Locus of Evaluation Part 2

In Locus of Evaluation Part 1 I wrote about how I believed my art teacher, Mr Yates, when he told me I wasn’t good enough to do art at ‘O’ Level (equivalent to GCSE), and my journey to becoming an artist in adulthood despite that. In this post I’m going to write about why I believed Mr Yates so readily, and it may (or may not) relate to your own story about locus of evaluation.

I grew up in a household where there were strict rules but they were often not clearly stated until I’d broken them. Then I would be punished, usually violently, and not allowed to express my feelings about that. If I did cry I would be told to stop or I’d be given something to cry for. You can see how confusing this was to a small child who needed safe, secure boundaries delivered with love and kindness.

In addition to this less than good enough parenting, I experienced Child Sexual Abuse (CSA). At it’s core CSA is about coercion and control. It’s yet another way of taking away any power the victim had and replacing it with the shame of the perpetrator. My father was one of the perpetrator’s who did this to me.

You might see that I had to perceive of myself as ‘bad’ and my parents as ‘good’ in order to survive being with them, while they abused their power. This meant that my locus of evaluation was outside myself – what they thought about what I did or said was more important than what I thought. Living with that every day ingrained in me a belief that adults were experts and their opinions had more value than mine.

This belief was added to by the evaluation system at school. As Carl Rogers says:

Evaluation is always a threat, always creates a need for defensiveness, always means that some portion of experience must be denied to awareness…

Carl Rogers (1998).

Schools in the United Kingdom have a long tradition of using external standards of judgement that each child should meet, regardless of ability and context. I was at secondary school in the 1980’s and neurodiversity wasn’t really catered for. Neither was the fact that I’d had no counselling or therapy for a highly unusual situation. My father killed himself in 1980 and we’d moved to live near my grandmother. I’d lost all my friends and had to make new ones in the wake of this massive change. Despite the massive emotional upheaval none of the adults around me thought I might need some emotional support so, of course, I was depressed.

It was hard to concentrate at school in any lesson I didn’t enjoy, like Maths, History and Geography (I don’t remember anything from Geography – I think I zoned out a lot during those lessons; perhaps the teacher was a trigger for me). Art, however, was a subject I loved. I remember chatting to my mates whilst drawing. Sometimes I’d sing or do character voices. I’m not sure Mr Yates appreciated the noise I made but it was part of the way I did art.

It makes sense that when Mr Yates stated that I wasn’t good enough to do art at ‘O’ Level that I believed him. The culmination of internalised abuses of power had formed an internal critical voice that depressed the fuck out of me. Mr Yates’ voice added to it and it was automatic to believe, rather than question him. I turned to words instead and wrote about how dreary life was over and over. That kind of journalling helped me stay depressed.

If judgments based on external standards are not being made then I can be more open to my experience, can recognize my own likings and dislikings, the nature of the materials and of my reaction to them, more sharply and more sensitively. I can begin to recognize the locus of evaluation within myself. Hence I am moving toward creativity.

Carl Rogers

This bleak story serves to highlight how we learn to believe others’ opinions over our own. And that’s why it’s so important to do the psychological work of bringing the locus of evaluation inside. I am in tune with my creativity now more than ever. I love listening to my inner creative urges and the feel of the materials as I use them to express something of myself. I wonder if I’d be this free in my mark making if Mr Yates had welcomed me into ‘O’ Level Art. What if I’d gone to Art School immediately after secondary school? Would I be struggling to let go of the rules and techniques I’d been taught? I don’t know what’s been lost and what’s been saved.

You don’t have to have experienced violent or sexual abuse to have your locus of evaluation outside of you. You may have been ignored, or manipulated emotionally. Basically, if your caregivers were less than loving, boundaried, and kind, it’s possible that you’re experiencing the affects in adulthood. Some people label this Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Creativity is the first medicine

Creativity is the first medicine, A4, Oil pastel and coloured biro on legal pad paper

This is my fragmented heart – a response to what I heard and saw and felt on Friday when I attended Edge Hill University Arts Centre event – The Role of the Arts, Arts Therapies, and Psychotherapies in Supporting Mental Health in Black and Allied Communities. The words around the heart are a quote from Andrea-May Oliver, which blew my mind:

“Ancestors, thank you for walking the path we wouldn’t dare to tread.”

And at the bottom is another quote from Samantha Adams, which forms the title of my piece: “Creativity is the First Medicine.”

As someone who experienced sexual, emotional and physical abuse in childhood and daily discriminations of sexism throughout life, I can attest to creativity as first medicine. When I was in the midst of a breakdown 11 years ago and I could not get the mental health help I needed, art was there. Without art I would have been in a dark hole for a long time.

I made a sculptural piece on canvas and wrote a poem on it. This is the poem:

I am not broken
I don’t need to be fixed
What I need is presence
For my parts to be mixed

You can see this painting here:

Trauma, any trauma regardless of the discrimination that caused it, can be healed with expression in safe arms. It’s hard to go there, to those places of pain, and it must be done gently, allowing the pain to bubble up rather than go seeking it. It’s so worth it. The more we do the inner work, the more we honour ourselves, our ancestors, the people we share this planet with and we can create heaven on earth if we can hear one another’s pain, have a conversation about it, a dance, a song, throw away what is no longer needed in the fire and create together. That’s what we’re here for. We are creative beings. Let’s create some magic!

