Materials & Media in Art Therapy
eBook - ePub

Materials & Media in Art Therapy

Critical Understandings of Diverse Artistic Vocabularies

Catherine Hyland Moon, Catherine Hyland Moon

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  1. 336 pagine
  2. English
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eBook - ePub

Materials & Media in Art Therapy

Critical Understandings of Diverse Artistic Vocabularies

Catherine Hyland Moon, Catherine Hyland Moon

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  • one of very few books that deal with the electronic media in art therapy
  • editor and contributors are top scholars in the field

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Art Therapy Materials and Media

History and Theory

A History of Materials and Media in Art Therapy

I approach the building and see, through street-level picture windows, that the studio is buzzing with activity. When I reach the door, Jiyoon pushes it open for me. The jangle of a string of tiny bells hanging from the doorframe and a chorus of familiar voices greet me. Alex is moving about the room, giving a tour to someone who has never been to the studio before. April holds up the red and purple woven purse she is making from duct tape. “Cathy, what do you think?” she asks. “Wow!” I reply, with a big grin on my face. “That is so cool!” Daniel is sitting off to the side, whittling a cooking spoon from a piece of a wooden vegetable crate he found in the alley behind the grocery store. I move to get a close-up look. He shows me the concentric rings in the wood grain, and tells me it must have been a very old tree. Valery is working on a pair of black leather pants for a sock monkey she has made. Her punk monkey is black with a red yarn Mohawk across and down the back of its head. “Hi, Cathy!” she says, giving me a mischievous grin when she sees me checking out her monkey. “He’s great!” I tell her. I walk over to the counter and add my name to the list of people who have already signed in. Then I pull out a bag of fabric scraps, sit down, and begin to sew embellishments on a wrist cuff I have made.
As the evening wears on, the conversation flows from one topic to the next. We discuss our recent grant application, and our
collective sadness and frustration at being turned down. We talk about progress on the community garden, a collaborative effort we are involved in along with a few other local organizations. Kevin stops by and tells us that he is being kicked out of his apartment and that he expects to be homeless for a while. Miriam pins together pieces of fabric and talks about the quilting workshop she will be leading at the studio next month. Alex, who is now working on a painting, is adamant that we can find a way to keep funding the studio. As he layers washes of color on his paper, he also layers one idea on top of the other, brainstorming about ways we might be able to stay solvent. Before long, I am pulled by the strength of his conviction, and I become a believer again.
This, my current art therapy practice, is so different from my first art therapy job at a psychiatric hospital nearly 30 years ago. Here, the problems are not only related to psychiatric issues, but also are about economics, social justice, housing, education, and jobs. Our mission is explicitly related to community development rather than individual therapy. The professional boundaries are more blurred; everyone helps each other and no one is identified as a client, so it is not immediately evident who is being paid to keep the studio running and who is not. Though there is a sense of sanctuary here, it feels different than at the hospital where the healing effect took place at a remove from the clients’ daily lives. Here, neighbors, family members, art therapists, and art therapy interns work side by side, cocreating the quality of our lives and community. Each evening, people come and go, and the studio breathes in the life that comes from the diverse, mixed-income neighborhood of which it is part.
It is not surprising that the art that comes from this environment is different as well. Rather than being a response to therapeutic interventions, the art making evolves naturally from the many interests, needs, skills, ideas, and motivations that draw people into the space. Participants are as likely to make collages, transfer family photos, crochet, tend plants, sew altered clothing from discards, write poetry, sit in rapt attention for a slide lecture, create a beaded necklace, or share recipes, as they are to draw or paint a picture about their feelings. Their art making is motivated by desires as diverse as learning a new skill, making money, gaining approval, critiquing social injustice, being part of a social group, making a gift for someone else, enacting community change, or expressing thoughts and feelings.
Examining the history of media and material use in art therapy has made me appreciate those art therapists whose shoulders I stand on, who established the practical and theoretical structures that make my current art therapy practice possible. Though materials and media have not often been the subject of focused examination in art therapy, they have provided the core means of expression in clinical practice, and thus materials and media are embedded in most everything art therapists say and write about their work with clients.
This historical overview of materials and media has also made me aware of how much art therapy has continued to rely on the material theory and practices of early art therapists. Despite changes in art theory and criticism, as well as significant changes in the social context, art therapy has remained strongly tied to the material theory and practice established by Modernist ideals.
Sometimes I feel that as art therapists we can get stuck with paint and paper not only because we are usually short of space but because we may be a little trapped in the conventions of the traditional “studio” and the convention of “art as expression,” when it refers to art therapy. (Waller, 1993, p. 55)
Is the profession of art therapy stuck in outmoded conventions of material and media practice? Certainly, there is a preponderant emphasis placed on traditional fine art materials, especially those used in painting, drawing, and sculpture. However, as this overview of material and media use shows, there also is evidence that interest in the therapeutic potential of technology media has taken hold and is growing. Other material and media practices, though not widely discussed in the literature, have popped up from time to time over the course of the profession’s history, from needlecrafts to performance art, from found objects to fashion, and from interior design to environmental sculpture.
This chapter outlines the history of materials and media use within the field of art therapy, particularly related to evolving praxis in the field. An overview of materials and media use in the early years of the field’s establishment is followed by an introduction to more recent developments; an articulation of ongoing concerns; a compendium of specific materials and their therapeutic applications; and a look at trends in the field that suggest future directions in art materials, media, and practices.


