A Journey to Trust through Expressive Arts

Published: Wed, 09/02/15


Are you curious about how people are using Expressive Arts in their lives?
Are you interested in understanding how Expressive Arts makes a difference in the world?

We are beginning a series of "spotlight" interviews with graduates of our certificate training program. You will hear from therapists, educators, healthcare practitioners
and more.  We hope these conversations will provide you with glimpses of some innovative real-life applications in the field.

Our first spotlight is with Tammie Norton, a 2015 EAFI graduate.
Kathleen Horne interviewed Tammie, and we share the dialogue here.
A Conversation with Tammie Norton
An Artist's Journey to Trust.

Tammie Norton lives in Gainesville, Florida, where she is facilitating weekly Open Studio Sessions. Tammie has a BA in Psychology from the University of Florida, 3 years pre-med, classes in anthropology, philosophy, studio art /painting, and lots of life experience. She just graduated from Expressive Arts Florida Institute.
In one of her class assignments, she described her relationship to art this way:

“This journey of mine is like that of an explorer. Art is the mountain I continue to find myself on over and over. I have stepped off of the mountain time and time again only later once again to find that I’m back on this mountain. Now I see that I have been exploring this land and the mountain on it and each time I climb back up I find myself closer to the top and with a clearer view of the lay of the land. This mountain is not an obstacle to be overcome or to go around. No, it’s mine to have. So I delight in being here. This is the land that’s been given to me. It’s mine to explore.  It’s mine to develop.  It’s where I belong. I am home.”
KH: Tammie, those are beautiful words, and I thank you so much for this interview! I am thrilled to see how you are taking your Expressive Arts training into the world! To start off, could you share a little about what drew you to the certificate training program?

TN: What I was seeking was simple - a way to marry my interests in Art and Psychology. Expressive Arts presented itself to me, out of nowhere. I had never heard of it. I knew what Art Therapy was, but I didn’t want to be a therapist. In my heart, I wanted to be a teacher, and to find a way to share healthy tools to live life.

Let’s talk a little about what happened for you in the training. Could you share something about how your actual experience compared to your expectations?

TN: Yes! When I enrolled, I thought I would gain book knowledge and some useful pragmatic tools that would help me share art with other people. What I got, though, was a total change of life! Because of the experiential nature of the program, many personal, very poignant messages arose from my work. What I actually gained was a kind of “revelation-knowledge", which I will never forget. The experiential part of the training is the most was life-changing thing.  What I learned has become part of who I am!
.KH: What stands out for you as the biggest learning?

TN: The biggest is simply TRUST, and it took the longest for me to learn. When I did finally surrender, and trust the process, it was like winning World War II, in my mind. I learned not only to trust the creative process but also to trust that the Great Creator will meet me at the easel whenever I show up. I just need to show up. I can trust that the tools I learned always work. And the faithfulness of the experiences I gained through the program taught me that I can generalize that learning into the rest of my life.

KH Trust in the creative process and in yourself?

TN: I can trust the voice inside of me – those little whispers that we don’t pay attention to because we are so busy – to follow the thread that leads from one thing to another. And when I trust, something wonderful happens.
KH: In our training, we talk about learning “creative life skills”. I think that is what you are talking about here - new skills that impacts you as an artist, a facilitator, and a person living your life in a new way.

TN: Absolutely. And there is something else that goes along with that. I had to learn to stop questioning. I had an over-critical mind that was always analyzing, naming, judging and asking "why". It has taken me a long time to overcome that. By learning over and over to trust and move forward, without always knowing the “why” (in art and in life) I am now letting go of that tendency.
And, I notice that over-questioning seems to be one of the greatest obstacles to other people too.
KH: Let's talk a little about the work you are now doing with others. How do you define your mission?

TN:My mission is to give people tools to listen so they can live their most authentic life.

In my classes, I strive to create a “bubble of safety” where people can make any kind of painting they want – an ugly painting, a silly painting, a black painting, or whatever – I want them to be free to be as experimental as they want. Many of my students describe our sessions as "Healing Painting".
KH: It sounds like you are teaching people to trust, through engagement with creative process?

