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WHAT IS ART THERAPY – Does it makes us better?
It is interesting to dwell on what is ‘art therapy’ or putting it differently, can we use ‘art as therapy’. In psychology, the use of artistic methods such as art therapy which when integrated with therapeutic techniques, with people who have experienced emotional trauma, physical violence, domestic abuse, anxiety, depression and other mental health issues, can be used as an effective tool to improve mental health and well-being says Professor Ian Rouse (2014). It can aid people to communicate, overcome stress and explore different aspects of their own personalities (Professor Ian Rouse 2014). It offers a method of being able to help people to express themselves within a creative process which allows them to explore their feelings, reconcile emotional conflicts, fosters self-care–awareness, manage behaviour, develop social and interpersonal skills, reduce stress and anxiety, increase self–awareness and achieve insight (Professor Ian Rouse 2014). Art therapy has become more of a focus in recent years within the medical world as arts community realise the power of the creative process to heal body and mind (FAH 2015). The following Awakened Films YouTube discusses briefly “can art be medicine“.
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“CAN ART BE MEDICINE?…”
This YouTube below helps answer the question “can art be medicine”. Edward Hirsch, President, John Simon Guggenheim of the Memorial Foundation explains that there has never been a culture without art, poetry, music and he stipulates that this must mean, we, as human beings, have a need for said. Robert A. Gabbay, MD. PhD, Director of Penn State Institute for Diabetes and Obesity helps us think about mankind’s ancient years, where most of the time was spent hunting and gathering of food but time was still set aside to be creative! This making of time to be creative must have been adding some value to their lives, to their well-being. Both Captain Jason Berner of the US Marine Corps and Stephanie Paseornek Writer, a heart transplant recipient, featured within the YouTube, talk about how art as therapy has given them a means of being able to forge through the most difficult of times.
BUILDING A BETTER SELF THROUGH ART THERAPY
Finding a way to live with mental health issues can be most challenging for those experiencing mental illness and for those who are carers of loved ones with said. The following YouTube is about a man, Jeff Sparr who after struggling for over 30 years with OCD, managed to find painting as a way to help reduce anxiety. He created PeaceLove Studios which supports communities impacted by mental health disorders through expressive arts (Jeff Sparr – YouTube Published 27th Oct 2015). It shows that art for therapy can build a better self and here is what he had to say…
“ART THERAPY IN ACTION?…”
This YouTube titled ‘Inside Art Therapy’ a clip from ‘Art Therapy the Movie’ shows a participant sharing her art therapy process during her art therapy session. The participant shares how the art work is being formed around how she is feeling…
“CREATIVITY IN RECOVERY…”
Art for therapy can be also an amazing tool to use to help whole communities. Communities that have perhaps experienced trauma on a large-scale through say natural disasters such as floods, bush fires, earthquakes where the loss of life has been great. The following documentary helps to highlight how art for therapy can help greatly rebuild community spirit. It can assist in the healing of not just the individuals but the community as a whole…
“ART THERAPY LOOKS SIMPLE BUT ISN’T…”
In this particular YouTube, it talks about how art therapy looks simple but isn’t! It talks about how it can be a language beyond barriers, beyond any kind of written word. How when participants describe their images we can hear metaphors for what can be truly going on within the participants minds. It also talks about how art therapy can be used to help an individual and it can be used to help whole communities that have experienced natural disasters, wars and horrifying tragedies. It states that art therapy helps people connect with themselves in a soothing, nurturing, nourishing way…
The Art Therapy Movie – by Alfonso Bui is about “an epic journey around the world, exploring the power of the human spirit and how art can be used to inspire a lifetime”
“WE ARE ALL CREATIVE IN OUR OWN WAY…”
In the YouTube interview below with Margherita Amodeo – Art Therapist and UN Ambassador, states that we are all creative in our own way. It is important for art therapy participants to understand this, as art therapy sessions, in my opinion are not about teaching participants about art, the sessions are about the participants teaching themselves about themselves through their creative endeavours, through their artful manifestations. Margherita also talks about how art helps tap what is going on inside of a child and with adults, art therapy can make them more vital but also can help them to heal.