Prior to the inception of art therapy in the 1940s, many residents of psychiatric institutions relied on their own resourcefulness to scavenge art-making materials from institutional environments (Prinzhorn, as cited in MacGregor, 1989). Edward Adamson (1984), pioneer art therapist in Great Britain, described how when he first arrived in 1946 at the hospital where he would work for many years to come, he discovered that the patients had been making art from any material at hand, including toilet paper, flyleaves from library books, charred ends of matchsticks (for drawing), fabric scraps, cement from construction sites, wire coat hangers, plaster bandages, stones, flint, and bones.
Over time, as the use of art for therapeutic purposes evolved from the work of isolated practitioners to the establishment of a profession, art therapists focused on materials like poster paints or felt markers because these materials are expedient, cost-effective, portable, safe, easily manipulated, and of sufficient variety and quality to facilitate spontaneity (Wadeson, 1980, 1987). In the early years of the profession, “conservative voices in art therapy insisted that the discipline should be restricted to drawing, painting, and modeling with clay” (McNiff, 1999, p. 197). Though this privileging of traditional fine art materials has remained the dominant paradigm in the field to this day, there have always been art therapists who, out of conviction or necessity, have transgressed these material boundaries.

Selection of Materials and Media

Margaret Naumburg, commonly considered the mother of art therapy in the United States, advocated for the use of easy-to-manipulate, quick-to-apply art materials, such as semihard pastels and poster paints (Junge & Asawa, 1994). Influenced by Freud’s views on imagery as expressions of the unconscious, she emphasized release of spontaneous art expressions and therefore preferred simple fine art materials (Naumburg, 1987). Many other art therapists followed suit by choosing simple materials, asserting that their clinical practice does not focus on artistic skill development, standards of artistic production, or artistic accomplishment, but rather on self-expression and self-discovery (Betensky, 1973; Wadeson, 1987).
Some art therapists expressed caution about offering clients too many materials, believing that plentiful supplies can be distracting, diffusing creative expression, and affecting the direct expressiveness of the work (Kramer, Kwiatowska, Lachman, Levy, Rhyne, & Ulman, 1974; Lydiatt, 1971). Kramer (1961) suggested that the use of unorthodox materials could cause resourcefulness to be perverted into a search for novelty and superficial familiarity with techniques.
Early practice in art therapy was characterized by both directed and undirected use of materials. Because the unique qualities of various art materials are significant to the therapeutic process, many believed it was the therapist’s role to select appropriate media that showed sensitivity to the client’s conditions and needs (Charlton, 1984; Lydiatt, 1971; Wadeson, 1987). In contrast, Rubin (1984) was among those who proposed that usually it is best to let clients choose their own materials; this way, the therapist can view decisions made as symbolic expressions and respond to the client with clinical sensitivity and discernment.
Yet all therapists, then and now, make choices in relation to the materials they supply in their art therapy settings. As Lydiatt (1971) suggested, sometimes the art therapist’s own preference for materials influences what is supplied in the therapy setting. Whether selecting materials to address the specific ...

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