Art Materials – Curiosity, Connection and Inspiration
By Briony Tronson (Placement Student CATA, Grad.Dip Therapeutic Arts Practice, B.A. Psychology, Adv.Dip. Transpersonal Art Therapy)
“Making [art] can be a kind of conversation in which we become immersed in something other than ourselves, a reverie in which we explore and ‘dream into’ the materials within our hands” (Tufnell & Crickmay, 2004. p.69)
The ways we interact with art materials is intriguing to consider. The words ‘spontaneous’ and ‘improvisation’ are two words that immediately come to mind. I have often wondered if it is our connection to the materials that we are working with, and the relationship that we cultivate together, that ultimately inspires us, and perhaps on some level compels us in the way we create art. In this way, perhaps it is about approaching our art-making with curiosity, with the aim to “connect directly and immediately with the world as we experience it- as opposed to thinking about it” (Finlay, 2011. p.23)
I know personally when I am presented with a table of art materials (whether this be paints, pastels, natural objects, fabrics, string, glitter etc…) I notice that I am often initially drawn to their visual aesthetics, before a subtler impulse compels me to explore their other qualities in greater detail. Each material is alive with potential and invites me to interact with this potential, and perhaps in turn ‘my own potentiality’- almost like an ongoing dialogue between us. It is in this way, I believe that as art-makers we are continually invited by our art materials to be in relationship with them, a co-collaboration of sorts that compels us to create something new and emergent from this exchange.
“I roll a dried broad bean between my thumb and fore-finger. It feels slightly waxy and cool to hold. Its surface is uneven, yet it feels smooth to touch. I hold some of these beans in my hand and shake them. I feel a desire to scatter them. For some reason, now that they are in my hands, they hold some kind of hope and possibility.” (Personal Reflection)
As someone training to be an Art Therapist, I have always had a curiosity in how people work emergently with different art materials. It feels a bit like a ‘dance’ of possibility between art-maker and art-material in any given moment; moment by moment. The way a person spontaneously chooses to flow paint across the page, the colours they choose, perhaps even the associated smells; all these things have the wonderful potential to open up new discoveries about ourselves and how we engage with the world.
Arts Therapists also often make careful considerations as to what materials we offer the people with whom we work. Sometimes this is broad and sometimes it is quite specific. Much of the work CATA does is with children who are largely non-verbal and have limited physical mobility. Curiously I have found sensory play is particularly engaging for children in these spaces. There seems to be something about texture and touch, which ignites a certain curiosity when held in a child’s hand. In this way, trays of sand, shaving cream (mixed with paint), natural objects and water all become a wonderful extended ‘art palette’ so to speak. To watch these children, engage so enthusiastically with such a broad array of materials is incredibly inspiring, and once again, I feel is largely to do with the unspoken dialogue held between art-maker and art-material. For all of us, I believe it is within this reciprocal relationship that we are encouraged to create with ongoing inspiration and wonder.