ART AS THERAPY – For the viewer of Art!
We don’t need to produce art ourselves alone, to gain a therapeutic benefit; we can be a viewer of someone else’s art work and come away with a different prospective, we can be enlightened, and we can be enriched from such an experience with art. In order to be able to achieve this, as a viewer of art, we need fuller interpretations of the art work its self, meaning the artist’s intended meaning and not just the interpretation of the gallery or just the reliance of our own interpretation. This marriage of communication being the artist and the viewer can add a value not only benefited by the artist but by the viewer as well. A win-win artistic therapeutic outcome for all!
ALAIN DE BOTTON’S THOUGHTS ON ART AS THERAPY
Alain de Botton of The School of Life, in his video ‘Art as Therapy’ talks about how we should make a start to use art to “elevate our sorrows, bring us hope, give us courage” and use art as “a resource, a living resource, that is there for our hearts and not an academic or historical exercise” (Alain de Botton. December 3, 2013). He argues that art can be used to help us with our inner most problems of the soul (Alain de Botton. 2013). From my own experience, this has been the case and can be well appreciated within my abstract painting stories.
He also discusses how often viewers of art, leave galleries a little puzzled about what they have just experienced; that the impact of art is not what it should be, because the ‘frame’ is wrong (Alain de Botton). The captions on art are limiting in their ability to help the viewer appreciate/understand what the artist is trying to communicate through their art work (Alain de Botton). During my own art therapy journey, I found a great need to write painting stories for each of my paintings. I have found that this has given viewers of my art work, a greater understand and a deeper insight into the art work subject matter. It also has left them with much to think about, well after sighting the art work.
Alain de Botton says that art is like a bucket that is holding stuff – it is holding our own experiences and our own emotions; and that art can show viewers facets of life that we would ordinarily find invisible (Alain de Botton). On thinking about this, I can see how I have used art as a bucket of memories or even a timeline of events which have greatly impacted on my life. He also states that art can rebalance us (Alain de Botton) which I have found myself experiencing over the years, via my art therapy journey. I really liked what Alain de Botton had to say about how works of “art can help us to enlighten us and artists can draw us to, with sympathy, towards some of the moments, we know exist but we have a hard time airing publicly” (Alain de Botton). During my art therapy process, I found that painting and writing a painting story was/is difficult to do – but an even greater difficulty was/is to air it publicly – I felt/feel emotionally naked! I came to understand the importance of sharing and how it can be very therapeutic. “Art expands the conversation about the more lonely and sad parts of our lives” (Alain de Botton) and I found this to be true as well.
Alain de Botton presents an interesting perspective on art as therapy in a delightful, informative and humorous manner – worth a watch.
HOW ‘ART AS THERAPY’ HAS HELPED ME…AND WHY
Art for therapy has been a life saving activity I have been using since 2008. The process of painting, photo-taking and story-telling has helped my sense of wellbeing and brought me to a place in my life where I can now find joy in everyday. My involvement, as a participant in art therapy and creative writing groups has help demonstrate to me that using art for therapy is a power tool that assists participants in being able to express thoughts and emotions that otherwise would have gone unsaid, unearthed and unresolved. Art for therapy gives people a way to move forward at their own pace; helps them be able to reach outwards by reaching inwards…it’s a great medicine that helps rebuild people’s lives…
Below here is a painting about my son and a photo taken of me by the Herald Sun at TAC’s ‘Picture This’ Exhibition in 2010 at Federation Square, Melbourne – Australia. The photo features: Painting No. 45A – ‘The Life of Our Son Ben‘ in the foreground; Painting No. 45B – “The Death of Our Son Ben” in the background to the left with Painting No. 45C – “The Loss of Our Son Ben” in the background to the right. This was the very first time I had shown my paintings to the public. It was a very emotional experience shared by family, friends and other artists who had experienced road trauma. TAC’s exhibition gave people whom had somehow been affected by road trauma a way to share their personal stories through creative endeavours.
