September 3, 2020 | By Mindy Jacobson-Levy, MCAT, ATR-BC, LPC, HLM DVATA
I have been an altered book, mixed media artist for almost a decade. My experimentation with this process began after taking a workshop at a local art therapy conference. I found book text and artwork within printed books an effortless prompt for my own artistic journaling, and subsequently started teaching this method to clients in my private practice. Not only is the repurposing of books an exciting prospect, but it’s a cost-effective way to journal and save a book from being pulverized. There are boundaries by nature of the book size, weight, and pages…but there are no limits artistically!
To date, I’ve had a forty-year work history in the field of art therapy. I worked in an inpatient unit for eighteen years, and concomitantly developed my private practice in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Other than a brief period when I was laid off from my inpatient job in 1996, I never had an extended period of time to just make art. Who would imagine that a “wish” to have a few months to do just that would turn into an ongoing altered book about my experience during the Covid-19 pandemic?
My shelter-in-place efforts began around mid-March 2020. Initially I guessed that I would remain home for a few months, develop my telehealth practice, and return to my two offices by early summer. Unfortunately, the management of the pandemic has become a national crisis and ultimately, the county that I live in in Pennsylvania became a “hot spot” for the virus. Watching the nightly news, listening to the radio, and witnessing the exponential evolution of contracted cases and deaths in the world set off a myriad of reactions within me that were often difficult to contain. I was terrified that I would be exposed to the virus and die, and that others I knew and love would meet the same fate. In the midst of all this, I was struggling with a potentially serious life-threatening medical issue myself.
It was all too much, and I returned to my roots. My #cornart #covid19art altered book has been my lifeline since mid-March. The book I chose to alter is Perceptanalysis: A fundamentally reworked, expanded, and systematized Rorschach method (Piotrowski,1957). I am sharing just a small portion of my journey with you, as there are almost a hundred entries in this journal thus far.
Figure 1: The Grim Reaper (3/27/2020)
“It is coming. It is going to get us all. It’s fingers are dripping with disease. I am shielding myself with an empty space, but it does not feel good. I don’t know what to put in there. We need a radical change in our expectations.”
Figure 2: The Devil (3/27/2020)
“I want to feel less afraid. I want the art to be less scary, but it is not. The virus is a devil. The words neuroses and conceded are incorporated from the book text. The teeth and tongue of this monster are unavoidable.”
Figure 3: I’m Trying (3/29/2020)
“The aim is to stimulate imagination, according to the text. The ship is docked, there are no sails, and therefore it is immobile. I was trying to focus on breath here, though the word ‘breathe’ is headed into the water. The reality is that I felt like I couldn’t breathe. It was all so overwhelming.”
Figure 4: Orient Yourself (3/29/2020)
“The invasion of the corona virus is noted here. It’s in the back of my mind, pushing forward, as I try to orient myself in the world [incorporated text]. I am opposed to the fundamental assumption [incorporated text], and I am trying to focus on the word HOPE. My eyes are closed though, and I just can’t see it.”
Figure 5: In a Bubble (3/30/2020)
“I’m confused, hypervigilant, and yet silent. I’m in a bubble, trying to embrace the unknown. The complementary colors approach and repel one another. The image in the upper right is a mangled figure with the head detached. It is also a heart. There are multiple eyes all around the word silent, as I watch in horror. Where is my anchor?”
Figure 6: Eggshell World (4/5/2020)
“I am one who feels like everything is shattering around me. I am frightened and unsure of my path, but am trying to stay afloat. I feel as isolated as I am.”
Figure 7: Vague (4/5/2020)
“I’m trying to remind myself that I’m protected when I’m sleeping. Comics serve as a background in this entry, though the virus is no joke. Make/believe in making changes, but I’m trying to rescue myself emotionally. At the bottom right, Charlie Brown is turning his head as he just can’t figure out which way to go.”
Figure 8: Talk Time (4/15/2020)
“Things are spinning and I’m trying not to listen in. I am reflecting on making my life more normalized, so I dyed my hair and incorporated the directions into my altered book. This schema looks a lot like an earlier entry: ‘The Devil.’ Concerned that my personal worries might interfere with my work, I contacted my former therapist for a session. I used my art as a bridge for our telehealth meeting.”
Figure 9: The Office (4/25/2020)
“I was in the midst of decision making about one of my offices when this entry was made. Though I didn’t believe I’d be returning to the office for many months, not renewing my lease was loaded. There are several hearts that envelop one another. The conflict was real, but nonetheless, I ended up renewing my lease in an attempt to keep my life as stable as possible.”
Figure 10: Stay Inside (4/29/2020)
“I was feeling increasingly anxious, and wanting to spend more time sleeping. I felt angry about the mismanagement of the pandemic, and was in disbelief about how rapidly the virus was spreading. This was around the six-week mark for sheltering in place, and I was feeling dysregulated. The girl and her dog are a memory of safer times.”
Figure 11: Life (5/6/2020)
“The figures presented appear joyous and are smiling, yet the social unrest and violence towards people of color dominated the news. The background competes with the focal images, and the colors are overly bright in an attempt to make today count [incorporated text]. I felt infuriated by so many things happening in the world when I created this entry.”
Figure 12: Handle with Care (5/26/2020)
“My involvement with this altered book was positively affecting my mood. Making art on a regular basis helped me rewrite my daily story, so that I had distinct office hours versus creative me time. This clearly brought me back to my old habits of working as a therapist and having personal time, even though all my time was spent sheltering-in-place. My experiences were more fluid and I felt less like an emotional victim, even though I still felt fragile at times.”
Figure 13: Art in Exile (8/16/2020)
“Even though I am creating in isolation, I am feeling more content in general. The angels make an appearance in the flip down, and pathways are beginning to appear. The colors are brighter and there are many interesting details to explore. I feel more organized and am envisioning more choices.”
Figure 14: Where is God? (8/19/2020)
“The horrific trifecta going on in the world is in my face: the racial injustice/violence, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the political insanity. As the Jewish holidays are approaching for me, I find myself questioning God’s presence. Why isn’t all this trauma ending? When will there be relief?”
Mindy Jacobson-Levy, MCAT, ATR-BC, LPC, HLM DVATA
Mindy is a board certified, registered art psychotherapist, and licensed professional counselor specializing in complex trauma and eating disorders. She has been in private practice for 40 years in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, and became a SoulCollage® facilitator in 2019. She currently provides professional supervision and consultations for art therapist and other mental health professionals, and formerly taught and supervised graduate students at Drexel University. Mindy is on the faculty of the Expressive Therapies Summit and on the board of the Pennsylvania Art Therapy Association. She was also the Film/Video Editor for the Art Therapy Journal from 1994 – 1997.
Mindy received the Delaware Valley Art Therapy Association Honorary Life Member award (1996) and the Innovative Applications of Art Therapy Award (2015). Among her publications are Finding Your Voice through Creativity: The Art and Journaling Workbook for Disordered Eating (Gϋrze Books, 2010), Guidelines for Treating Dissociative Identity Disorder in Adults (ISST-D, 2005 & 2011), Group Art Therapy with Multiple Personality Disorder Patients: A Viable Alternative to Isolation (Kluft, E., 1993), and Abreacting and Assimilating Traumatic Dissociated Memories of MPD Patients Through Art Therapy (Art Therapy Journal, 1994). She also has several audiotapes from international conferences and other brief articles published.