Lisa Mitchell

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Forcing creativity? It won’t work for long.

Feb 2, 2017 | 4 comments

Last year was a year of putting my work out into the world.  I lectured in 25 different cities across the US, I taught five 4-week online programs and co-hosted a 2 day online creativity festival.  I launched my book and celebrated with 80 colleagues.  I wrote 35 blog posts and more emails than I can count.  2016 was a year of taking my creative harvest and sharing it with thousands of people.  I loved it.  And I learned from it.

Let creativity lead

In a 4 hour long, heartfelt conversation with my friend, Shelley, yesterday, I heard myself saying, “I don’t want to force anything right now.  I don’t want to squeeze a blog post out just because I know I can.  I don’t want to white knuckle anything. I’m done leading my creativity.  This year I want my creativity to lead me.”  She teared up a teensy bit and put her hand to her heart.  It resonated with her and we decided to hold each other in this intention.  And so, we closed our computers and put down our pens.  Rather than pound out the details for the retreat we were planning, we just talked.  We talked in swirls and ideas and metaphors and personal experiences.  It was time for lunch and I asked, “So what should we do?”  Shelley said, “Well, I think we need to just keep talking.  Shall we set aside time to do that regularly?”  I agreed, “Yup, we just need to keep talking, but how about we just let the talking part emerge out of just being together.”  It felt perfect.  It is perfect.

I’ve always struggled with Mary Oliver’s poem, Wild Geese.  I adore it.  But the first lines have baffled me….

You do not have to be good.

You do not have to walk on your knees

For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.

It sounds good.  Like there’s an invitation there that’s delicious.  But formerly, doing what my soft body loves has repelled me with images of eating multiple cartons of Ben and Jerry’s while binge watching Grey’s Anatomy.  And, that has felt self-indulgent, non-productive, without a sense of purpose or passion.  Not even creative.

Now, this year, this moment in my life, I get it.  I understand in my bones that Mary Oliver is inviting us to stop striving and white knuckling and squeezing out that barely baked piece of art.  It is an invitation to allow creativity to take the lead and guide us to discovering new ideas that fuel our work.

If it wants to make something, it will

One of the projects on my calendar this year is to produce and co-host Create Fest, the 2nd annual creativity festival for mental health professionals.  It’s a huge undertaking and I wasn’t sure I’d be able to do it without white knuckling.  So I hesitated.  I put it off.  Then a little spark of curiosity led me to ask Rick Hanson to be a guest speaker.  He said yes and was very supportive of the Create Fest mission to inspire therapists to do creative experiential work.  And then I asked myself, “Who else do I really want to talk with?” Which led to interviews with some of my most favorite authors!  And with this sense of ease, Create Fest is shaping into a beautiful creative collection of conversations and inspiration that I can’t wait to share.

So many times, in the creative process, we make the mistake of beginning with only the end in mind.  A painting to hang above the couch, a memoir about childhood, an online program that will sell, a therapeutic technique that will teach a specific skill.  We drive the creative process as if it is a navigable train and we miss the richness of the experience.  When I was writing my book, Creativity as Co-Therapist, I was the most disciplined I have ever known myself to be.  I forced myself to hermit one weekend a month and do nothing but write.  It was excruciating at times.  I’m proud of what I created, but there is a part of me that wonders if that was the best way to let that piece of work emerge.  If I had been nicer to myself, or on a looser timeline, or with a softer touch—I wonder what my creativity could have led me to.

I have another writing project now that has emerged in the most organic and beautiful way.  My mother and I are collaborating and we are writing what we call Mother/Daughter Perspectives.  Our writing endeavor is a way for her and me to share the process of our evolving relationship and history.  We now have a list of shared events and moments.  Each week we choose one of those moments and write from our hearts about our memories, our experiences, and our perspectives.  When we share these every week the phone line vibrates with truth and intensity and so much possibility.  We don’t know where this writing endeavor will take us—it is the leader, really.  What I do know is that I want to follow it to see where it goes.

I think we need to consciously plant seeds for our creative process to thrive.  Last year I harvested—maybe even clear cut.  This year, the seeds are showing up in surprising places.  I’ve fed my creativity with new information and experiences because that’s what nourishes the soil for new ideas to grow. I plan to share more about what I’ve been doing to plant those seeds in future posts.  But for now, I hope you consider this.

In order to create, artists need to fertilize and plant seeds.  And therapists, are, in fact artists.

What could you stop white knuckling?  What creative endeavor could you allow to take the lead?

I’d love to have you join me in the ease of unfolding.

(And stay tuned for Create Fest 2017—because it is becoming something wonderful!)

Do you have the guts to make honest art?

Apr 27, 2016 | 6 comments

Do you make honest art? Do you encourage your clients to make honest art?

What is honest art?

Honest paintings move us to tears and spread hair raising tingles.

Honest poems pierce denial and reach into places unseen.

