Art by Becca Allen, photo by Joshua Niven
Artist Becca Allen, whose paintings depict almost incandescent mountainscapes, certainly understands the healing power of art—she’s also an art therapist. Learn more about the painter, her path, and the impact of art.
- Tell us a little about your path as an artist—when did you first begin creating art and why? I’ve always been pretty creative. My sister and I used to color and draw and come up with all sorts of little projects growing up. At the time it was just something fun we did together. I started becoming more interested in art in high school. I prayed for talent, but in hindsight, I think what I really got was my voice. My passion really grew for art as I got older and began to find ways to express things with art that I otherwise struggled to convey. Creating art became a variety of things for me: an outlet for all the things I internalized, an identity, an escape, my safe place. My journey as an artist started long before I accepted the title, but it’s a path I hope to continue to explore for as long as I live.
- Your “day-job” is as an art therapist—how does this inform your art? A prominent idea in art therapy is “process over product.” We value the experience of making the art— the journey, as much or more than the finished artwork. As an artist it is easy to get lost in the final product, and I have certainly agonized over art pieces trying to make them “perfect.” But I think as I began to learn about art therapy and continue to practice, I have found that letting go and trusting the process, allowing the art to emerge as much as I guide it along, has given me a balance that has brought new life to my paintings. The more freedom I give to my paintbrush, the more of my soul seems to find itself in the painting. There is more depth, and I often end up liking the piece more. I think in learning to trust the process, I find myself listening more; listening to myself and the artwork and developing more insight throughout the process. I think every painting holds a lesson, and I’ve learned to be much more open to whatever is revealed along the way.
- Why do you do what you do—both as an artist and as an art therapist? I do what I do because it is who I am. I made a commitment to myself several years ago to live as authentically as possible. I try to listen to what I am called to and forge my path whole-heartedly. As an artist, my paintings feel like an extension of me. They allow me to tell stories and share experiences and build connections with people in a way that is not unlike the experience of my clients. I think at the end of the day, the goal for me is really the same: to help people feel more connected to themselves and their journey, just as I strive to remain connected to mine. I also love the idea of exploring and revealing magic hidden in plain sight. That is the essence of my work as an artist, and my favorite part of therapy. Seeing joy spread across someone’s face, whether it is as a result of overcoming a challenge in therapy or because of a connection they felt to my artwork, there is no greater feeling.
- What impacts have you seen art have on those who are in a process of healing? One of the greatest challenges for people are the barriers we create for ourselves. We often don’t talk about things, whether it is because of shame, or because it is too painful, or maybe we just don’t have the words. Art is a language that transcends that and allows people to externalize that pain in a safe and contained way. It provides an avenue for insight and understanding, both individually and with others. Art can be empowering for people, giving people a sense of mastery and accomplishment, sometimes for the first time in a long time. It can give them back their voice and help them rediscover parts of their self. Healing journeys can be messy, but there can be so many beautiful parts. It can be powerful to have a visual record of how far they have come. A misconception about art therapy is that you have to be good at art to participate, but that isn’t true. Anyone could be a good fit for art therapy. It is an extremely evocative tool that can help people process a multitude of experiences. There is also power in viewing artwork and allowing yourself to see yourself through the lens of the artwork. For example, studies have shown that individuals may have quicker and better healing outcomes when art is present in hospital rooms. I’m grateful to Mission Health for recognizing the power in art and also for being such a support to the local art community when they filled their new building with local art last year.
- Why do you think Western North Carolina has cultivated such a strong community of artists and craftsmen? I think sometimes you look for inspiration, and sometimes inspiration finds you. Sometimes it’s more about finding the courage to bring forth the magic within you and finding the peace and stillness to allow that to happen. You can’t heed the call if you can’t hear it, and I think Western North Carolina gives the heart a sanctuary to be able to listen. I take a lot of inspiration from the places I have been, mostly the places I have found a sense of home in. Because for me, painting is more than depicting a beautiful landscape—it’s evoking a feeling, cherishing a memory, and learning what the art has to teach me. The people who I’ve met in the art community here are supportive of one another and uplifting to one another’s craft. It is not so competitive, rather a celebration of the way we all choose to leave parts of our hearts in the world. As much as the landscape here is inspiring, I really think it is the people who have made such a strong community. Not only are the artists supportive of one another, but there seems to be a general appreciation for art and the heart and soul that is put into it. The community is also strong because of the support we receive from the people who love what we create, and the people who dare to be vulnerable to the spirit of what we make. When people allow themselves to see themselves in a work of art, powerful connections are made, and that is something truly special.
- How can people engage with and purchase your art? My originals and prints are available on my website at www.artistofjoy.com. I’m working on a new collection that I’m very excited about and meanwhile always adding new pieces to my mountain series. I try to post updates on my Instagram @artistofjoy and love it when I get the opportunity to engage with people who are touched by my work.