think who might be saying them. Sadly, the negative voices most likely belong to the people closest to you including: parents, spouses, teachers, siblings etc. Write their name down next to them, and think very hard WHY these people feel so comfortable dishing out  these negative comments. Most likely this was how they were treated with their own ideas by their own parents, spouses, teachers, siblings etc. Instead of being angry at them, or sidelined by their comments, can you forge ahead with your own idea once you grasp the origin of their negativity? Can you add some positive comments of encouragement on your paper, ones that come from you believing in yourself?

Yesterday’s activity:

Did you think of any whimsical actions to add to your day? In many ways, the above art directive is connected to this one. The fear of making a mistake or getting some negative feedback are often the two things holding us back from fully expressing our range of emotions and ideas.

Attitude Check

How is your attitude these days? Really, attitude is everything, and according to people like Viktor Frankl who have spent their career thinking about this topic (author of Man’s Search for Meaning). Attitude is the one thing we have full control over in our lives. Today’s art exercise will explore this element of ourselves and if done honestly, might provide insight into our current satisfaction with things around us. Please find paper and writing or drawing material. Draw an image of yourself outside in some type of inclement weather. Add some word balloons describing what you might be saying or thinking. Don’t worry about creating a masterpiece. The goal of this exercise is to get the information on paper.

Yesterday’s project: So, can you make a mistake? This exercise of blind contour drawing is a challenging one, especially because it forces us to give up the control we seem to have over many elements of our lives. For people who hate making mistakes, this is a very healthy exercise to get out of one’s comfort zone. Conducting an art therapy group on this topic in an in-patient psychiatric setting has proven to be the most powerful and painful activity, forcing participants to come face to face with an honest assessment of themselves and dealing with the very common and real fear of making mistakes.

When you look at your contour drawing of yourself, can you make any honest observations of emotions, mood, attitude? Can you identify how you were feeling as you made it? Art making like this can be quite revealing, and the best way to initiate change in oneself is to make an honest assessment of our current situation. Blind contour drawing is often a very sobering exercise in which we come face to face with a very honest/current assessment of ourselves. The word “current” is quite important here, meaning that this assessment is really temporary, and can change quickly if one puts the work into it.

Can you identify how it feels to have made something less than perfect? We are our own worst enemy and often the barrier preventing us from succeeding. Fear of failure or making a mistake is the fuel for remaining sedentary. If this is a topic in need of exploration in your life, please spend time journaling or sharing your feelings with a loved one.

Can You Make A Mistake?

Can you make a mistake? Today’s art therapy exercise might be challenging on many levels as we explore our emotions connected to making mistakes. Please find some paper and a pen (not a pencil-no erasing for this art project). Now find a mirror and station yourself close to this mirror. Please look only at your reflection and not at the paper, and attempt to create a self-portrait. This technique is known as “contour drawing.” Finding a starting point on the paper and work your pen across the page as you imagine where things should go. Try as hard as you can not to look down as you draw.

The results will be surprising, and nowhere close to perfect. Please be aware of your reaction or feelings as you draw, and take note of these feelings. Any voices in your head telling you that you can’t make mistakes or that your image isn’t up to par? Can you identify the voices (maybe a parent or teacher from your past)? Can you write down some emotions you observe in the drawn image? Contour drawing can be a powerful and cathartic art form to allow one to confront hidden emotions, especially when doing a self-portrait. Walking away and coming back several hours later also might be a helpful technique to make observations about the emotional state of the image.

Yesterday’s project: Did you find a huge difference between the inside and outside of your mask? This mask making exercise can be a great tool to explore these hidden feelings. People often claim they feel more at peace when their inner and outer masks are aligned. if you found a divide between the two sides, is there someone you can share this information with whom you trust? Revealing these secrets and discovering that our loved ones still love us with all of our flaws can be a powerful experience.

Can You Remove Your Mask?

We all wear masks. In some ways this is a necessity for functioning in our multifaceted world. Occasionally our masks present a very different persona than what might be lurking underneath. Today we will explore these masks and investigate our interior and exterior self. Please find some paper, scissors and drawing materials. Draw a simple outline of a face and cut it out. Start with the outside of your mask and draw or write how you present yourself to the world, maybe including emotions/adjectives or any descriptive words. Now turn your mask over and do the same thing but identifying parts of yourself you don’t often reveal or that you choose to  “mask.” Be aware of any emotions which surface as you make your mask. Sometimes walking away, then returning to an art piece a few hours later can be an enlightening activity. Art making can be very powerful because we have less defenses built up through this form of communication.

Yesterday’s Project: Did you reveal a secret through your artwork? Was it a cathartic feeling to let go of this information? Sharing your secret with a person you trust is usually a great outlet, but often your own artwork can serve as a vessel to contain feelings that might be too overwhelming to keep inside of yourself. The website http://www.postsecret.com is one of the most visited sites on the internet, due to the power of revealing a secret. On this particular site, people mail their secrets through a postcard to a person in the D.C area and he posts many of them on this site.