Introduction to Art Therapy:
Faith in the Product
By Bruce Moon
In summary, this book was incredible. I loved every word and even when it was a bit repetitive, it served to remind or rephrase some of the most important points. This is the first work I have read related to Art Therapy and I am honestly a bit hesitant to read anything else; I feel nobody will have such a beautiful way of writing about art, love, humanity, and therapy. Perhaps it was because I was expecting a more standard textbook format (with bolded words, asides, and footnotes), but the combination of anecdotes and summarization, of definitions and humility, and of personal works of art was more than I would have ever hoped for of a book generically entitled Introduction to Art Therapy. Thank you Bruce Moon, for your compassion towards humanity, your love of the arts, and your belief in the life-changing potential of art therapy. What follows were the ‘notes’ that I took while reading (though honestly mostly excerpts and quotes). If it sounds like an interesting book to you I recommending reading the entirety of it, as I didn’t include any of the anecdotal stories, which I found to be some of the most enlightening.
(I apologize for any errors or typos. I typed the majority of this on my phone and, well, we all know how that goes.)
WHAT’S LOVE GOT TO DO WITH IT?
Why do you do art?
Love is the will to attend, to the self and others.
The doing of art is an act of love.
The relationship between art, art therapy, and love is utterly tied to the presence of discipline, focus (concentration), patience, skillfulness (mastery), and faith. (Faith in the goodness of life, the arts, of others, and of ourselves. Fromm said “… only the person who has faith in himself is able to be faithful to others.” I would emphasize that only the art therapist who has faith in her, or his, own images is able to have faith in those of others, i.e. clients.)
Anything that we attempt to do, if we only do it when we are in the mood, or when we feel like it, may be amusing it may pass the time, but it will never be art.
Without self-discipline life is random and chaotic—what Viktor Frank describes as the, “existential vaccuum.”
Offering a safe, predictable, and comfortable environment
Speed is not of the essence when it comes to art and love. In fact, doing these things quickly may be the antithesis of doing them skillfully
Nothing that is valuable comes conveniently or easily.
THERAPIST OR ARTIST?
“I have always found it facinating that this system (stratified pyramid/caste system) works in such a way as to discourage contact with the patient.”
One must first be an artist, in order to become an art therapist. art is the anchor, the soul, the taproot of the profession. “ARTIST: the one who professes and practices and imaginative art.” (Webster’s New college dictionary) This does not imply hay one must exhibit his or her work, or enter competitive situations. Rather it leads to a definition of art therapist as one who practices an imaginative art and attends to others though the process and the products of artistic work. (28)
WHAT IS METAVERBAL THERAPY?
The heart of the profession is experienced in moments that defy verbal description.
Every paint streak, each xhalk line, every slab of color harmonious and dissonant, declares to the artist themselves, to beholders of their work and to all humankind that I am, I am here and I have something to express.
It is a dangerous thing, TO BE. It is beyond words.
WHAT IS THE NATURE OF THE WORK?
The story of Jan.
The resistance phase
The working through phase
The termination phase
Patterns/metaphoric themes of termination:
1. I will get mad at you, you will be angry with me and I will feel no pain when I leave you.
2. I will withdraw from you early, so that when I leave I will not miss you.
3. Wasn’t this wonderful, I’m so glad I met you, you’ve really changed my life.
4. I will use this time to honor the work that we have done together.
Dramatic enactment is a preplanned , even scripted interaction; the fulfillment of a role; the identification of the comic and tragic in real life…. Each of us plays roles, directs others and is directed, word and recites dialogue. Each of us rehearses and each of us spends time to find our motivations and to get into character. (50)
Dramatic enactment, as an everyday, semi-invisible art form, serves a vital purpose to humanity. It provides a structure for understanding. Truth (reality) is stranger than fiction because it is less comprehensible. Humans need to interpret raw reality to make sense of it. Art forms of all kinds have this critical mission. Patterns and structures from the arts codify and simplify the stream of data called life. An artistic view is a “take” or perspective that suggests a meaning.
