Confessions of an art student: Part 3 - The Open College of the Arts
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Confessions of an art student: Part 3

I have been reading “The Art Therapy Sourcebook” by Cathy A. Machioldi and pursuing my own interests in art therapy since I believe in the healing power of art to make positive changes in lives. I believe that being engaged in creative pursuits is helping me manage my M.E. and helping me to function at a fairly high level of productivity. I daydream about creating an exhibition about it and calling it “M.E. myself and eye.” It is a vague notion.
In the book Rollo May is quoted as stating that;
Everyone’s Creative acts, whatever they may be, make constructive form out of the apparent formlessness of our lives”¹
It fits with my Level 3 Major Project course plan focussing on entropy as I attempt to explore my condition and its various symptoms, particularly the sense of mental and social disjointedness and physical disorientation and communicative breakdown through cognitive misfiring during “brain fog” episodes. I instinctively know that, out of all the possible quotes in this eminently quotable book, this quote is collectable and of use to me. Somehow. Again a vague notion.
I have noticed in level 3 that when I read I am no longer reading to find out what the course literature or my tutor wants me to know; this was true for me in level 1 study and to a lesser extent level 2. You may find this is the case for you. Now, I accept recommendations but I am more inclined to read in order to find something that fits into and confirms my personal view, informs my artistic statement or strengthens the argument I am trying to make in the body of my work. This is self-directed study and is highly rewarding compared to those imposed exercises, tasks and assignments that must be accepted with a pinch of good humour.
I sense I am trying to battle the chaos of entropy in its social, cultural, political but mostly physical embodiments. This battle is the attempt to make “constructive form”. I like deadlines, value timetables, I seek routine and now work to rotas piecing my life together and making my studies fit around my complex life.
I am not sure to what extent I agree with the apparent formlessless of my life since there are many things giving my life purpose and direction. My family and studies for example. Yet under pressures of workload and the strictures of managing limited time, I do feel the stress generating the sensation of spiralling out of control. I know what it is like to experience disarray and to feel disordered and generally out-of-step.
The formlessness is more apparent, I feel, when things are not going the way we expect them to. When our plans are thwarted, our goals misdirected, our health failing. I sense this is normal and natural. Human.
Everyone’s Creative acts, whatever they may be, make constructive form out of the apparent formlessness of our lives”¹
Yet I know this quote is collectable. Feeling, sense, belief, notion and vague are all signposts to the criterion discernment that is part of the (self) assessment sheet in your course literature. A growing awareness of who you are artistically. Being able to articulate what does and does not fit is you developing your “voice”. You instinctively know what is right and feels comfortable.
Your discernment may be vague and your voice unpractised at airing the apparently formless or uncertain notions your creativity is exploring; but it is unfailingly accurate if you trust yourself to be yourself. It is intrinsically you. I hope you find that the structure of your studies helps you to be the most you that you can be and this, for me, is evidence that discernment and voice are developing.
At the moment I am wrestling with how discernment is best evidenced in a student and their output. Is a discerning student one who sees lots of examples of a central idea in many varying forms reflected in multiple disparate referents; or, is it more clearly demonstrated in fewer, narrow focus with laser precision?
May I encourage you to follow your instincts and trust your discernment however vague its guidance appears? Go off at a tangent to exercises and use them as a springboard. There is value even in pursuing eventual dead ends for at least that way you’ll know from experience and be able to instruct or counsel others.
In the quote the formlessness is only apparent; appears to be real and yet we must accept appearance may be deceptive and our judgement shaped by our emotional state.
In a highly stressed and emotional state I created this self-portrait piece that I now recognise owes a debt to Cassandra in Dr Who.
I felt tense, under pressure and stretched to the limit by being pulled in many different directions in my life. This chaos is an example of my entropy theme and I addressed in creating a modified acrylic transfer.
Since Art is a friend to me, when life is getting chaotic I am driven towards creativity to make sense of it all rather than being discouraged from involvement in my OCA studies. There is solace and healing in the creative act.
It is intrinsically therapeutic.

Posted by author: Adrian Eaton
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11 thoughts on “Confessions of an art student: Part 3

  • I empathise with what you say about chronic fatigue etc as I have RA and never really know how I’ll feel on waking. And that art helps you to inhabit a different space and get out of the pain if that’s what you’re experiencing. I really related to what you say about having to go along with exercises you dont really want to do, I had rather a lot of that in art history, having to ‘furnish’ a country house not my cup of tea!
    thanks for sharing.

