Art As a Way to Make the Unreal More Real

Hawk Oil Painting Sometimes a concept flashing through my mind can be made clearer when I paint it. I grab the “thought” and infuse it with all the feeling and sensation that exists beyond words. I stir it around in the paint and lay it out on the canvas.

Here is an example of using my art to make something more real. After my dad died I had a dramatic experience of a beautiful hawk swooping down and landing on a branch in front of me.  I felt it in a deep, deep place that only the greatest grief has taken me. “Knowing” it was my dad, in some form, gave me great comfort.  Since then, hawks have come to symbolize his presence.  When a hawk sails overhead, or perches on a branch, I stop completely in the present magical moment, and let myself feel the powerful mystery of life and death.  I feel my dad’s love.

A hawk has been hanging around the Southwestern College campus this summer.  He is one of hundreds of Santa Fean hawks just looking for his next meal. Students debate whether it is a red-tailed or a Cooper’s and lots of people are certain it is one or the other.  But to me, it’s dad. You won’t find him in Sibley’s Guide to Birds. So I painted a picture.

The hawk’s presence reassures me that I am in the right place at the right time and this painting helps to ground the experience and make it more tangible.

What kind of hawk do you think it is?  Red-tailed, Coopers, or my dad Tuck?




24×30 Oil Painting


October 1, 2013 at 8:41 am Leave a comment

The Strange New Land of New Mexico

Innocent TarantulaSince moving here I have heard many wonderful stories of strange events happening in New Mexico, the “Land of Enchantment”. I haven’t seen an alien (yet) but the sense of the mythical and the magical is very much alive here. There seems to be a willingness to fall into graceful moments and enjoy the beauty of life. When people here describe some unusual encounter, like seeing ghosts or conversations with little green men, others just smile and nod. Curiosity comes before judgement. I appreciate that.

I don’t have anything remarkable to report, but many things are just… different. At first, the bands of wild horses lingering in our yard was shockingly strange, but it has now become quite common and beautiful. The raccoon eating our garbage the other night was not unusual, but seeing  the coon and a coyote sharing the bag at the same time was wild indeed!  I often stop and ask myself “Is this real’? Yesterday, we were watching a tarantula navigate the terrain near our back step, when we were interrupted by a sudden dark storm cloud that pelted us with rain and blew cushions from the patio chairs. By the time I rescued the cushions, the spider and the rain was gone and double rainbow appeared in the sky. It was nothing, but it was everything in that moment.

I sometimes feel like I am in a movie where the set changes are fast but seamless. And I don’t have to do a thing but sit back and smile.

Want to watch one minute of the Innocent Tarantula?

September 25, 2013 at 6:35 am Leave a comment

Understanding Myself through Paintings

When I paint, I rarely consciously plan anything.  The canvas comes out, a certain brush feels right and paint gets carefully mixed until it is the perfect color for loading my brush and smearing on the canvas. Very little analytical thinking is happening.  When painting is working for me, it flows easily. It feels like pure, raw, unadulterated soul. I have no sense of time or place. It just happens… like magic.

I usually go back later to reevaluate and rework some things. Sometimes a painting is done in one session, but often I restudy a piece for years. I try to make improvements and quite frequently, I drive the whole thing into the ground and ruin it.  But that’s okay.

I recently visited my ninety year old artist mother.  We painted together and I saw that now that she is less steady with a brush she preferred smudging the paint around with her fingers instead. self discovery

When I got home, I wanted to try that. I added sand to my oil paint for texture and then smooshed and smeared it around until I liked the composition. Then I went in with a scraping tool, a brush and finally oil pastel sticks.  The tactile experience was nearly as exciting as the visual one.

After I had a series of oil paintings that felt like a complete set, I studied the work to find its meaning. I  had no preconceived ideas about what these paintings would convey. I look for the messages afterwards. On different days, I see them different ways. Today, they mean this, to me.

Here is a 3 minute video of my paintings tracking the exploration of myself as peacekeeper and what parts of myself  I suppress in order to maintain peace.

August 18, 2013 at 9:51 pm Leave a comment

Looking Back: One Year After Major Life Transition

A year ago, I was  comfortable in my perfectly tailored house in North Carolina. I had a well appointed art studio, lush flower gardens, a wonderful collection of friends and  both kids in college nearby. Life was pretty idyllic. I had solid routines and a finely crafted ways of being. It was all good. In fact, it was great.  When the house was just as we wanted it, the kids were raised, my paintings hung in perfect rows, that felt complete. So then, I wanted to try something new. And why not?

I had been teaching art and had always been impressed by the transformative power of creative endeavors. I read a lot about Art Therapy and became more and more intrigued by the idea of “creating”  as a way of opening up to something beyond ourselves. While investigating (googling) art as therapy I came upon this Masters program at Southwestern College in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
I love the desert.  The mountains and sky are amazingly beautiful and I felt connected to this magical  land. But could I really live there?  I remember reading about the school and their mission of “transforming consciousness through education”. It sounded so perfectly suited to me that it seemed unreal.  I remember standing up and  walking away from my computer screen and then coming back to make sure I wasn’t dreaming. This golden opportunity to expand my world existed!
But wait!   If we moved, we would have to leave our children on the other side of the country! Would Rog  (my husband) go along with this? What about giving up  our ultra customized house with the art studio for me and the music studio or him? What aboutall of our friends?  What about our students? What about our comfortable existence?

We decided to try it. Everything happened fast. The ducks all lined up perfectly and here we are living in New Mexico!

I am sitting here tonight, looking out my window at the starry New Mexican sky, wondering where the new moon is and listening to the coyotes howl. Deep sigh. The greatest gift I have gotten from my first year at school is knowing I can trust this solid feeling that I am in the right place, at the right time. And this is enough.  I am enough.