Any human art: make life more understandable and express values
Theraputic empathy means that you, the art therapist, understand the drama that is being enacted in your patient’s life and see his or her role in it. You then use your own dramatic skills to project yourself into that role. You understand the motivations for the actions your patient performs and the lines he or she speaks.
Empathy is usually spoken of as an important element in gaining the patient’s trust and acceptance, engendering hope. These things are all true. And the trust is rewarded, and hope justified, when the therapist takes the next step in empathy. The therapist remains in the patient’s character and then examines options and choices for changing the drama. Theraputic options obtained this way have such greater per because they represent the couches the patient might conceivably make.
Legitimate fear, for the therapist, of identity loss…
Remedy: Act. The empathic connection established by the therapist based on the mastery of dramatic (and artistic) techniques is not “just an act.” It is a sincere artistic gesture. Art joins humans together on the most fundamental level, the level of archetype and the collective unconscious.
As art therapists it is your job to pay close attention to the drama your patient’s engage you in. You must be willing to regard all aspects of your work as art-form-in-process. You must attempt to understand the role the patient has cast you in, and you must improvise as you strive to help the patient understand that they can write a new script. It is not only the painting, the sculpture, the poem or dance that is the art form in the theraputic context. Every word you utter, every move you make and every facial expression you display ate pieces of character in the dramatic enactment of art therapy. (61)
TRUTH AND FICTIONS
I have often thought that what my patients have most wanted from me…is an assurance that the truth about their lives are acceptable.
For our purposes here let us define truth as: sincerity in character and action; the sum of real things and events.
…they have create fictional identities in order to ease the pain. These fictions are of course creative acts in and of themselves, and so are metaphoric portraits of the self, i.e., truths in their own right.
(The metaphors of art therapy) are figurative actions and objects in which one thing (the patient) is described in the terms of another (the image).
…the potential for multiple interpretations; their purpose being to illuminate or expose truth.
I listen to the whole of the communication and at every turn resist the seductive pull to analyze, dissect, and label.
Story of Estelle. (Gargoyle drawings)
FUNDAMENTAL PRINCIPLES OF ART THERAPY
1. Meta-verbal therapy
The work of art therapy takes place in the interaction between the patient/artist, the media, the image and the prices. In this sense the primary tall of the art therapist is to see the stage for the work to unfold.
This is not a devaluation of verbalization, it is rather an honoring of action and image.
2. Talk as validation
Offers a measure of security for both patient and therapist
For the patient: Shift from primary sensual and emotional position, toward an acceptable cognitive construct (opportunity to distance from the powerful feelings evoked by the work) – may be helpful or problematic
The essential role of verbalization in art therapy must be regarded as one of confirmation.
3. Art Therapy has no discriminatory borders
4. The dynamic energy generated through creative action is of consequential merit as a source of satisfaction and valuation of personal worth
5. Artistic expression as a healthy act
It feels good to do.
6. Treatment, whether psychological or rehabilitative, is simulated and enhanced through the use of imagination
– The story of Penny (bear and the cave)
7. The theraputic use of art provides an opportunity for the patient-artist to render emotional portraits of significant others in their lives
– The story of Helen and her dead husband
8. The creative arts provide opportunities to make concrete objects representing feelings and thoughts that are elusive, hidden, and mysterious
Discussing the characters in their images is often experienced as less threatening than discussing their psychological difficulties directly.
– The story of Rob and the burning coal
9. The primary feelings related to events in the patient’s life remain powerfully attached to artistic portrayals
cathexis: the investment of libidinal energy in a person, object, or idea
10. As at therapists we have two wanting tools, ART and OURSELVES
It is critical as an art therapist to know yourself well before attempting to deal with to the lives of others.
Physician, heal thyself.
TO TALK OR NOT TO TALK
It is a tenet of existentialism that the worth of an individual’s existence of determined by how he or she responds to conflict and anguish. The individual’s ability to creatively contend with the skirmishes of his life marks the difference between a productive, authentic existence and a life marked with defeat and emptiness. This capacity may be described as a coping skill, defense mechanism, adaptability, or optimism. For our purposes here I will call it creative resolution. (94)
Doing art is a natural method of evoking and sharing feelings and ideas which are essentially conflictual. As art therapists we foster in our patients a belief that they are capable of creative resolution of the problems of art production. (97)
ART THERAPISTS AND SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY
One attribute of our culture is that we do not value pain… We like things to be easy.