    • I think I have been using art as art therapy unconsciously but now, since I recognised it through my recent employment as a Support Worker, consciously accept the function that art performs in my life. It took me a while to connect RA. I empathise and it is easy to become demotivated generally but when illness create obstacles it seems really unfair. Good luck with your health and creative journeys. Please feel free to critique the work I featured in this article- if you wish.

    • Would you be kind enough to elaborate? The engagement I have with fellow students and artist contribute to my development and are a requirement at level 3. I am glad that you found something in my experience that is congruent with yours. I wish you well. Good luck

  • I fully empathise with your struggles and seeking for meaning in life. Facing the entropic environment with chaos and not so much balance, at times. As I work also as an art therapist I can truly relate to your link of art as therapy and how it comforts you. Isn’t entropy and non-order normality and order an exception? (speaking from a science background)
    So true what you are saying about exercise and assignment work. At times I just feel I am going overboard and bring in too much, like flowing away and not enough focus. Dissociation and fading from reality. Indeed art is keeping one in the zone, makes life meaningful.
    Thanks a lot for sharing.

    • Yes I am inside my own entropy through cognitive dissonnance. Makes mwe doubt if I know what I know. I suspect my meta-cognition is flawed in those brain foggy moments. However, there is potential in the turbulence of chaos” and decay of form representing a decaying form can be quite beautiful I remember the bible quote- “The wise man knows himself to be a fool. A foolish man thinks himself wise.” The more I investigate the idea of self the less certain I am. I do not cannot know all of me when I consider self is a fiction. Ophelia in madness says “We know what we are but we know not what we may become.” I used to appropriate this a lot. I now believe I don’t know who I am or what I will become -other than an artist at the end of it all.But then this frees me to be whatever I want. Liberating. So I am lost in this mess but excited by what I think I see. My next steps art wise might involve looking inside rather than recording the outside world.

  • I feel very touched by your post, Adrian. I think, I also have been stretched to my limits by this study. I faced my personal shortcomings. Perhaps this is actually a form of self-therapy.
    I think the gift of self-reflection turns humans into artists. The feeling of not being part of the society has made me sensitive to others. And sensitive to issues about differentness.
    Thanks for sharing.

    • Thank you Christa.
      I love the phrase ” the gift of self-reflection turns humans into artists.” Yes I am aware of my short comings too. I am consoled by the fact that artists are allowed to be naieve or use primitivism to express their ideas. I am wrestling with what INTENTION will mean in my Part 4. Every decision must support the message. So I am in the deep end now, creating the work that will become the exhibition. I feel the importance and yet am consoled that every mark I make is autobiographical therefore congruent to my self-portraiture message. Yes I have bent myself out of shape to accommodate people and still met with their displeasure. Despite being a conformist ( although I reserve the right to do whatever I want in art) I have more than my fair share of run ins with authority figures despite being absolutely convinced of my rightness. So glad I am a creative and can resolve this through art (therapy)

  • Thank you for your thoughts on “Discernment” and providing evidence of it. As a student on a Foundation Drawing course my tutor has twice indicated “Provide evidence of … discernment, … and contextual study in your logbook.” I haven’t been sure on what he means or how to do it. Your post suggests that this is about showing evidence of collecting a range of influences and using those to influence your own work. Whether I have done this or not previously I haven’t evidenced it.

    • Yes a discerning anything knows what it likes and does not.I think it is witnessed in sorting and classifying influences and aligning yourself or not. Influences are congruent to who you think you are at that moment in your development and the reason for it. Also rejecting alignment with a reasoned argument. Our ability to compare and contrast becomes refined as we progress. I have recently discovered that my work is very similar to something else. However, two people can arrive at the same point in a park from very different journeys. Yes my work was superficially similar but my discernment can identify the differences in thinking, the rationale, the logic and philosophy that lead to the similarity- but illustrates the difference. The tortoise and the turtle are very similar but knowing which one swims is discernment. Good luck with your studies and thank you for commenting. Getting involved like this early on will accelerate your progress.

  • Thanks Adrian for that post. I emphatise with your thoughts and struggles balancing ME with self directed study. I am happy to say I have survived and completed the OCA journey balancing FM and other health issues with my study. For me art is theraphy, it distracts me from the pain and fatigue. On the days I cant physically work my mind keeps on creating.

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