The painting I am holding in my hands above is a painting call “The Life of Our Son Ben” and as part of my art as therapy journey’ I wrote this story about this particular painting: “Our only son Ben was born on the 16/11/83 and died in a single vehicle car crash on 5/11/2009 at the age of just 25, a number days before his 26th Birthday. I had to do a painting to celebrate his life. To know that the time Ben was here with us was a treasure shared with so many. Ben was loved and cherished and will be missed so much by all but mostly by us his mum, dad and sister. In memory of Ben and his life with us – we love you Ben… Each band of colour represents a year of Ben’s life from a baby, toddlerhood, small child, older child, teenager through to becoming a fully grown young man. Each colour represents the different emotions, feelings, experiences, growth Ben achieved in his 25 years with us. The spheres represent the worlds of people he had in his life from his own family of us (mum, dad and sister and his sister’s partner and now husband), extended family of nana, pa, aunties, uncles and cousins, work colleagues, first love, last love, other girlfriends and his best of mates. In loving memory of our Ben…” by Karen Robinson – Ben’s mum.
In 2011 and in relation to video below – the Transport Accident Commission (TAC) made a client video of myself featuring myself talking about using ‘art for therapy’ for TAC’s 2011 ‘Picture This’ Exhibition. An exhibition that “provided people who had been affected by road trauma to use artistic expression, whether it was in drawing, painting, printmaking, ceramics, photography or textiles, to share their experiences. The exhibition showcased artwork by people who had either taken up art since being involved in a transport accident, or who were artists before their road trauma experience. TAC (2013). Client art exhibition – Picture This 2013. Retrieved from TAC
In 2015, the Transport Accident Commission Victoria made a short video of myself on the opening night of my very first solo exhibition at the Gee Lee-Wik Doleen Gallery, Craigieburn, Victoria Australia. It was titled “…When words are hard to find”. In the video I talked about how my art has been a form of therapy since 2008 and since the death of my son who had been killed in a single vehicle car crash on the 5th November 2009, at the age of 25.
My art therapy journey has been a solo experience up until mid 2014, meaning without any outside influences or company. It has been a very personal endeavour and one that at first was just for me. Over recent years though, I began to share some of my art work through group exhibitions which has been enlightening and revealing. It was through these exhibitions that I learned about the power of art as a form of self-expression; a way to empower a person with a visual voice, when words are too had to find.
In 2015, once again, I was fortunately asked, if I would like to join an art therapy group as a participant. The small group was especially for those who were carers for another in their lives. The sessions were designed to offer individuals a way to express themselves through art and also give them an opportunity to meet new people; to share thoughts, emotions and life experiences within an imaginative and creative space.
During the course of these Art Therapy Group Sessions I found them to be very interesting, challenging and enlightening. What I learned, as a participant was that Art therapy can be a surprising process within a group session. It is an incredible way of learning about one’s self and about others, in a safe and supportive environment. It can reveal pain, sorrow, joy and laughter. NB: Full details of each session can be found by clicking on the session link below, which will then take you to its back story and my art work photo gallery.
Now that I have had the opportunity to complete numerous art therapy sessions in 2014 and now this lot in 2015, I have found it has shown me, that we all need to find ways of being able to express our thoughts, feelings and emotions in a safe and secure environment. Art therapy sessions can be, in my opinion, a wonderful way for people to be able to do just that – feel free to explore what makes them tick! To get us thinking about what is truly going on in our lives that may be holding us back from enjoying life to the full. Art for therapy at its best I feel….
For those who would like to know and understand more about ‘art for therapy’ and the benefits of ‘group art therapy’ – the Journal of the American Art Therapy Association published an excellent article called ‘Art Making as a Mental Health Recovery Tool for change and Coping’ which can be viewed here.
de Botton, A. (2013, December 3). Alain de Botton on Art as Therapy . YouTube. Retrieved May 18, 2014 from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qFnNgTSkHPM
© Karen Robinson – May 2014