An oasis of creativity

Bridging cultural gaps through the language of art at Tel Aviv Art Studio

MICHAL BERMAN (left) and Natasha Miller Gutman (right) at their Tel Aviv studio (photo credit: HERSCHEL GUTMAN PHOTOGRAPHY)
MICHAL BERMAN (left) and Natasha Miller Gutman (right) at their Tel Aviv studio
At first glance it’s hard to believe that the small studio snugly located in the back entrance of a building on Gordon Street, just a few steps away from one of Tel Aviv’s busiest intersections, is the professional, multi-cultural and much-lauded hub of arts, crafts and art therapy that it truly is.
But a closer look reveals Tel Aviv Art Studio to be a welcome respite from the endless and at times chaotic variety of art centers the city offers.
The bright and intimate space tucked away behind a typical Tel Avivian backyard is managed by two women who have taken it upon themselves to make art studies approachable to art aficionados as well as to those who have never seen a canvas up close or held a paintbrush.
“I actually started out from my living room, giving lessons to friends I met at ulpan, and couldn’t even imagine that this would evolve into what it is today,” reveals Natasha Miller Gutman, a certified art therapist from South Africa who launched her unique studio some eight years ago after obtaining her MA in art therapy at Haifa University.
Miller Gutman explains that while it was never her intention to start up a community of art lovers who are also foreigners in this country, over time her studio rapidly grew into just that, becoming a meeting point for Israelis as well as new immigrants from all over the world, who communicate through a shared passion for art. “When we had our first exhibition of the students’ work, one of my students’ partners came up to me and said ‘look at what an amazing community has been created here,’ and I didn’t realize it until that moment,” Miller Gutman recollects.
Michal Berman, an artist and art teacher from New York and Miller Gutman’s partner in the studio, explains that while the studio catered predominantly to olim at first, today it’s characterized by an heterogeneous crowd that is eager to breach the language and culture barriers.
“We hold classes in Heblish all the time,” she laughs, referring to the Hebrew-English mix that has become an inseparable part of the dialogue in the studio.
“There have been times when I’ll be sitting around the table holding a class and each of the participants is from a different country,” Miller Gutman adds. “And I just think to myself – where else in the world could you experience this?” With the studio’s focal point being its people-to-people approach, the variety of classes offered (such as photography, sculpting, painting and papier mache) also place a strong emphasis on positive, encouraging feedback and a work process that is adapted to each of the students’ preferences, abilities and ideas.
Berman, who is studying to become an art therapist, says she often draws on her experience from her studies to foster a healthy and open-minded atmosphere at the studio.
“There is a merit to art in that it can often provide a kind of catharsis. So even if, for example, someone isn’t happy with their work and it can be frustrating I’ll try to look at it with them and see together what they do like about it and be honest,” she shares.
Another feature of the Tel Aviv Art Studio that sets it apart from its contemporaries are the art therapy sessions it provides.
“We offer individual art therapy, which is kind of like psychotherapy but we use art as a medium and a form of communication in a way that is special, because a lot of us find it difficult to talk about issues we may have. Using art helps people process things,” Miller Gutman says.
Art therapy sessions at the studio can also be held in groups, and there is even an introductory course to art therapy.
“The course is intended for people who want to study art therapy as well as for people who would like to try art therapy but are not certain as to what it really entails,” she explains.
Miller Gutman adds that it’s important to differentiate between regular art classes and art therapy sessions, saying that “there is a fine line in art teaching where it’s more about technique, and in art therapy it’s not about technique at all.”
“It’s more about the process,” Berman chimes in. “A lot of people say ‘Oh, but I’m not a good artist, how will I do art therapy?’ but it’s really more about the experience, art could be the end product but it doesn’t necessarily need to be.”
One of the main issues new immigrants to Israel face is the tendency to remain ensconced within the small group of English speakers they encounter, which later on makes it more challenging for some olim to fully integrate into Israeli society.
The studio aims to tackle this issue in its own creative way, and it certainly helps that Miller Gutman and Berman are both immigrants who once handled the same difficulty. For this reason the two insist on having as many mixed classes as possible, bringing born-and-raised Israelis and immigrants together through artwork.
“I feel like it’s especially imperative for [immigrants] to be in the mixed classes, it helps them integrate better into society. They want to feel like it’s a studio in Tel Aviv, not a studio in New York or in South Africa,” Berman stresses.
Berman believes that her time as an immigrant in Israel has provided her with a broader understanding of the Israeli experience of life, and has impacted her technique as a teacher as well as an emerging art therapist.
“I came to Israel five years ago and served in the army as a lone soldier. I did something vastly different in the IDF from what I do now – I was a shooting instructor,” Berman says. “So I can understand when people come in and talk about their time in the army and how it has shaped them.”
Looking ahead to the future of their closely-knit circle of art lovers, she says: “My dream for the studio is to grow an even stronger community, to make it into a kind of watering hole for creativity.”
Tel Aviv Art Studio is located at 31 Gordon Street, Tel Aviv.
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