Love Builds Weird and Wonderful Structures

The Black Hole, Watercolour pencils and chalk pastels on Legal Pad, A4

Once upon a time, in the absence of loving kindness, a black hole appeared. It was deep and dark and its edges were ringed with hurt. Its hunger knew no bounds and was constantly looking for satiation.

One night something hard, yet squidgy, filled it for a while and though it didn’t feel right, it was secret and special. More, it wanted more! And it ate the rage, the fear, the confusion, the shame, the desire. It gorged on hard, yet squidgy, until it could know nothing else. They were made for each other.

Suddenly, hard, yet squidgy, stopped visiting and a blanket of black covered the hole, lifting only to allow it to binge on other shameful things. The blanket was heavy and yet provided a kind of comfort, keeping the status quo.

Eventually a compassionate eye rested its gaze on the black hole, letting it know that it could, if it wanted to, tell its story. It did. And it began to understand its need to binge and that it could begin to feel, not eat, the confusing array of emotions.

As it felt its feelings, the heavy, black blanket disintegrated and the hole began to build structures of peace and fulfilment. What strange, beautiful structures they were. They curled and curved around and out, and developed a weird and wonderful life of their own.

The Seed, The Bird and The Boots – A Love Story

Loving The Seed, Watercolour pencils on Legal Pad paper, A4

Once upon a time a seed landed on the top soil of a freshly dug garden. Laying on the moist earth, it felt at home and began to send roots down into the darkness amongst the worms and other night crawlers. It lay like this for a while through rain and shine, night and day, until it was time to send a shoot skyward. Almost immediately a bird arrived to sing to the new growth encouraging it to burst forth in the way only this shoot could.

The plant that was a seed drew up the soil’s nutrients and its shoot divided into three leaves of vibrant green with red dots. Humans came to lay turf and their boots halted near the plant. They gazed and murmured, then the boots stepped away. Gently, and with minimal vibrations, they laid the turf around the plant, cutting a circle for the place it had claimed as home.

The Birds and the Dragon: Fear and Love

Pink Dragon, 28.7 x 21 cm, acrylic, oil pastel, ink pen, and colour pencil on paper

Once upon a time a creature emerged from the deep blue lake and surprised the birds nearby into silence. Gazing at the birds with a sort of recognition, the creature smiled. The birds saw the creature’s giant lips peel back and sharp yellowy teeth glistened in the sunlight. Bobbing down, the birds prepared for flight as the creature moved slowly forward from the middle of the lake, a wake forming behind it. Feathers began to pop up on its head; they were pink with black dots. The creature pursed its lips together and blew. Twinkling notes filled the air and surprised the birds so much that they almost fell from their branches. Intrigued, they relaxed and waited. The creature emerged from the lake massive, pink, scaly, and feathery, whistling her song and laid beneath the tree. The birds flew down, hopped near, and one landed on the creature’s belly, tickling her and making her giggle.

Being Human is Weird and Wonderful

Being Human, 16 x 16 cm, colour pencils on paper

This drawing I made yesterday feels disturbing. It’s kind of insect-like, yet has an ‘as above, so below’ feel to it. But the grey half is different to the colourful half. It’s like the colour has sucked itself out to exist for a while as colour and will eventually return. The colour is dancing, going, “I am here!” It is attached to the grey thing, is still part of it, but has, briefly, taken another form. It feels separate but isn’t. I think it’s about being human.

What do you think?

Why Abstract Art is Better Than Figurative Art

The Ant and The Butterfly, acrylic on paper, A5

In therapy this week I allowed my inner 5 year old child to paint and she painted this abstract piece (and told a gruesome story about a butterfly and an ant). As she painted I realised I never liked making figurative images (except cartoon faces, which I drew loads of when I was a little older). I loved abstract art. I loved looking at the colours and the textures of the paint. I always have.

Continue reading “Why Abstract Art is Better Than Figurative Art”

You’re Not Good Enough to Do Art Said Mr Yates

Seminal, Colour pencils on paper, A5

You’re not good enough to do art at ‘O’ level.

Mr Yates, art teacher at Walton Girls’ High School, 1983

I’ve often wondered why I accepted Mr Yates’ statement as Truth when I was thirteen. I immediately stopped drawing and began a journal instead. I had a flash of insight yesterday whilst washing my hair (of all things): he’d stated I wasn’t good enough at identity level. “You’re not good enough.” It was like a magic spell. I believed him. I stopped.

Continue reading “You’re Not Good Enough to Do Art Said Mr Yates”

The Wonderful Long Term Effects of Practising Compassion

The Wonderful Long Term Effects of Practising Compassion, Pigment pen on paper, 16 x 16 cm

Here it is, folks, for you see – as plain as the nose on your face when you’re looking in a mirror. The Wonderful Long Term Effects of Practising Compassion:

  • There’s clarity.
  • There’s love.
  • There’s asymmetrical equality.

Less is More Than the Sum of Our Parts

More Than The Sum of Our Parts, Pigment pen on paper, 15 x 15 cm

This drawing began as a mindfulness exercise to soothe me after stretching my comfort zone. I like the feel of the paper and the sound of the pen making dots. As I look at it I realise it’s a reflection of all the things I’ve been thinking about lately – spirituality, resonance, parts therapy, to name a few. How do you soothe yourself?