The history of art is a saga of struggle, for the process of making at is like that of giving birth. An act of love, labor, and pain. From this tradition we art therapists must have an impact on life and society by taking every opportunity to remind people that it is ok to hurt. It is good to struggle, and that life is hard.
PROCESS AND PRODUCT
“…art therapists reclaim their tradition of artist and about the complications of becoming overly clinified.”
It was as if art therapists longed to be regarded as equivalent to the physician, psychologist, and family therapist. While it is easy to understand the motivations of those in the forefront of such efforts as the field of art therapy developed, it is also easy to see, in retrospect, that much of our unique identity as artist-therapist was abandoned along the way. The motives for being like psychiatry or psychology are apparent: increased earning potential, potential administrative influence, employability, and professional prestige. … What has emerged is a generation of art therapists fluent in statistical study, psychological jargon, and political savvy, but insecure regarding the integral place if the arts in the treatment of human suffering. (104)
The power and depth of artistic expression demands that we art therapists be sensitive to nuances of color and shade, the push and pull of emotional currents that course through line character, and the aesthetic sensibilities inherent in the balancing of weight and mass.
CURATIVE ASPECTS OF ART IN THERAPY
1. Art as Existentialism
“…the ultimate concerns of existence. Prominent among them are; freedom, aloneness, guilt, each person’s responsibility for her own life the inevitability of suffering and death, and a deep longing for meaning.”
Existential art therapists focus their work in addressing the patient’s anxieties and defense mechanisms which form in response to an awareness of the unlimited concerns of life.
(1) doing with them [the patient], (2) being open to them, and (3) honoring their pain
A key notion in existential therapy is that people relate to these issues either by attempting to ignore them, or by living in … a state of mindfulness.
the arts -> expression -> mindfulness -> the ability to change
2. Art as Communication
3. Art as Soul
Shaun Mcniff – Depth Psychology of Art
“…a view if the arts as an unconscious religion.” He also brought to the for the interrelationship of psyche and soul and posited that images are the expressions of the soul.
Cathy Moon – Art as Prayer (unpublished)
When the theraputic arts…are regarded from a perspective of soul, the work is made sacred. From this perspective patients’ images cannot be seen as pathological, but rather as heartfelt expressions of selfhood. … making art is making soul. (120)
4. Art as Mastery
“The sense of adequacy that comes from mastery of artistic techniques and media is linked to self-discipline and inevitability leads to positive self regard. From this comes a sacred passion for life.”
“The process of making art is a process of organizing chaotic emotional material into coherent, restructured product.”
mastery = care
5. Art as Personal Metaphor
– Metaphor as image and action
– Hold conscious and unconscious symbolic meanings
– to articulate, express, free and define their creator
– the proper response to a painting is not analyzing… but rather by painting another painting… We must not attempt to enslave it through our vocabulary. …images can, and should just be.
6. Art as Empowerment
“Our primary task is to inspire in the patient the desire to use his discomfort rather than be abused by it.”
“The empowering nature of art therapy does not seek cures, it accepts and ennobles.”
7. Art as Work
8. Art as Play
9. Art as Relationship
The act of making is an invitation to relate. By making, the artist take images from within, and spreads them in the world. It is an act of acknowledgement of the other beyond the boundaries of self. (128)
Personal meaning can be found only in the context of relationship. The self must be transcended for purpose to be present.
10. Art as Structure and Chaos
11. Art as Hope
Hope requires faith. The patient needs to have faith in the art therapist, the therapists must have faith in the art process, in himself, and in the essential goodness and value of all people.
12. Art as Benevolence
The making of art is an activity of self-transcendence. … The doing of art invariably absorbs the patient in a thing outside the self. In the studio this transcendent absorption is a public act. Patients respond to the artwork of other patients. There is a contagious benevolence that infects the air of the therapeutic arts studio.
