The process of creating art can strengthen coaching arrangements by assisting clients in achieving personal development goals. This paper proposes to bring forward the specific qualities consistently present in art making that are in direct alignment with the goals of personal development. It will discuss which common coaching techniques are best supported by client art making, and how those areas are supported. Finally, this paper will show, in a coaching context, how some common client goals have been approached with art making projects designated for that purpose.
For the purposes of this discussion, “art making” refers to the process whereby an individual creates a drawing, painting, sculpture, story or dance. This process encompasses the whole of the creative path, from beginning (the point of “Inspiration”) to the end (following any steps of “Elaboration”) (Nathan & Mirviss, 1998, p.14). Mostly, the benefits of art-based activities in personal development have been widely associated with the process by which something is created rather that the product that is created.
Qualities of art making
Art making contains several qualities that are already conducive to personal development. Creativity opens individuals to change, encourages authenticity and allows individuals access to a greater understanding of their individual potential. The experiential nature of making art supports self-directed learning while the quality of attention required to work inside of an artistic process enables clients to stay with an exploration longer, and therefore dive deeper into the subject of their learning (themselves). Image-making serves to provide alternate perspectives, simply by offering concrete pictures that reflect back to the individual what they created (Javier-Cerulli, G., 2012).
Creativity assists greatly in personal development. The act of spontaneously generating something that has not been there before (even if this “something” is merely a straight line drawn on a blank piece of paper) demands the presence of original vision. Creativity is less interested in formerly-designated boundaries than in introducing a new perspective, whether that perspective is in the form of a painting or the form of a previously unseen solution to a problem.
Michell Cassou and Stewart Cubley, in their book, Life, Paint and Passion (1995), state that another result of the practice of creativity is greater authenticity. Making art requires internal listening for which step is next, (the next paint brush stroke, the next dance movement, etc.) as opposed to the gathering of an answer from an outside source. “[Creativity] is an intelligence that is superior to any solution contrived by the mind. If you dare follow the inner call without reservation, you are putting your trust in a reality that can never be captured by ideas or concepts.” (Cassou & Cubley, 1995, p.152). Creativity requires that an individual be authentic in their actions by demanding that they listen to their own voice in order to make the next move.
There is an experiential aspect to art making that supports deep learning. (J. Lachman, telephone interview, June 21, 2012). Art making requires activeness or “doing,” whether this means using a brush to paint, a pen to draw or a body to dance. Art does not manifest, simply by thinking, or even by discussing. The action of making something provides an individual with concrete creativity practice which can be taken into other parts of their lives (A. Veston, telephone interview, June 25, 2012). It also serves to engage other types of learning (kinesthetic, visual, emotional) encouraging long-lasting learning. In a coaching setting, art making is something that can be “done now,” witnessed and supported by the coach. Because art making is active, it empowers us to move forward with our learning immediately (J. Lachman).
Some coaches, art teachers and art therapists insist that the energy and attention that is unique to making art allows for deep personal exploration. For many individuals, art making offers an experience of “fun.” (A. Veston). For clients who view making a painting or drawing of their future vision as more engaging than merely discussing that vision, a deeper and more detailed knowledge of their preferences may be afforded to them, as they would be likely to devote more time and attention to an art-centered coaching tool (Allen, 1995, p. 17). The meditative aspect of making art potentially releases some of the “filters” that might exist otherwise, allowing clients insights that might not be available by other means (Malchiodi, 2007). Making art energizes individuals in ways that other methods of self-discovery processes cannot (Malchiodi).
Art making often generates an image-based product for the artist to view and keep, providing another perspective to the artist regarding the subject that he or she depicts (Allen, 1995). In a coaching context, this is useful in creating awareness around a client’s existing perspective. They may choose to visually depict a situation, or literally reframe a problem by creating an image of an alternate perspective of a challenging issue.
Coaching process areas best supported by art making
Although client art making may be used at any point of the coaching process (wherever the client and coach feel it would be beneficial), certain steps of the coaching process may benefit from it more than others. Image-making has already been shown to assist clients in: accessing greater self-awareness, clarifying vision, accessing personal potential, supporting accountability, and of course, developing creativity. Client art making may also be used to better support clients with predominantly visual or kinesthetic learning styles.
Creating Awareness. If a client is conscious of how making art can foster learning about themselves, they can use it to understand their preferences, interests, strengths and where they tend to point their attention in their current lives. “Every step of making a painting involves a choice that is a reflection of the artist.” explained art teacher, Alex Veston in an interview on June 25th, 2012. Deciding what perspective to depict in a painting, choosing the brush size and choosing whether or not to use certain colors are all personal expressions of the individual that is doing the painting. Sharon Regan, founder of Paint Journey, claims that through expressive painting (a form of painting that is less focused on technique and more concerned with the flow of expression that the process generates), clients gain a deeper understanding of their intuitive selves and on their existing system of beliefs (2010).
Creating Clarity.Both the process and the product of an expressive art activity can reveal a deeper understanding to the client than they had before embarking on it, and may even provide the foundation for forward movement, states expressive arts therapist, Soni Tiounoff, in a phone interview (July 23, 2012). Lachman supports this view, explaining that through the process of creating a dance or story, we create an “emotional map” which reveals how the subject of the piece affects us at a heart level. When a client depicts their present situation or future through these means, they might understand from the emotions that are present during their creative process how they are currently reacting to their that situation. Furthermore, Pat Allen (1995) argues that understanding our emotions actually assists us in making clear and right action steps.
Exploring Potential. Art making may assist a client in exploring their potential by expanding their awareness through right-brain exploration – especially if their normal tendency is to process this information in an analytical or “left-brained” fashion. Veston expands on this idea by explaining that art reveals to us our greatest potential by presenting us with an activity that uses our whole brain. Indeed, Malchiodi agrees that the creative process is conducive to what she terms as “individuation” or, reaching one’s potential. Cassou and Cubley (1995) express the opinion that the flexibility inherent in art making takes people out of self-limitation by demanding that they be open-minded enough to create something in the moment.
Goal Creation. For coaching clients, being able to imagine what their lives will look like once they make changes to it is extremely helpful in fleshing out a plan for their futures (Nathan & Mirviss). The imagining and image-making process is a limitless source, able to produce multiple details springing from a client’s vision. Furthermore, creating a tangible, viewable form of this vision through painting, sculpture, drawing, etc. can provide a source of accountability to the coaching client who finds having a concrete version of their goals useful (Lee, 2011) in following through on their commitments. In using this technique to address a specific goal or focus, they might use image-making to depict a resolved conflict, or to map out action points of a plan created with non-art techniques, leaving them with a clearer sense of the work to be done in order to obtain their goals.
Developing Creativity. When a coaching client is clear that developing their creativity would forward the positive changes in their life, or, when increased access to creativity is a client’s coaching goal in itself, there are obvious benefits to using art making in their coaching process. A coach may support a client through the creative process of a simple art making project – from beginning to end – with a goal of assisting that client in discovering which process points are more challenging than others for that client. The client may then wish to design actions that address those challenges, so that any future creative processes become less obstucted for them in general.