Tortured and Joyous

Rebecca’s Sketch for the Positive Art Therapy Book

We, Gioia and Rebecca, have recently written a textbook on the way we combine art therapy and positive psychology.  Thankfully, it’s in the last stages of publication and all we have to do is go over the final proofs and pick a cover.

Initially our publisher gave us a library of images from which to choose.  We scoured through hundreds of stock photos looking for one that would capture a sense of possibility, of hope, transformation, etc.

We finally found an image we thought came close to suiting our purposes–a surrealistic illustration of a man standing below a tree whose clusters of leaves looked like patches of clouds (we’d show it here but it’s copyrighted).  It looked like a Magritte painting (think of the classic man in a derby hat floating in the clouds).  We liked the dreamy quality of the image but the backdrop of the sky was grey and the figure was alone.  Not only did it not communicate hope and happiness, it was downright bleak.

When we asked Routledge if we could modify the image, understandably they told us that it was copyrighted and couldn’t be changed. On the other hand, they also informed us that we could use own artwork. We decided we’d at least try to see if we could come up with a brighter variation that had a dreamy tree but also more people.  Worst case scenario, if we couldn’t come up with something we liked we could always fall back on the stock image.

Because there was a deadline and Gioia was helping out her father who’d just gone in the hospital, Rebecca had to do the artwork alone. In order to “include” Gioia in the process, we decided that Rebecca would copy a tree Gioia had painted a few years back (the image above on the left).

After several sketches, Rebecca came up with a preliminary design.  When she showed it to a group of family members and friends who were over for dinner, her sister said, “It’s beautiful–really beautiful! But does it have to look so… so…” and after struggling to find the right word, she said “tortured?!”

Everyone burst out laughing because, knowing Rebecca as they all did, it was immediately understood that, in fact, it could only look that way.  Rebecca, despite all of her positivity, is and has always been “tortured”.   It was no wonder that her version of Gioia’s lively and exuberant tree would be more bent, twisted, and craggy.  And, for those of you who know Gioia (whose name is pronounced Joy-ah, which tells you something right there), you can see how her tree, on the other hand, would be positively bouncing and brimming with energy and light.

Now, if we put on our positive art therapy hats and shift our perceptions to “attend to the good”, we can say that there is actually more to Rebecca’s artwork than just the impression that her tree looks more “tortured” than Gioia’s.  Rebecca included people in the landscape and there appears to be an aura around them as if light were shining on them or they were glowing.  In addition, the sky is bright blue and the clouds are light and airy.  We could also say that there are elements to Gioia’s tree that make it more than just superficially “joyous”, such as the darker and richly textured roots and the dashes throughout the piece that might look like stitches sowing a patchwork together.

The take-away is that even if we are more naturally “tortured” like Rebecca, there are also positive things that balance the more negative aspects of her personality, such as her connection to others and a sense of hope.  And that Gioia, who is so naturally buoyant and bright, also has depth and complexity.  Either way, the thing that we love about art is that it captures and communicates these nuances and reveals them so that the rich dimensions of our personalities are eloquently expressed.

Positively, Rebecca and Gioia

Art Directive

Draw, paint, or sculpt a tree. If you need inspiration, you can either use Gioia’s or Rebecca’s artwork, or any other image of a tree that you come across.  See what your tree reveals about you–you can jot down what feeling(s) it evokes, what metaphors the art elements express, or any other reactions that you have to it.  If you feel comfortable, you can ask someone you know and trust or even someone you don’t know at all what impressions they get from the images.  And, of course, feel free to share them here on our facebook page. We’d love to see your tree!