Honest art speaks the unspoken and doesn’t need translation.  It’s raw.  It’s real.  It’s a birth right.

Art therapy and honest art.

Allie and I used to make honest art on the tables that I recycled from a high school chemistry lab.  When I found them in a dump pile behind the high school I thought they’d be perfect for my new art studio.  They were large and smooth and free for the taking.  When I lugged them to my office I didn’t anticipate they’d also be substrates for some of the most honest painting I’d ever witnessed.

Allie was a teen in pain.  She was lost on a path to nowhere.  Pot and self-harm were her most trusted companions.  But she loved to paint.   She would come into session and let her art take the lead. She didn’t paint on paper or canvas.  Instead she found the smooth laminate of those chem lab tables to be the most gratifying surface for her self-expression.   Entire stories would unfold onto those table tops.  Birds with wings spread wide, girls wrapped in barbed wire, rainbow designs, and a Tetris network of lines came out to live a short moment of color and line and texture.  It felt to me like her courage to allow her paint brush to speak for her was infinite.  She didn’t have any hang-ups about how her art should look or what it should be.  Her painting was an unflinching expression of realness.  She let me watch.  Sometimes she wanted me to paint with her.  Mostly our sessions were encapsulated hours filled by mindful awareness of her uncensored truths.

And, at the end of session, she would take the palette knife and scrape the table clean.  She’d get a soapy sponge and wipe off any remaining residue, readying the table for another day of honest painting.  She didn’t need documentation of her art.  She didn’t need a piece of paper to frame and hang on the wall. Read More… »

How do you treat your art? It really does matter.

Oct 4, 2015 | 9 comments

Can we use our relationship with our art to improve our relationship with people?

I think we can.  I think if we practice relating to our art in a loving way, we can strengthen our ability to have healthy and loving relationships with people.  Our art is an extension of self, and when we treat it this way, it can be beautiful and engaging.

The first barrier to having a good relationship with your art is one that I see people grapple with on a daily basis.  Whether our art is a painting, a performance, a carefully crafted speech, or conducting a therapy session we are taught to evaluate it as if it was an object.  We tend to look at it with comparison and judgement.  We pick at the flaws and try to correct them.  Rather than relating to our art by engaging with it, we hold it up, evaluate it and give it a grade.

Sure there is a time for evaluating our art, but why not practice relating to it first? 

Why not engage with it as if it was a dearly beloved?  Someone who you want to give your full attention to. Someone  you love dearly.

When we enter into conversation with our art in this way, we are practicing a beautifully healthy relationship to self.  We are curious, kind, compassionate, and the imperfections are far less important than the relationship to our art. Our conversation shifts from objectifying statements to genuine questions that are aimed at deepening the relationship rather than changing it.

how do you treat your art?

Some of my favorite questions to ask when engaging with my art are:

What am I most curious about?

What is my art asking me to pay attention to?

What shapes or phrases or moves do I treasure or love?

What is my art inviting me to do next?

Is there something new here that I haven’t seen or heard before (regardless of whether I like it or not)?

What does my art have to say to me?

How would I respond to this (that my art is saying) if my art was a dear friend?

When we think about our art in this relational way, and we interact with it conversationally, we are practicing a collaborate stance.  A way of being with it that is healthy and beautiful.

When I teach therapists and clients to relate to their art in this way, it invites a transformative shift in perspective that releases them from a critical, shaming view of their art and work.

Try a few of these questions and see how your art responds.

Please, I’d love it if you’d contribute your experience and ideas about relating to your art to practice relating to others in the comments box below.

Book Review: Imagination in Action by Shaun McNiff

Aug 19, 2015 | 2 comments


Imagination in Action book reviewShaun McNiff offers us a wonderful creative invitation in his new book, Imagination in Action: The Secrets of Unleashing Creative Expression (Shambala).  He serves up his wisdom as art therapist, professor, and artist and offers it all as a spark for our creative response.  It is in McNiff’s nature to make his art in community, and it is no surprise that his book invites artists of all kinds to listen in on his thoughts about our own and others’ creative expression that stem from a life time of work in the field.

I’m a devoted fan of McNiff’s and was thrilled that his new book matches the tone of his others.  His words are encouraging, honest, and real—so much so that I often feel like he and I are having a conversation.  He implicitly trusts the process and his faith in his reader to embody this trust comes through in infinite ways.

With a nice blend of personal and professional examples, theoretical discussion, and invitations to practice, McNiff succeeds in proving that “Creativity is a force of nature and can be as natural as breathing.”  He encourages the reader to look at creativity as permeating all things and in that sense, states, “We simply can’t fence creativity in.” Read More… »

Do you or your clients suffer from art injury? Here’s what you can do to heal.

Jun 18, 2015 | 1 comment

Do you or your clients suffer from art injury?  Here's how to heal....You won’t find art injury described on

The symptoms and treatments for art injury aren’t searchable on Google.  And yet, art injury is a real thing.

