Moon Phase Nature Rhythm
Essay by Tara Cannick
Within this essay I will make a brief report on the personal therapeutic journey that I undertook whilst using an artistic process to explore a natural rhythm. The hope for the exploration was that by observing a naturally occurring cycle, a sense of balance and wellbeing could be established.
The artistic processes that I embarked on were inspired by the anthroposophical theories regarding the therapeutic use of art and colour put forward by Liane Collot d’Herbois, Maria Schindler and Margarethe Hauschka, all of whom were informed by the philosophy of Rudolf Steiner. The anthroposophical view of artistic therapy is that it is:
‘…a pathway through the soul, a therapy concerned with the realisation of soul-spiritual creative forces of the individuality, which are then able to act upon the deeper lying bodily processes.’ (Hauschka 1985, p.12)
Before undertaking an independent artistic exploration, I completed the painting colour cycle exercise designed by Hauschka using a limited palette of the three primaries: red, yellow and blue. The series of paintings takes a client through the sequence of sunset through to sunrise and is referred to by Hauschka (1985) as the ‘Day Rainbow’.
Whilst very relaxing and peaceful, the process was also an awakening to the multitude of colour that we perceive when light meets darkness, from orange, red and rose at sunset to the violet blues of dusk, the indigo of midnight and the turquoise, green and yellow of early morning; if one observes closely, a whole rainbow spectrum can be witnessed.
Working with a sequence of colour to observe a natural rhythm in this way was very engaging and grounding and would have many benefits for clients who present anxiety or fear of change. My aim for my own project was to find a theme that could be worked within a similar way with clients in a therapeutic setting.
Choosing the theme
There are a multitude of possible natural rhythms to observe; the ebb and flow of the tides, the life cycle of a plant or animal and the seasons etc. I had watched the lunar eclipse that occurred on the 27th September 2015 and been completely awestruck by the experience. I had felt that I was literally witnessing time; it also made me conscious of my transitory and minuscule experience on this planet, the earth’s existence in our solar system and the solar system within the universe. Due to this, I chose to base my project on the moon phases, however, beyond experiencing the eclipse, I had no background reading or knowledge regarding the moon. The outcomes of this project are therefore based on a purely observational and personal response to the theme of the lunar cycle, rather than existing astronomical facts or philosophical theory.
The Artistic Processes
Having the intention of portraying the waxing and waning of the moon as it passes through it’s phases, my initial response was to work three-dimensionally with clay. I began by modelling the full moon, building up a sphere slowly and methodically using grey buff clay because it’s texture seemed more like the moon’s surface, and red terracotta clay seemed too earthy.
Once I completed the sphere, I suddenly realised that it was not possible to portray the waxing and waning of the moon three dimensionally as the moon itself never changes, it is always the same. The moon is always spherical and does not get bigger and smaller, it is just the angle from which it is perceived that creates varying degrees of eclipse.
I considered making a series of hollow porcelain spheres, with lights inside and painted interiors to create crescent shaped masked areas. These would prevent the light from shining through the porcelain and so replicate the phases of the moon. However this began to feel like an aesthetic endeavour focused on the final outcome, rather than an experiential process and would in effect a fine art project rather than a therapeutic exploration.
After realising that a three-dimensional representation of the moon phases was not possible, I created a series of wet on wet watercolour images that depicted the lunar month. I observed the moon at different times of the month hoping to witness a colour phenomenon. However, the main colour to be seen, was always the midnight blue or indigo of the night sky with an after image of rainbow colours around the edge of the moon where the light meets the dark. The only way I could assign colours to the sequence was to imagine or theorise about which colours would be symbolically relevant.
I wanted to work with colour in a way that gave a sense of new beginnings and growth as well as ending and age. So I assigned the warm red and rose colours to growth and the waxing of the moon as I was reminded of the growing child within the womb and perceived these colours to be symbolic of life.
I then assigned cooler colours to the waning of the moon, in particular turquoise which has been described by Collot d’Herbois (2000) as a colour that represents coming to consciousness, but also passing away:
‘…In a way [turquoise] is the carrier of finished form and on the other hand it has a quality of cleansing and making empty. When this goes to extreme it works as a force of destruction. All organic substance in a certain stage of decomposition gets a turquoise mould on it. There is no other colour that comes with such constancy on that which has to die as turquoise. When all life has left there is a green-ness.’ (p.183)
Turquoise therefore seemed an appropriate colour to represent the end of the cycle as it was like the ‘wisdom that comes with age’ and thus symbolic of coming to the end of life, see watercolour images above.
I experienced a great deal of satisfaction creating the moon sequence and working with warm through to cool colours. However, I found that the choice of colour was subjective to mood at the time and could be reversed, for example the cool greenish colours could symbolise the beginning of life if one considers the plant world. The warm reds could equally represent endings if one considers the colours we observe at the end of the day with a sunset.