August 7, 2013 at 6:23 am Leave a comment

Perception, Pattern, Illusion, Art by Kaia Nao

My brother is a physicist, a painter and an optical illusionist. Although we were born with the same parents, in the same place, less than a year apart, Joe and I have very different personalities. He understands analytical thinking in complicated ways that I don’t even try to comprehend. While he is focusing on the logical way the world works, I am tuning into the interpersonal interactions that tell me about the vibe in the room. I grew up thinking that concrete thinking was “smart” and that being sensitive to feelings was he opposite of that. . Maybe I never developed the scientific thinking part of myself because Joe had that covered. I was busy being the full time emotion processor.  Families can be that way, where the mobile of personalities can only balance so much of one type. Thinking about myself in the context of my family of origin, offers all kinds of explanations for the ways I have come to navigate the world. I’ve always just done what worked and it goes so far beyond lil ole me.

In the Psych world, were it is hard to nail anything down, I appreciate optical illusions where what seems illogical always has an underlying logic. Check out Joe’s Perception, Pattern, Illusion
Often beautiful, sometimes mind-boggling, occasionally disturbing, always original – the graphic art of Kaia Nao.

by Kaia Nao

by Kaia Nao

July 28, 2013 at 5:25 pm Leave a comment

Mandala Making

Personal Mandala Watercolor by Amy Hautman Bates

Personal Mandala Watercolor by Amy Hautman Bates

The Mandala is a symbol of wholeness. And within that oneness, there is a wonderful kaleidoscope of experiences and expressions. Every moment, is new as everything sparkles and changes and as each facet moves, everything around it shifts in response.  It is a beautiful dance of creative energy all within a unified circle. In Robert Waterman’s Archetypal Psychology class at Southwestern College, we created mandalas as a way to gain deeper insight into our true nature. Through the process, using patterns and colors, shapes and lines, my inner dimensions were revealed. Letting go of my attachment to the things that define me is an important step right now.  It is in stripping away the masks I am comfortable in, that will allow my authentic self to come through.  So after redrawing and reorganizing many different mandala pieces, in the end, (which is really only the beginning) I began to pare away the unnecessary parts and get rid of the decorative components. This course was short, in earth hours, but a long journey in terms of places traveled.

Allowing my true character to shine through was the underlying “goal” of this journey for me. Embracing the complete totality of who I was, who I am, and who I will be, and allowing it all to show up, was what I wanted.  Oddly enough, that acceptance of my complete self comes not from getting anything, but from letting my critical self, step aside so that my true loving nature could be felt.  I wanted to connect to the parts of myself that I may have abandoned at some point along the way, and embrace everything with gratitude and appreciation.

I will continue to visit the mandala as a method for maintaining my inner alignment with self.  Rather than shut down my compulsive voices, I will trust my obsessions for the important guidance they might offer. I will sit quietly in gratitude and listen for the wisdom the universe is holding for me.  When I am ready, I have access.  The portals are around me.  I will remain open to the mystery school, my inner path, my imagination, my dreams, my cohorts, the universe and its great and mysterious gifts right here, available to me.

In this mandala on a grid of brilliant stars, the beautiful center lotus flower unfolds as the universal core of all that is; the teal door is always open; the prominent white bird symbolizes my connection to the mystical and all that exists beyond my bodily self; and the reptiles represent all of the fears I have learned, and the empowering effect of the lessons they have given me.  These are all every changing elements I am watching as I experience myself more fully, more honestly and more completely in this beautiful dance of life.

June 21, 2013 at 12:04 am Leave a comment

Looking Back at Shifts in My Reality

Adobe cabin nightI just read Mindell’s “The Shaman’s Body” and it reminded me of how much I used to know–how much I have always known that had become deeply buried in the last 35 years. Carlos Castaneda’s “Journey to Ixtlan” was an important book during my college years.  Now I look back and see that as a time when my inner being became so out of sync with the consensus reality around me, that I couldn’t integrate the two. I drank a lot, painted and partied. I dove into a challenging business life and made promoting art and achieving success my goal. After mastering that, I had children. Parenting then became my world. It was a “happy” life, but it was smaller than me.

It wasn’t until after my daughter left for college and I was offered an artist’s residency in Arizona that I circled back to myself. For two weeks I lived alone in the middle of the desert.

No computer, no TV, no family. I was completely disconnected from my usual world, and I had never felt so alive!  I arrived at this place with only the light of the moon to guide my floating body between tall sage bushes to my little adobe cabin. I had been transported to another land. The warm wind purred and coyotes howled in the distance. I felt complete peace.

Everything during that time was magical. Of course there were the spectacular sunsets and the fabulous mountains and beautiful vistas.  But those things were no more or less awe inspiring than anything else. I was completely in tuned with it ALL.   I found a tiny seedpod shaped like a spiral funnel with a sharp point at the bottom.  Immediately I understood the perfect design of this pod and how the wind could drive this spiral down into the ground with perfect efficiency so that it could live on.  In the night, crowds of prairie dogs would chit and chatter and push their sweet little paws under my door. I never saw them during the day. But I knew they were very much present. Everyday, I painted, and walked, and dreamed. Every second was bliss. I have held that state of dreamlike completeness ever since. Things swirl around me, but they are not in me. I am free.

Adobe Cabin in Arizona

May 27, 2013 at 5:54 pm 1 comment

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AUTHOR Amy Hautman Bates

I started this blog intending to write about the creative art's health and healing potential. Having been around art all my life, I thought I knew a lot about Art Therapy. But the more I read, the more fascinated I became, and the more I realized how little I knew. This blog is about my journey from full time artist to student at Southwestern College to Art Therapist... and whatever happens along the way.

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