TN: Yes. Each week, in my Open Studios, I literally open up my own studio and share with others what I have been doing myself that week. Each session is different. I use the skills I have learned in my training - coming to a circle, doing a centering meditation, and moving into the art process. When people come for the first time, I begin by telling them what we are not going to do: "We will not be learning to paint a flower or a Van Gogh; we will not be analyzing or commenting on others work or our own; we will never rush. We won't be judging." I try to make it as relaxing as possible - a place where they can use art materials to practice being still, quiet, and listening.
KH: in our training program, we stress the importance of being grounded in our own personal practice.  What can you say about the relationship between personal and professional practice?

TN: In my Final Project, I created a series of expressive arts exercises for myself each week, and the very next day I offered them to others in my open studio. This became a beautiful way to work, serving both myself and my students. It gave me the opportunity to experience everything first, before I shared it, and that is really important.

KH: So the personal flows into the professional?

TN: Before I took the training, I was trying very hard to carve out time in my schedule to paint.
In the training, what I really got were many tools - journaling, dialoguing, visual art, movement- to use to pay attention to my own creative process, which I came to realize is my entire life. That is what I share with others.
KH: You mentioned earlier that you were clear from the beginning that you didn't want to be a therapist. In the training, you were with people who are therapists, as well as healthcare professionals, spiritual directors, educators, and others who are learning to integrate expressive arts into their work. What was it like for you to be learning with such a diverse group? 

TN: I think because we were all learning something new, and sharing a deep meaningful experience, we were able to deeply appreciate one another as people, with both similarities and differences. It was a lovely way to learn.
KH: I am curious - how has your own painting changed?

TN: My own painting has now become a delightful flowing thing. Before the training, it was a real struggle. My over-thinking and analyzing would kick in and I would be stymied. During the program, I put that struggle away, as it is not useful to me.I learned to get out of my own way. I trust that it will come. I don’t have to be afraid. I now step into the flow of the river and paint. Again, it is about trust!

KH:  Yes. And, a related question - what do you see as the relationship between process and product? In Expressive Arts, people often say that it is all about the process and the product doesn't matter. Is it as simple as that?

TN: For now, I have let that go. I am at a place where every time I trust the process, put aside the product, and paint totally intuitively, I get somewhere very delightful that I could not have planned. Slowly and surely, I am developing my own authentic style. I am just trying to own that. Something bigger is happening. The process is leading me to a product I love, and the life is coming back into it. I want to paint the Tammie Norton way.
KH: You have just completed your training, and your work with others seems to be growing and evolving quickly! What's next for you? What are your dreams and visions?

TN: Well, my dream is really what I am doing now! I want to be strong in my expressive arts skills and have tools to help others practice those skills, listen deeply, and live more authentic lives. The only i thing I don't yet have is a large church that I can transform into a studio!

KH: Great! Somehow I think that will be showing up too! Is there anything else you would like others to know?

TN: I see my art as an artifact of my journey through life. The creative process is totally analogous to life experience. Everything we practice in our studio is artistic expression with a direct correlation to some aspect of life. Creativity is such a treasure trove of skills for learning to lead a better life.

In my training, you three have taught me to fly. Now I am teaching others to fly.

KH: Thank you, Tammie. That is beautiful. it has been great to speak with you about your journey so far and your unfolding dream. I really love the way the expressive arts can enrich our lives in so many different ways. Congratulations on creating your own niche in the field. How can people find you?

TN: My email address is  Tammielnorton@yahoo.com
I also have a private Facebook group - Open Studio Wednesdays - and people can request membership.
Stay tuned for our upcoming Spotlight Interview with Pam Hirons, a Licensed Mental Health Counselor who is transforming her practice through Expressive Arts!

Interested in registering for a weekend intensive to find out if this is for you?
Dive in in November!
Thanks for being part of the community!
Kathleen, Victoria, Tamara

Kathleen Horne, MA, LMHC, REACE
Victoria Domenichello-Anderson, MA, REACE
Tamara Teeter Knapp, BA, Certified K-12 Art Teacher