Transformative: using art to heal and change

By Lucia Viti

“Artist is a verb. We don’t become an artist and then do art. We do art and then begin to feel like an artist.” — Tish McAllise Sjoberg

Tish McAllise Sjoberg invites you to creatively and fearlessly paint, dance, act, play music and write poetry to laud five years of artistic — and healing — breakthroughs on Saturday, Nov. 21, at Expressive Arts Studio @ 32nd & Thorn.

Prepare to saturate pages with windswept shapes and kaleidoscope colors; perform music with seasoned musicians; dance like no one’s watching; write the poetry of your heart-song; and witness the drama of “what’s yours” through Playback Theatre, all in the name of Expressive Arts Therapy.

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Tish McAllise Sjoberg to celebrate her fifth year at her studio (Courtesy of Expressive Arts Studio @ 32nd & Thorn)

So what is Expressive Arts Therapy (ExA) and how does it work? According to Sjoberg, an Expressive Arts therapist and owner of the North Park studio, ExA Therapy taps into visual art, music, drama, dance and poetry as a basis for discovery, healing and transformation. Therapy models work through grievances including illness, trauma, divorce and death. Art becomes a release, a respite, a way to communicate and unblock fear, and a pathway to reconnect with one’s artistic self.

“Expressive Arts Therapy is rooted in arts versus psychology,” Sjoberg said. “Although we [Expressive Arts therapists] are trained to work within the medical model, we focus on creative expression. We feed souls, nurture hearts and reduce stress through the language of art. We help those in survival mode to see the world through a creative lens to integrate beauty into their everyday lives.”

Unlike some forms of art therapy, ExA Therapy doesn’t interpret or add meaning to one’s art. Formal training is not required. There are no parameters, restrictions or judgments placed on artistic expression in any medium. Sjoberg remained adamant that students must be given a safe space to explore with no fear of critique.

“I don’t teach art,” the North Park resident said. “I provide a safe place to experiment. I give students the tools — no one is hung out to dry — to build creative confidence. I encourage everyone to follow their own longings and pleasures in art and life so they can find their own style and medium.”

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Paula Thomas and some of her artwork (Courtesy of Expressive Arts Studio @ 32nd & Thorn)

Sjoberg explained that Expressive Art Therapy offers a rich vocabulary to explore the tenants of work and play while tapping into the resources within to love living one’s life.

“Classes initiate art as expressions of joy, grief, gratitude, anxiety, passion, pain and inspiration,” she said. “Art becomes a space to explore opportunities to create change and grow our artist self if we choose. We title our artwork and talk about the challenges and woo-hoo moments without critique. The final product becomes an explanation of the resources that kept us going when we stepped up to the page and didn’t know what to do.”

No stranger to grief, Sjoberg used the death of her mother, father and beloved dog within a six-month timeframe as a catalyst to Expressive Arts Therapy. The graduate of the Expressive Arts Institute of San Diego became an avid painter and visual artist to honor the anniversary of her mother’s death by challenging herself to “365 Days of Art.”

“I never knew of my mother’s desire to be an artist until the last year of her life,” she continued. “My art is a daily occurrence so no one will fail to notice that I’m an artist. I don’t create masterpieces. My joy comes from color and words; the marriage of paint, pen, oil, and pastels on paper. The process itself is what makes my heart sing.”

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A couple from Germany take an Expressive Arts class (Courtesy of Expressive Arts Studio @ 32nd & Thorn)

Expressive Arts @ 32nd & Thorn offer a potpourri of workshops including Paint to Music, Art Church, Women’s Expression Session, So You Want to Write a Book, Visioning Journals, Art Happy Hour; and children’s painting and theater classes. Sjoberg noted the importance of building self-esteem through social interaction.

“No student is alone here,” she said. “Art is made in community with no expectations, no have-to’s and no deadlines. Students say and do whatever they want. We define ourselves as artists and sidestep the inner critic. Art doesn’t have to be beautiful. Good ol’ ugly art can tell a powerful story.”

Classes serve the homeless, at-risk populations including the chronically ill, hospice patients and staff, drug addicts, patients with developmental and physical disabilities, drug addicts and patients with eating disorders. Sojberg also works with elementary, middle and high school classrooms for an anti-bullying curriculum. All classes emphasize team building, creative visioning and conflict resolution.

“I am an art maker who loves working with people who don’t see themselves as artists,” she said. “Bring me your challenge and I will offer you art; the chance to play, paint, dance, sing, write, and act. And through this, you will create change.”

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