Response Art – Bringing Expression to the Experience

Blog written by:  Sue Wallingford


One way we as art therapists work with difficult material and issues presented in therapy is through art, in the form of what we call “response art”.  Response art gives the art therapist an opportunity to “look” again and process the therapeutic experience in a meaningful way. Being here in Cambodia affords for many meaningful experiences daily, every minute……my mind and heart is full. I have so many images that need expression from this very profound trip and I look forward to quiet days at home when I can really process and honor some of the images and memories I hold.

Response art is one way to do that.  It is really about taking in the experience, holding it closely, allowing it to resound with you for a while and then expressing outwardly through art telling how the experience has affected you.  The images themselves might be a clear representation or something that is more abstract and expresses something more visceral.  It might be expressed in the form of hope for the situation or one that sits in the despair.  Likely the art will change just in the act of making it and realizations and messages abound in the images, sort of like dreams do.  Because art making is partially from the unconscious, lots of times images occur that you were not even aware that were there.  I like to call these presents from God, and either bad or good, help to guide us.

I would like to share one of the art pieces I have made since being here and tell you a little bit about my process.  Please look for other’s art expressions in the next few days.

This drawing began as a scribble drawing (where the artist closes her eyes, literally scribbles on the page and then makes something out of it).  I began it on the plane coming here.  Upon opening my eyes to look at it I saw very little in the scribble to work with.  Being weary form the long travels I put my sketch book away for awhile and took a nap.  When I came back to it the image of the woman’s face looking to the earth was clear.  So I started there.  Ever so slowly she began to emerge on the page and I knew she had important work she was doing.  I also knew she was very ancient and the archetype of mother.  When roots began to form as legs I knew her work was deep and connected to many years past.   Her hands seemed to me to be busy forming something so I drew a big bowl in front of her.  I knew the bowl was important and that I had to fill it with life affirming blood.  Ah!  All the blood that was spilled during the Kymer Rouge!  She was trying to free the dead and bring rest to their souls!   The roots of her tree then became arms to hold still buried babies and the young children so brutally murdered by Pol Pot’s party.  After visiting Angkor Wat and seeing the roots of trees literally encasing the ruins there, her body even made more sense.  I marveled at how art so many times shows me the way even before I get there.

I guess in a small way too, she is telling (maybe even validating) about the importance of the work we have been so blessed to do here with the girls at Transitions.   She also tells me that this in not just my work or the work of my group but the work we all really have to do if we want to resurrect the souls of so many of our fellow human beings that have been mistreated, tormented and forgotten.  And we have to remain intent upon this task for as long as it takes if we really want to make a difference.  And it is hard work.

Thanks again for staying with us, your presence and love even though far away, is felt.  I hope in seeing the images and hearing our words your care extends to the beautiful people we meet everyday.  So while suffering is truly here there is also an abundance of love here……pretty amazing.

3 thoughts on “Response Art – Bringing Expression to the Experience

  1. Your drawing is amazing. I am so moved by it as well as the nature of it’s creation. The work that all of you are doing is truly magnificent and is a God sent to the women of Transitions.

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