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Drawing Her Voice

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June 10, 2019 | By Washington County Community Foundation

Art Expression Photo

“NO! They’re mine!

Alice was yelling again. The art therapist in charge of the after-school art program winced, but was unsurprised. Another student had asked Alice for a piece of blue paper (earlier, she had taken them from all the other tables) and as usual, she refused to share.

Alice was a challenge since the start of the program. If it wasn’t a problem with sharing, it was her frustration with completing the assignment and getting upset. Or she would pose seemingly endless questions and interrupt the art therapist in a bid for her constant attention. In this case, the art therapist patiently addressed the situation and a sulking Alice reluctantly shared her blue paper.

The next week, the project was to make “Dream Pillows.” Students would use pastel sticks to decorate silk pillows with their individual interpretations of Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.  

To the art therapist’s surprise, Alice intently worked on her pillow in silence. Curious, the art therapist asked Alice about her picture. She replied that the design featured her father who had been shot in the war. When the art therapist asked if he was better, Alice quietly said, “He’s in heaven.”

Suddenly all of the little girl’s challenging behaviors made sense within the context of her loss. The picture on the pillow had helped her to express herself in a way she’d been unable to voice previously. Another student complimented Alice on her pillow, and she smiled shyly.

From that point, Alice’s behavior during the art workshops wasn’t perfect, but she was friendlier with the other students and a little quieter. And the art therapist now had a little more understanding of Alice’s actions.

Reflecting on that incident, the art therapist said, “That’s what these workshops are for – to help kids learn how to comment on and compliment the work of their classmates, instead of being in competition with them. By honoring their art, the students learn respect for themselves and others.”