If anxiety was a color or colors, what would they be? What shapes and images might appear if one’s anxiety was placed on a canvas? Although these are questions that I have often explored with clients in my work as an art therapist, I didn’t have much time to ponder how they relate to me until this past weekend when I stood awaiting a steady stream of visitors during our art center’s Open Studios Day. Due to the brevity of my time in the new studio, as well as a series of major, incredibly time-consuming life events, I felt inadequately prepared for the day. Sure, the business cards were ordered in time, my artist’s statement was written and copies were printed out, and I had purchased a square credit card reader for my iPhone (a brilliant invention, I might add), but there was only a small amount of art for me to show… and that was anxiety producing.
I have made art since I was in elementary school, even winning awards at local art competitions. My sister (also an artist) and I built a successful cottage industry around our hand-painted T-shirt designs when our children were toddlers. I also worked for several years as a muralist for residential and commercial properties. People may have seen, appreciated, and paid for my art over the years, but this was a whole different story. Yes, my home is filled with examples of my old artwork… but my art is so different now. I couldn’t just pull things off the walls and hang them in my studio. My training to become an art therapist and my on-going work with clients has forever changed the art that I make, and I wanted to show only the art that reflects who I am and where I am in my life now.
So what did I do to help ease my anxiety? I practiced what I preach to my clients… I made art. I placed a canvas on my easel, selected a few colors and brushes, and I began to paint. When there were pauses in the flow of visitors, I resumed painting. When people came in, I stopped painting and showed them the finished pieces that I had from two series that I recently began working on — one involving painting and another, which are assemblages. To those who displayed interest, I talked about influences and inspirations, why these themes were important to me, my creative process (which medium I had chosen for each theme and why), as well as what recurring symbols and metaphors they would find in my work and why it was important to me to include them. I felt myself relaxing as people lingered to listen and learn more, and I appreciated it when they asked insightful questions and/or offered suggestions for readings that they thought might further inspire me on my creative journey. All of them were invited back to our next Open Studio Day to chart my progress.
And what about the “anxiety” painting that I began? Right now, it is a nascent, unfinished piece to which I will return. Although it has already served a purpose by dispelling my initial anxiety and releasing it onto the canvas, it still has potential and deserves to be nurtured — much like my creative process. More than just a snapshot of where I was at one moment in time, it is a seed… a compelling metaphor for where I may go next in my creative journey.