Visual Narrative Pastoral Care

img_4896We make art together. We tell our stories together. We create narratives from images together.

Art Therapist, author and expert, Shaun McNiff writes about art therapy from an artistic and therapeutic perspective. He writes, “Art heals by transforming isolation and connecting us to others, to places, and to ourselves in life-affirming ways.”1

Art making and creativity are coping skills recommended and employed for many years by caregivers. These are the methods that can help one deal with depression, addiction and recovery, among other traumas. As a young person, with the pressures and insecurities that come with adolescence, art can be an outlet that is meditative. While making art one focuses on the smallest detail – how the curve of cheek contours and the dimple in the cheek emerges with a smile – how the light bounces off the skin of the red apple. The hyper-focus on small details has meditative effects, like lowered heart rate and reduced anxiety. The physical effects of creativity are not the only benefits. Art making is a manifestation of story telling. We can find our narratives through art.

This type of story telling is the work of Art in the Image. We make art together. We tell our stories together. We create narratives from images together.

dsc_0441Pictured here in an image is from the mural creation session on September 22, 2016, one of the young adults from the United Methodist Children’s Home is painting red x’s around the photo in the center of the black man. We make art in community and this image came together to show the pain in the stories of many of the young adults. The young man who placed this image of a man in the painting, expressed a strong narrative of victimization. He has been through a lot in his life. He had been outspoken about his grief on that day. He repeated himself several times, implying that he did not feel heard. He placed the photo in the very center of the image, in the middle of a pink circle that already drew attention. The eye is drawn to this image first. In the composition of this mural this young man is heard and seen loud and clear. This photo is surrounded in a pink circle and the x’s around the edge have that haunting quality. The young woman who drew the x’s was also expressing her narrative of erasure. The man is prominent on the canvas, but the x’s negate him. In group together we spoke about the killing of so many black people by police violence. This dimension of the work speaks on a national level, while simultaneously being deeply personal. This image could speak to their fear of this violence that these young people of color experience daily.

McNiff speaks to the value of working with images that are upsetting: “Ironically, it is working with disturbing images that best demonstrates the value of opening to the expressiveness of an object or imaginal figure. The disturbing image is the unlikely savior who may in some cases offer more emotional support than the pastoral landscape.”2 Art making is a form of narrative expression and when the life story of the artist includes trauma or violence the images produced may reflect the unsettling nature of this viciousness. McNiff suggests that when the images that emerge in care giving art are unsettling, these moments can be productive. These images can render an event so painful that a person does not have the words, into a physical object, and in this process the trauma becomes manageable.

We make art together. We tell our stories together. We create narratives from images together.

The young people in foster care have experienced erasure, abandonment and perhaps most damaging is the lack of agency they have in their own lives. A person can take agency back in creating art about their personal narrative. They can begin to tell their stories again, and shaping their life story can shape their framework for their present experiences as well. Karen Scheib addresses the narrative model of pastoral care in her book Pastoral Care: Telling the Stories of Our Lives. She speaks to the effect of violence on the narrative of an individual: “Violence and abuse are forms of trauma that shape one’s lifestory and identity.”3 The benefit of working with the disturbing image is that, to the creator, these images can be comforting, eventually moving the artist toward a new narrative.

Screen Shot 2017-03-11 at 11.42.14 AMThis image is from a mural created on December 8, 2016 at the United Methodist Children’s Home. In the top of this image you can see a piece of paper that has been crumpled and then glued onto the canvas. We spoke about why this young man crumpled the paper and he suggested that it made the paper look real. This image could be seen as a representation of the damage the young man that placed it there had experienced. The picture from the magazine has been damaged, yet still remains intact on the canvas. “Paintings can be viewed from the perspective rhythm. Visual patterns, repetitions, ascending and descending lines,” McNiff suggests when he writes about analyzing creative expressions. I can see in this second mural the rhythmic movement of the paint and the patterns created both in the paint and mixed media elements. There was much movement and upheaval in the community during the time of this second mural. I know that two of the community members who participated in this mural were in the process of being expelled from the program. The frantic movement of the mural could be capturing this element of uncertainty and liminality.

McNiff presents a bridge between artistic imagination and conversational therapies when he describes the function of imagination in stories. “Imagination offers new versions of old stories and forms an unlikely alliance with cognitive and narrative therapies.”4 Imagination is key in taking a narrative that may be negative and imagining it another way. This framework to address one’s life story is key in creating generative narratives that will help a young person thrive. Scheib describes one of the functions of narrative formation: “A primary function of stories is to give meaning and shape to what might otherwise seem like random unconnected events.”5 Expressing one’s narrative through art is productive because it couples together the meaning- making associated with this connection of events, and the healing power of art making. McNiff describes the healing power of art: “Art heals by cultivating imagination with a trust that a revitalized spirit will treat its own disorders.”6 It is the imagination that can be awakened in art making. This imagination can provide be an influx of hope that an adolescent may need to cope with violence or their own narrative of having grown up in foster care.

We make art together. We tell our stories together. We create narratives from images together.

 

1 McNiff, Shaun. Art Heals: How Creativity Cures the Soul. (Boston: Shambhala, 2004), 51.

2 McNiff, Shaun. Art Heals: How Creativity Cures the Soul. (Boston: Shambhala, 2004), 96.

3 Scheib, Karen D. Pastoral Care: Telling the Stories of Our Lives. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2016), 135.

4 McNiff, Shaun. Art Heals: How Creativity Cures the Soul. (Boston: Shambhala, 2004), 105.

5 Scheib, Karen D. Pastoral Care: Telling the Stories of Our Lives. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2016), 7.

6 McNiff, Shaun. Art Heals: How Creativity Cures the Soul. (Boston: Shambhala, 2004), 104.

 

 

 

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