CURATIVE ASPECTS ILLUSTRATED
Artistic expression leads to mindfulness, mindfulness leads to creative anxiety which leads to change / action, which Foster’s expression which deepens mindfulness. The formula is circular.
If images are regarded as living metaphors, this promotes a reverent approach by those seeking to be in dialogue with them. The notion of dialogue, precludes the injurious and unethical phenomenon of imagicide. (144)
The labors of artists and psychotherapy patients are marked by sore muscles, blistered hands and hearts. Art is work.
“…To be sure, all of this is done in order to create something for which reason we can call it work and not rage.” (Menninger, K. / Love Against Hate)
The sculptor feels the impact of chisel against stone. The dancer feels the weight of his body through his feet. The ceramicist feels the slippery ooze of wet clay spinning between her hands on the potter’s wheel. The painter smells the linseed oil and senses the roughness of the canvas as brush pushes pigment across the surface. The processes of making art demand that artists touch the world. (152)
Although many artists are professedly private, most artists aim their creative work toward other people. Making art is thus a process concerned with community, with deepening relationships.
PATHOS OR PATHOLOGY
(Sane or Sick)
Viewing artistic imagery by psychiatric patients as pathological (altered or brought about by disease) or as an expression of pathos (an element in experience or in artistic representation evoking compassion)
Four basic styles of relating to imagery:
1. Imaginal material as overt expressions of unconscious conflictual material; particular meanings can be advised to symbolic images; roots in Freudian analysis; representations of sexual and aggressive drives; images as concrete representations of the pathological
2. Focus on a pathological understanding of art products; suggests that patients with certain types of psychiatric disorders create art that is similar enough as to allow classification
3. Image as messenger
4. Image as intermediary
– Living images and the living artists who made them
– Not formulaic
– “Images should not be seen as cadavers to be measured and pathologized. The world of the imagination is mist and shadows.”
WHO, WHAT, WHERE, WHEN, WHY, HOW?
Dialogue with the image, don’t interrogate it.
Cross examination and interrogation are tactics of intrusion and manipulation.
Honor and respect the image and the patient
THE THERAPUTIC SELF
Pastor – care for, support, console, + guide
Priest – leader of sacred rituals that, trough symbolic action language, tell the essential story of the community
Prophet – reminds the community of the way their lives are; only through facing fears can meaning be found; confronting denial
-See beyond conventional thought and trends of the present
-Understand the unspoken language of dream and myth: the metaphoric images that contain and express deep truths about the individual’s life, and the inner life of a surrounding culture
Images, whether dreamed or mythic, do not come to harm, they come to enlighten
A PSYCHIATRIST’S VIEW OF THE ARTS IN THERAPY
The need for team players, viewing all the disciplines as equally important.
The need for enough security in identity to bring, share, and educate the other team members when the actual artistic productions of the patient and speak up when necessary.
Three phases of treatment:
1. Resistance – main question is the quality of the relationship
2. Working through – intensely interested in the image content of the patient’s productions (do the themes seen confirm and reinforce the other info?)
3. Termination – look to the arts to provide the patient with a mechanism to express the sense of loss (often too difficult to verbalize) as the relationship ends; also, artistic production serves as ideal transitional objects
Patient art hung in the inpatient living areas
Motivations for giving pieces of art to the unit:
1. Affirmation (positive regard for staff/treatment process)
2. The Closet Effect (symbolic connection maintained to the safe, nurturing, and predictable enviro)
3. Giving Back
4. Concretization of introject exchange
THINGS TO WORRY ABOUT
– It Costs Too Much To Care
– Perils of Promotion
– It’s Just a Picture
– Security, Sanctity, and Severance
Institutionalizing of art therapy; rise of rigorous standards for education, strict and arduous credentialing, the creation of associations, etc.
A disturbing aspect of the formalizing of the discipline is a growing trend toward forced uniformity of theory, philosophy and approach. (191)
NOWHERE TO HIDE
If Nietzsche was correct, that only artists dare to show us the human being as he is, then it is a primary task of art therapists to engage with people without the aid of disguises or makeup. We must allow ourselves to be who we are without guile or manipulative intent.