by Kathleen Horne
At an early age, I gave up art. My older brother drew amazingly realistic images of wildlife. I remember cougars, lions, salmon and trout emerging magically from his pencil onto the page. They were alive, and in action! I admired these drawings, studied them, and tried to do the same. I was disappointed in my attempts, and I compared my artwork to his.
I knew that I couldn’t make the kind of art my brother made, and I didn’t know there was any other kind. And so I simply stopped, making a decision that “I can’t do art”. The belief became ingrained.
The truth, though, was that I buried a deep longing. Visual expression was in my bones and in my soul, and it remained underground for a long time. I followed other creative and academic pursuits, studying psychology and eventually becoming a therapist, and I was barely aware of the longing. In my forties, a combination of personal challenges and life transitions came together in a way that was compelling, and I began to spontaneously express myself in visual form. This led to both a deep personal healing and an awakening to my creative life.
Finally, the images were coming. I was exploring – painting, watercolor, collage, mandalas, print-making. And I was healing, growing, changing. My visual expression and my personal healing went hand-in-hand. I found myself wondering – how much energy had it taken all those years to keep those images inside? And, when I allowed myself expression, what was freed up and unblocked was much more than “art”.
My raw imagery came first, and, because I was also interested in gaining skill, art classes and learning opportunities came second.
As I began to experiment with art-making, the scariest for me was drawing, which was, of course, the place that I had shut down early. And yet, with a good teacher and an accepting environment, I learned that I could do even that. Not like my brother, but like me. I realized that I had equated “art” with “drawing”, as, it seems, many do.
As is the natural order of things, professional change followed personal. I was feeling somewhat limited in my therapy practice. While I appreciated the importance of talkingand cognitive understanding, I was seeking a more holistic approach. One day I opened up a magazine and saw an advertisement for a training in Expressive Arts Therapy. I never looked back. Expressive Arts fully embodies the creative process itself as healing and transformative. It was a language that I always knew, at some level, and yet had forgotten.
Throughout this still-evolving journey, I have discovered the importance of keeping a consistent personal art practice. That is the baseline – the place to return to again and again – no matter how busy life is. Over the years, my art practice has taken on different forms – art journal, daily mandalas, Touch Drawing, collage, process painting, and more. Sometimes I am quite invested in finished product, and I love that, too, but if I don’t have a personal practice, my life, my work, and my art all suffer.
I see myself as one who “listens deeply” – to myself, and to others. If I am not listening to myself, in fact, I can’t really listen to anyone else. As part of deep listening, it was natural for me to include some gentle guided meditations in my work. That may mean simply sitting quietly and tuning into my breath, and notice what is stirring in me, each time I sit down at my art table. When facilitating others, I often begin with a guided meditation that leads to a creative impulse to start the process. At some point I began thinking of my work as “art as a healing practice”, and in turn, this became a workshop model.
I was gradually moving away from practicing therapy, and more towards teaching and facilitating workshops. Through the creation of a safe and accepting environment, with guided meditation as the pathway into art-making, I witnessed, over and over again, people experience profound healing and creative awakening simultaneously. Adding a writing component, as well as the opportunity to witness and share, without interpretation or critique, deepened the experience. Over time, I found that a sequence of themed explorations seemed to work especially well.
We all hold our own deep, rich, and sometimes painful stories around creativity and healing. Expressive Arts is a global field that provides a path to waking up to a new way of embracing creativity and transforming lives.
As I have continued to grow my work in Expressive Arts, I consistently return to the Art as a Healing Practice model. It grew into form out of my own creative awakening. It led me to trust myself and my own creative wisdom. I love to share it.
Whether or not you see yourself as an artist, and even if the idea of art-making stirs fear in your heart, please know there is a kind and gentle road back to your creative birthright. Through the field of Expressive Arts, there are many options for you.
Art as a Healing Practice is 6 themed sessions, each involving guided meditation, visual art-making, writing, and witnessing/sharing. Some of the themes are the emotional landscape, the physical self, exploring polarities, and integration and wholeness through creation of a mandala.
I offer the series twice per year at Expressive Arts Florida Institute. Visit our homepage for upcoming dates. I am delighted to have Patricia Manning, RN, BSN, C/CES, HNB-C, as a co-facilitator. You can read more about Patricia’s journey with Art and Healing here.
Therapists (LMHC, LCSW, LMFT) can earn CEU’s and nurses can earn CNE’s. Anyone, though, is welcome to participate, as this is truly creative self-care that we can all benefit from.
If you are not in the area, and are curious or interested, sign up for Expressive Arts Discovery, a 90-minute virtual workshop.
All of our offerings are on our website. I would love to see you in one of our circles.
I am delighted to have the opportunity to do this work. I am grateful to my partners at Expressive Arts Florida Institute – Victoria Domenichello-Anderson and Tamara Teeter Knapp, for joining their visions with mine, and expanding the scope of what any of us could accomplish alone.
And yes, I am grateful to my brother, too. His amazing artwork helped to plant a seed in me. The fruition of that seed into life is something I could never have imagined.
I would love to hear about yours.
Kathleen Horne, MA, LMHC, REACE
Co-founder and Core Faculty, Expressive Arts Florida Institute