Improv

I don’t watch a whole lot of tv, but I really, really love Project Runway. It isn’t that I’m all that into fashion, but I love the show because it reminds me of art school. The contestants have to solve an aesthetic and practical creative problem in a limited time, with limited materials—and that’s what you do in art school. You’re given a challenge and you solve it with a work of art. It’s not so different from our work as art therapists—we’re always engaged in creative problem solving.

Project Runway Season 12 Bradon McDonald Episode 12 Photos

Now Thursday’s episode was amazing. It was what they call the Avant Garde Challenge—meaning the clothing they design is supposed to push the envelope and edge into art, not just clothing. The guy who won, Bradon McDonald, created a dress that was truly a sculpture. But what was interesting to me was his process. He spent the whole first day in the workroom making these long noodles out of silk. He had no idea what he was going to do with them, he just had the idea to make them. For a while it looked like maybe he had wasted his time, but he ended up adding them to a soft, billowy form in ivory silk and coming up with a dress that blended spiky lines and poufy shapes into what looked a bit like a walking Cubist painting.

He trusted the creative process and took his time, making what he was inspired to make, pushing through his self-doubt and coming up with something that was truly inspired. In art therapy, that creative process is the most important thing. We work with kids, not professionals, and we’re not in any kind of competition. Sometimes we come up with beautiful products, and sometimes not—but we always try to help the kids we work with trust their own creative process. Last night’s episode of Project Runway was a testament to what we say so often in our work—trust the process!

Creative Destruction

Creation and destruction are two sides of the same creative coin. Part of the empowerment of art therapy comes because the patient is in control of when to create and destroy. Kids with serious medical conditions deal with a lot of experiences that are painful and scary, and anger and the impulse to destroy can be an instinctive response to pain. The destructive side of creation can  be  therapeutic, with the right approach.

One really fun, slightly destructive, and very exciting art project is to create a “volcano” and explode it using the chemical reaction of vinegar and baking soda. Here are some pictures of two of our guys erupting the volcano that one of them sculpted out of clay– turning a day of chemo into fun and exciting play.

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