The realisation that as an artistic therapist we need to be sensitive to the impulse of the client reminded me of my initial desire to work with clay. I had abandoned working with this particular medium because I remembered, after making a sphere, that the moon does not change physically. The waxing and waning of the moon is actually an effect of chiaroscuro (light and darkness upon a surface). I was then inspired to return to the clay sphere that I had originally created and find a way in which to portray the effect of chiaroscuro upon its surface.
I managed to achieve a sense of chiaroscuro by photographing shadows passing over the ball of clay, I then cropped the images, increased the contrast and finally animated the series of photographs by running them through a PowerPoint slide show. I put the animation on a loop so that the sequence would play itself over and over indefinitely, thus replicating the cycle of the moon.
Through this exercise I came to understand more fully that the moon is always the same, it is just our perception, or angle from which we view it, that changes. I felt that this concept of a thing being perpetually the same, but continuously perceived as different, was something important to acknowledge when we consider how we interact with others. Will we ever see someone truly for who they are? Is our perception obscured? Will others ever see us completely? Producing this sequence of images enabled me to internalise the concept of how how a thing is ‘seen’. As a consequence, how I perceive interactions and relationships with others has been altered in a positive way.
After completing the photographic sequence, I decided to make another series of paintings that focused not on a lunar month, but on a day i.e. moon rise and moon set. In this way I would be able to observe the naturally occurring colours in the sky surrounding the moon at different times; in effect the opposite of the sunrise and sunset. I used a limited palette of the ‘light’ primaries: lemon, turquoise and rose, referred to by Hauschka (1985) as the ‘Night Rainbow’.
After completion of the paintings I understood that I had in effect painted a colour sequence that was the polar reflection of the Hauschka ‘day rainbow’ exercise. Though the subject was the moon, the colours experienced were those caused by the sun’s light passing through the atmosphere, creating a spectrum of colour in the sky. I was still painting the sunrise and sunset! This did not really matter however, as the moon is actually only visible when it reflects the sun’s light. Therefore, our experience of the moon will always be in relationship to the sun. Focusing specifically on the ‘moon rise and moon set’ led me to a deeper understanding of something within myself; such is the task of artistic therapy:
‘In studying nature with veneration, we learn to abandon her, so as to seek what is greater than she is. This we cannot represent directly; we can only help it to “shine through” what we create. The metamorphosis of light provides the link, as well as the separation, between naturalism and expressionism in painting. We can, by all means, paint sunrises or sunsets, but must at the same time know them as awakeners of our own inner creativeness and essential independence of Spirit’ (Schindler 1989, p. 43)
Difficulties in the process
I found that that numerous times during the project I became stuck and resistant to creating something, I felt that I was going round in circles and not really progressing. This was partly due to searching for the appropriate media and process, but was also a subconscious, emotional response to the theme.
Whilst I had explored several interesting avenues, I felt as if I had made no progress at all and I became quite frustrated and weighed down by the prospect of continuing to work with the theme. After reflection, I came to the conclusion that what I was experiencing was in fact the quality of the moon. The moon is dead matter, unchangeable, solid and perpetual. The rhythm that is witnessed with the lunar phases is the passing of time with an intangible beginning and end which can be daunting and draining. In comparison, the natural life and death cycle of a plant demonstrates energetic forces that if tapped into can refresh and energise.
Once I recognised the dramatic melancholia of the moon cycle I was able to relinquish my resistance and accept it’s qualities, however I was made aware by my experience that this theme would not be appropriate for all potential clients and careful consideration would need to take place before prescribing such a sequence (see contra indications & possible therapeutic applications).
Evaluation of the Work
I found each of the artistic processes that I tried useful, and they provided insight into different ways of working with clients depending on the presenting issues. Even when the process felt as though it was blocked or unsuccessful, this in itself was a useful experience revealing possible contra-indications.
Though I struggled and had quite an emotional journey whilst undertaking this project, I realised that the struggle itself was an important part of the process, and that I was in fact experiencing the nature of the moon on a deep level. I also feel that I managed to achieve a sense of connection not only with nature but also myself.
Possible Therapeutic Applications
For me there is a loneliness to the moon; a bright, shining orb only seen full once a month if the sky is clear, and all other occasions only seen in partial light or completely eclipsed. There is something deeply moving, beautiful yet sad about the moon and because of this dramatic, melancholic quality I would consider adolescents to be a potential client group to utilise such a theme.
This is due to the tendency of the adolescent to feel that they are misunderstood, that nobody ‘gets’ them. This is a natural development as the child moves into adulthood and the illusion that they are the centre of the universe falls away when the attention and focus of their parents lessens as they become more independent.
Adolescents need to be allowed time to grieve this loss of ‘specialness’ as they cross the threshold into the world of the adult.
‘Letting go of an illusion of perfection, there’s a sense in which young people are always dealing with loss: the loss of an original mothering presence, the loss of a promised land, the loss of ever being an Olympic champion, the loss of so many roads not travelled. In this sense, adolescence is about adaptation and renewal, about finding something to compensate for these losses.’ (Luxmoore 2011, p.118).
