Entranced by the light of a projector throwing images of Rothko paintings onto the wall, three women sit around a square table in the middle of an otherwise empty room. The three murmur softly as a new painting appears on the screen.
Before the effect of the painting has completely set in, Jas Milam, an artist and art therapist, begins talking about the piece and the emotions portrayed.
Milam is a Chattanooga native who always knew art would be an important part of her life. In 1983, she graduated college with a concentration in early childhood development and studio art, and she began teaching classes in the Hamilton County school system, the Hunter Museum and Chattanooga Parks and Recreation.
Milam began to see her art change and decided to pursue another route.
“My own work in the studio began to transform as I took some steps toward personal growth,” says Milam. “I noticed that it also was reflected in the way that I was working with my students and thought that the therapeutic benefits of art-making were something that I wanted to get more intentional about.”
Milam decided to go back to school to get a degree in art therapy so she could help others heal and learn more about themselves.
The clients Milam works with vary from individuals who have illnesses, addictions and disorders to those who are looking for personal growth.
“The right brain knows things about us that the left brain needs to know,” says Milam. “Some of that unconscious material that we access during dreams or through symbols in our life can also be accessed through art-making.”
When a potential client first comes to Milam, the two go through a series of assessments allowing Milam to tailor a program to suit the needs of the individual.
The 60- to 90-minute class begins with an exercise allowing the group to connect with one another. Then Milam shows a presentation introducing the topic of the session as well as showing students how other artists have portrayed emotions through their work.
After creating their own works of art based on the day’s lesson, Milam will process the art with the clients and give feedback based on what the art depicts.
“It’s not about having talent or training so much as it is about connecting to an experience.”