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My art therapy adventure

My favorite view of the Delaware River in Lambertville, NJ

I like to digress from my usual art rantings and rant about some event that affected my life greatly. This is an 1100-word post, so get ready!   I have said before that this blog is about my art and all the adventures, creative processes and new art that goes with it.  And I will stick with creating and sharing my art experiences.  But today I would like to share something quite personal that’s been hanging over my shoulder, kind of like a gorilla looking over me in fact.

Nothing life threatening, but used to be possibly life-altering, and I share this so someone can learn about why following your dreams is essential in life. I have kept this quiet for 10 years, so I feel it’s time to share this important story in my life. This is very personal, so I won’t be offended if you don’t want read further. Wait till my next post…(ha, ha)

In 1999, I was an artist whose art career was stuck in the mud, I was going nowhere. At that point, the only exposure I had was art shows. There was no Twitter, faceboook, internet (just starting), none of that. Heck, I even took slides of my work and didn’t own a digital camera. Yup, I took photos of my art the old fashioned way. Pretty proud of that.

This was also the year I decided to go to graduate school for Art Therapy in Philadelphia. I was still living back east. My intentions were good. I loved the idea of how art can heal and help people’s lives. Here’s a little background. It’s a great modality for people who can’t express themselves verbally, so visually it can make an impact. The client draws or paints something, usually an assignment given by the art therapist. The therapist then examines the art, usually a bunch of created works that’s collected over time. It’s a regular session, mostly with pictures and observing the client during his/her creative process.

So back to school, I took out student loans and planned to study full time, because that was my only option. I wanted to be fully immersed in study, and I figured I would earn enough to make a good living and worry about debt later. I value education so much, I believe I learn stuff when I’m sleeping. I did quite well, got at least a 3.0 average. I also did 2 internships at different venues. The first was working with the elderly population, where I worked along several classmates and art therapists.

I appreciated working and learning about the craft of art therapy. We got to know and hear about the life stories of the patients. Some of it was very heartbreaking, stuff that would be too deep and personal to share, but it would make the most egotistical person break down their defenses. In short, I did well and passed my first internship of my first semester.

Near the end of the second semester, I was interning at a children’s clinic. I had to write about my observations and worked with one art therapist, no classmates. It wasn’t easy, but I thought I did well. The main art therapist I was working with thought otherwise. Somehow, she didn’t like my work, or personality, I never understood clearly. Maybe I was afraid to ask. But I was fired from my internship a few weeks before the semester ended.

One of the heads of the Art Therapy program didn’t appear to be on board with me either. I can’t remember much except she did say, “This experiment didn’t work out, you won’t be able to finish the program.” (I’m not sure if this experiment had to do with the fact that I was the only man in class, I’ll never know.) I felt so cold at that point. Like crap. I should have yelled or spoke up, maybe threatened a lawsuit.  (I didn’t do any of those things)  All these “what ifs” kept entering my mind years after spending my life in an education cubicle, away from my real world. So after 2 semesters, my journey to becoming an art therapist ended. I got kicked out of graduate school because I didn’t meet expectations. And I had student loans to boot. I didn’t even tell my classmates that I was done. I was humiliated and embarrassed about it all. I was still stunned years later.

I’ve learned to cope with it the best I could. I could have used a little art therapy, and I eventually got back to producing art again. I didn’t produce art during my grad school experience. I sacrificed a huge part of my life that didn’t work out. Sometimes, I feel that if I had more confidence in myself, then maybe I wouldn’t have attempted grad school.   I could’ve been a contender!  But then if I didn’t attempt art therapy, I was still contemplating getting an MFA in painting somewhere.   But that didn’t happen.

Later, I decided to relocate to Santa Fe because I felt this might be my last chance on doing something amazing in my life. People look at art as a career here. There’s tons of galleries and opportunities. And I’ve stayed here for nearly 4 years now, and things are starting to take off.

Sometimes I still question myself if art is the right path. Then again, I can’t think of anything else I’d rather do. I just want to keep my life simple and make great art as my contribution to society. And I tend to overthink anyway. I would like to think that somehow, my grad school experience will help me in the long run. It’s not easy to forget considering I have student loans that remind me of that strange time in my life. I hate being in debt. But I have to stay tough, or it will destroy me. I’m trying to stay tough, because I’m tired of putting a negative spin on my past.

I’m ready for a more positive future with my art. I want the darkness behind me. If I get caught up too much in this muck, it will stall my life and keep me from living in the moment. Then I’ll really need therapy. And I still consider art great therapy. This path (my current art career) has a heart, and I need that.   I just want to paint and travel now.

Santa Fe has been like my grad school, because I’ve learned so much, as an artist and human being.  School will always be in session as long as I’m alive.  There’s so much art to do, so much to learn, so many places I want to visit.  To me, that’s living.  That’s education.  I have changed so much in the past few years.  Even my own family doesn’t recognize me!  I can get philosophical of why things didn’t work out in grad school, but I won’t. I just don’t want to be stuck in the past. Cause I’m feeling good about the present so I could have a good future.  That’s what matters in the end.