Giving anxious adolescents the opportunity to internalise the melodrama of the lunar cycle, witness the disappearance into unknown shadow and gradual reappearance as something beautiful and bright, could help in some way to establish balance. Working with such a theme may also help them to accept the brightness within themselves, even when it feels that no one else sees it.
Another situation in which the lunar theme could be helpful is with pairs or groups as a mediation tool. Like the moon phases, we only ever have part of the picture when interacting with others and rarely see the whole situation. Depending on where our view point, we may actually see totally different parts of the whole which can lead to misunderstanding and disagreement. Working as a group on an artistic process that describes the quality of the moon; revealing that a thing can constantly be itself and yet be perceived in so many different ways, could be helpful in repairing relationships in the workplace and family groups.
Clients that I would refrain from using such a theme would be those who are suffering mental heath issues, depression or end of life. This is due to the stuck, cyclical and physical nature of the moon, which could cause the client to feel that they are unable to move forward and meet change. The melancholic and perpetual, unchanging ‘dead matter’ quality of the moon phases could possibly prevent those near end of live from feeling that they are able to let go.
Themes that would be more beneficial for such clients would be life cycles that enable the client to experience a process of transformation such as a butterfly or a tree through the seasons etc. By working with natural rhythms such as these, the client can internalise the natural process of life and death and witness death as a transformation and new beginning.
Further areas for development on the theme
I considered a number of further areas of development on the lunar theme. The first was making form drawings that have an underlying relationship with the phases of the moon. It is possible to create 2 dimensional diagrams of the orbital path of the moon in relation to
the earth and sun; this has been done many times by scientists and mathematicians.
These diagrams when simplified are the same as many basic form drawing exercises.
Using form drawing in this way could be useful with a younger client, or with clients who are not able to undertake a long ongoing painting sequence due to limited session allocations. Some institutions only allocate clients 6-8 therapy sessions.
Another approach would be to create a series of watercolour veil paintings. Veiling would be a wonderful way of experimenting with the interplay of light and dark. The subtle variations of hue that can be created when colours overlap would be reminiscent of shadows eclipsing the moon. If one took time to undertake such a project, the moon rhythm would become deeply internalised on a soul level. This knowing through experiencing could be a very grounding experience for the appropriate client.
Yet another possibility would be to work with a myth or story that has the moon quality central to it’s theme, so that whilst the moon itself was not the specific focus, it’s therapeutic qualities could be accessed by working with metaphor.
An example of such a story is the Japanese myth about Amaterasu the Shinto goddess of light. In brief, the story describes how Amaterasu is visited by her brother Suzanoo the god of tempests. Though his intention was to have a peaceful visit with his sister, his nature inevitably led to a quarrel between them, resulting in Amaterasu hiding herself away inside a cave and thus light vanished from the world.
After prolonged darkness, all realised that they would perish if Amaterasu did not return, bringing with her the light. So the other gods tried to coax her out from the cave.
Eventually they tricked her into coming out by hanging a circular reflective surface in front of the cave entrance, then made such a din that Amaterasu peeked to see what the commotion was about. Whilst the goddess stood dazed by her own reflection, the other gods grabbed her, blocking the cave entrance so that she could not retreat back inside.
Whilst this story is not about the moon, it is very much about beauty and the reflection of light. This is a metaphor not only for the moon quality, but also the relationship to our self; that in order for our existence in this life to remain healthy, we must see ourselves and recognise our own brilliance.
Whilst experimenting I discovered several possible avenues for directed artistic exercises, and have become acutely aware that exercises should remain loose, allowing for the client to respond in their own way according to their individual needs. On this theme Hauschka (1985) described how:
‘…artistic therapy should accompany mankind, as Raphael accompanied the young Tobias. It must reckon with the path of destiny in each individual patient. Should it become only superficial or even applied with intellectually thought out fixed tasks for certain diagnoses, then it has not been understood.’ (p. 41)
It was extremely useful and worthwhile to have the opportunity to undertake such a self- guided exploration. I have been reminded of the caution needed regarding contra indications and the appropriate use of materials and processes with particular clients.
Working with a natural rhythm has helped me to develop and strengthen the skills of observation and reflection both of which are essential tools for an artistic therapist. Engaging in the process was an interesting struggle and in the end it was the struggle that bore the fruit as it enabled reflection and self discovery.
Collot d’Herbois, L. (2000) Light, Darkness and Colour in Painting Therapy, Floris Books (p.183)
Hauschka, M. (1985) Fundamentals of Artistic Therapy: The Nature & Task of Painting Therapy, Rudolf Steiner Press (p.12 & p. 41)
Luxmoore, N. (2011) Young People and the Curse of Ordinariness, Jessica Kingsley Publishers (p.118)
Schindler, M. (1989) Pure Colour, Rudolf Steiner Press (p.43)