Process art with Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos Students
by Abby Harris-Ridker
On Wednesday May 23rd, I took 5 book group participants from Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos Alternative High School to do process art with Literature for All of Us’ friend Cal Calvird at his studio, Create Space. As Cal explained to our students, process art is a natural extension of book group, it is a way to process, write, and reflect on whatever is happening in your life. Cal’s process is simple, yet hard to describe in full detail - as the students acknowledged, you have to do it to understand its power.
We started with intention writing. There are only two rules for intention writing.–First, make things active in order to breathe the intention into existence. For example, instead of writing I want to relax, you write I relax or I am relaxed. Second, don’t write things in the negative. For example, we were instructed not to write an intention saying “I am not anxious,” because then what are we experiencing instead? We were guided to frame that feeling in the positive and write something like, “I am calm” or think about how we wanted to channel that feeling into our intention - for example, “I hold my anger and use it to repair the world.” We took time to quietly write our intentions and reflect silently.
Once we had written our intentions, we were invited to close our journals and keep thinking about our intentions if we wanted or leave them behind. Next was the art. The materials were simple, but abundant - an important component of process art. We drew with oil pastels on sheets of butcher paper taped to the wall. We were spaced out around the room and were asked to let the materials speak to us and draw whatever we wanted. This type of art is about the process, not about the final product so there’s no need to have a goal in mind - being in the space with the art is the goal. Although we were in community with each other and doing this art together, we were not allowed to comment on each other’s art - no positive or negative comments. This allowed us to just focus on our own process and not think about what others might think.
The final step of our workshop was witnessing our art and reflecting on it through writing. We took 20 minutes to sit with our own art piece and write about it, ask it questions, and let it teach us something. The goal here was to continue to write for the entire time in order to see where our writing took us. Afterwards we all shared some component of our art and/or writing with each other and took in each other’s creation.
As one student said afterwards, this process allowed her to hold all of her feelings, both positive and negative, and reflect on them in a new way by herself. Another student shared that she felt comforted by this process because she could see how people understood things in similar and different ways and it made her feel less alone. Another student said, “I don’t like art, but this was great!”
Everyone got to take their art home and we are all invited to bring this process into our own lives. We encourage you to try it: write an intention; do some art that’s about the process, not the outcome - see where your hand takes you; and witness the art - what does it teach you? Some students were excited to try this at home and even introduce it to their young children.
And, of course, after an intense morning of processing and reflecting, we needed some delicious nourishment, so we ended our day together enjoying Honey Butter Fried Chicken.