I’m not talking about the kind of injury you get when the tip of your glue gun makes contact with your finger instead of the sequins you are supposed to be adhering to your altered book.  I’m also not talking about when your easel falls on you or your carving knife slips.  An art injury doesn’t result in physical damage.  It actually goes deeper.

Art injury cuts to the core and characterizes our beliefs about who we are or aren’t and how we express ourselves in the world. 

In the course of my work as an art therapist and a trainer, I have had many people tell me their art injury narratives. These stories are very real experiences that have instilled negative beliefs about the person’s artistic ability or creative capacity. Read More… »

Find your Inner Art Patron, Quiet your Inner Critic Part 2

Mar 19, 2015 | 5 comments

Find Your Inner Art Patron, Quiet Your Inner Critic

Last week, we explored the role of art patrons throughout history and highlighted the mutual benefits that artists and their patrons enjoyed.  I also encouraged you to view therapy as your art form, and to examine the role that your inner art patron has taken in supporting your art.  You can read the entire blog here. 

Your inner critic can spew paralyzing criticism.

Your inner critic knows exactly how to throw you into a doubt-filled tizzy.  Precisely what to say, exactly what to pick on, how to keep those thoughts cycling around in your head—these are all part of your inner critic’s job description.  It’s easy enough to embrace the idea that your inner critic is actually trying to protect you with these seemingly heartless actions.  That your inner critic loves you just as much as your other parts, and is motivated by loving, mama bear type intentions. Yeah, Yeah. But, the big question remains, What do you do about an inner critic who is so loud and obnoxious that you can’t get on with your art?

How do you quiet your inner critic so you can continue creating your amazing art?

My answers go back to your inner art patron.  Remember how much your inner art patron believes in you?  How he/she supports you in the various ways that are necessary for you to make your art?  And how your art patron has already given you a vote of confidence?

Your art patron holds a particular space for you.  He/She understands that there will be ups and downs, mistakes and successes, and really gets the idea that you don’t need to be monitored.  The space is enough support.  It says, “No matter how it looks, or what you make, it is your art, and I support you in that endeavor.”

I think where we run into problems with our inner critic is when we allow him/her direct access to us.  We listen without a filter or a buffer or a mediator.  And this direct access gives our inner critic power in a domain that actually belongs to the art patron. Read More… »

Find Your Inner Art Patron, Quiet Your Inner Critic Part 1

Mar 13, 2015 | 1 comment

Find your inner art patron; quiet your inner critic

A patron is to an artist as yeast is to bread.

In order to sustain your creativity you, need support.  The most successful form of support comes in the form of a special kind of  relationship.  Much like yeast in bread, your inner art patron infuses your art with the elements it requires in order to rise.  And, just like yeast cannot become bread unless it is kneaded into dough, your patron also depends on you to be an artist.  For, without the existence of your art, your patron cannot become a patron.

Throughout history, art patrons have supported artists in various ways.  Patrons have allowed their artists to them to live with them in their homes and castles.  They have  commissioned art work.  And they’ve paid for their living expenses and art supplies. If it not for their art patronage, many of the brilliant masters’ works would not exist. In addition, the status and reputation that patrons have held because of their patronage has been recognized, celebrated, and highly regarded.

Michelangelo was supported by Julius II while he painted the Sistine Chapel.  Just think how amazing it would have been to by Julius II!

Ambroise Voullard  abandoned his law career in 1895 only to buy 150 of Cezanne’s paintings (who was virtually unknown) and exhibit them in the artist’s first ever show in Paris.  He went on to enjoy extraordinary relationships with the artists that he sponsored.  He often hosted dinners where the likes of Picasso, Rouault, Degas, Renoir, and Manet could be found having heated discussions on modern art topics.

Friends and family are often recognized as essential art patrons, too.

M.C. Escher wouldn’t have been able to dedicate his life to art if his parents didn’t supplement his income for much of his life.

Vincent van Gogh’s brother, Theo, sacrificed luxuries in order to send Vincent money to live on and buy art supplies.

Claude Monet was dependent on friends and family for a very long time.

A patron has a unique relationship to an artist’s art.

When a patron enters into a supportive relationship with an artist, it means he believes and admires the artist.  He sees potential, but more than that, he values what the artist is saying and doing in present time.  Voullard took a risk on Cezanne.  He barely had enough money for all of the paintings, and couldn’t even afford to frame them all for the exhibit.  He created a make-shift gallery in an old farm house for his first show.  So, while the patron’s reputation and status certainly depends on the success of the painter’s art, his job is to truly support the artist’s capacity to continue creating.

The patron does not give critiques or evaluation to the artist.  The public and other artists do plenty of that.  Rather, the patron’s support serves to help the artist continue to create despite criticism or judgment.  It’s a powerful relationship for both artist and patron

Let’s look  at  the patron’s role when we expand the definition of art to include all creative endeavors.  Read More… »

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