THE BLOG
12/21/2013 09:41 am ET Updated Feb 19, 2014

For the Holidays: The Gift of Artistic Expression

So you're still searching for the right gifts for your loved ones. It's days away from the big day and you are still stumped. You want to keep it local and everyone you know has everything they need. You've given your time and donations to the less fortunate. What else is out there for those you love? And what about that little something for yourself?

As an multidisciplinary artist and teaching artist, the unique gift I can give myself and others is the opportunity to create something through artistic expression. But, we all, as humans, have the power in us to do the same. Why? Because you don't have to be an artist to express yourself artistically. If you can open your mouth and make a sound, if you can move around to music in some fashion, if you can hold a paint brush, if you can pretend you're someone else for a moment, if you can write in some way on paper or on a computer in some creative form, you have the ability to bring forth your creative spirit and let it shine. I have worked professionally for decades in all of the arts and have seen this spirit rise in toddlers as well as in those with various stages of Alzheimer's, and in everyone between. Still, doubt and fear often stands in our way when the creative spirit gives us a nudge. I've had that feeling myself.

I recall the day that I found out I was pregnant (my child, my best creation ever!). I wondered about my new identity as a Mom-to-be, and if and how I could continue being an artist for the rest of my life along with my new place in the world. These concerns came to me as I was trying to envision my future and that of this new being I was carrying. The idea that I knew what I would be doing for the next eighteen years -- how naïve of me; children are your babies for a lifetime and life takes twists and turns -- was staggering, thrilling and scary all at the same time. How would this change me? Time management for a person who works on their own schedule is difficult. Being one's own taskmaster can be daunting. I began to wonder which arts forms I could best sustain throughout my life. (Sometimes I'd wish I had only one art discipline in my blood, so I wouldn't have multiple avenues to pursue.) At the time, I came to the conclusion that my continued work would be as writer and singer. I couldn't imagine carrying paints and canvases into my 90's (although many do), I knew I wouldn't be playing the ingénue on stage forever, but I could write and sing as long as I had access to a pencil (that's how long ago it was!) and could carry my musical instrument in my throat. My choice came from passion and portability. Little did I know that I would find ways to utilize all of the arts in the palette of a playwright, where I could choose words, storytelling, poetry, visual sets and costumes, and even music and dance in some cases, for combined self-expression. Easy for you, you might say, but what about me?

Some of us are born with the body of a ballerina or basketball player, or the lungs and vocal cords of an opera singer, given special bodily abilities to do extraordinary things. But all of us are talented in something. (Don't ask me to balance my checkbook; I bow to those with natural math skills.) But each and everyone of us -- and I know this for certain, after decades teaching the arts in unlikely places in the United States and beyond, to people of all ages, races, ethnicities, economic status, and opinions, as well as in university and conference settings -- that everyone is creative and can express themselves through the arts.

This is not to say that jumping into artistic expression is easy. It takes concentration, time, and commitment, an open mind, but more than anything else, it takes the courage to say, here is what I have to say. Whether I'm vocal coaching in a private lesson, or teaching poetry in a classroom full of people, what I see more than anything on the faces of those who enter is fear. Once we can get past that frozen feeling, we are on our way to self-expression. Getting passed this is where the fun and hard work begins.

The space I create for learning is never a free-for-all and it won't thrive without open-ended motivational prompts. In order for personal satisfaction or success to occur, you need to be open to embracing, to some degree, the tips and techniques associated with the art you are pursuing. It is my job to establish a safe environment for expression where criticism is constructive and nurturing, and the common goal is to make your work the best it can be. My job as instructor is not to stroke your ego or to humiliate you. In the end your work belongs to you, but with trust on your part, and the knowledge of how to get you where you want to go on mine, together we can build solid ground for the chance to create and be heard. Whether you pay a fee for a class, or you find a community setting where quality arts professionals teach free workshops, the quality arts experience you give to yourself or another will be life changing.

Back to those gifts. Let's start with you. Take out a blank pad or open your computer and write something. Listen to music and sing and dance along. Read a play or draw a picture. You can even create something -- a poem, a cake, a hand made card or tree ornament, etc. -- and give it as a gift. Or, treat someone you love to a creative workshop or take one yourself. Forget what your big brother, sister, parent, so-called friend, or even your elementary school teacher told you: that you can't sing or draw, etc. (That was their own fear of the arts and self-expression talking.) Do something creative and if others laugh, smile and ask them to join in. With apologies to Will Rogers, may I say, I never met a person that art didn't like. The gift of artistic expression is in all of us. It's waiting for you to unwrap it and set it free.