Shaun McNiff has created guides to embracing the ups and downs of the artistic process and allowing them to carry you along your unique creative journey. He brilliantly captures the core ideas and describes what I have been able to feel, sense, and transform through the arts:
“Whether in painting, poetry, performance, music, dance, or life, there is an intelligence working in every situation. This force is the primary carrier of creation. If we trust it and follow its natural movement, it will astound us with its ability to find a way through problems–and even make creative use of our mistakes and failures. There is a magic to this process that cannot be controlled by the ego. Somehow it always finds the way to the place where you need to be, and a destination you never could have known in advance. When everything seems as if it is hopeless and going nowhere. . . trust the process.”
“Try looking at doorways, gates, and other passageways symbolically. As you walk down a street, consider the different types of entrances you see. What do they say to you about the spirits of the place and the soul? What rites do you imagine people experiencing as they pass through the openings? What qualities connect the passageways in one house to those of its neighbors? What characteristics distinguish homes from one another?
“Take this foreign perspective and apply it to your own household. Imagine yourself walking through it as a stranger who is looking at things ‘for the first time.’ What do you feel at the different points of passage? Look at your fireplace, bed, closets, picture frames, and dressers symbolically. What things give the stranger a sense of the people who live in the space? What areas convey intimacy? Are there ceremonial places in the home? Are there chairs that look like seats of the soul? Where is the imagination most alive?”
― Trust the Process: An Artist’s Guide to Letting Go
“Art as a spiritual discipline entails paying attention to images and opening ourselves to their unique expressions rather than trying to fix the problems we think they represent. The unsettling image is an ally of the soul that helps me reframe how I am looking at life and living it.”
— Art Heals: How Creativity Cures the Soul
“I view art as a medicine that proceeds through different phases of creation and reflection. Although therapists and other people involved in this process make their contributions as guides and witnesses, the medicinal agent is art itself, which releases and contains psyche’s therapeutic forces. The medicine offered by meditation on art is generally an infusion of imagination and awareness rather than a specific answer. ‘Messages’ may ultimately be less significant than the engagement of images. Rather than understanding the ‘meaning’ of the dreamer’s pleasurable slide down the long pole into the darkness, we enjoy the slide and hold on to the image.”
“Yet artistic images encourage us to look at them and reflect upon their natures, both physical and psychological. Interpretation enters the world of the image in response to its nature. Rather than labeling pictures from our frames of reference, we meditate on them, tell stories about how we created them, speak to them, listen to what they have to say, dramatize them through our bodily movement, and dream about them. All of these methods are dedicated to the ongoing release of art’s expressive medicine. Analysis and reason make many contributions to our meditations, but they do not dominate.”
— Art As Medicine: Creating a Therapy of the Imagination
In 1973 McNiff taught the first art therapy courses at Lesley and in 1974 established the Expressive Therapies and Integrated Arts in Education graduate programs. An international pioneer in expressive arts therapy, Shaun McNiff, wrote many books on how art heals and creativity enhancement.