Art Therapy commentaries



Exerts from article on Lynn Kapitan, Ph.D., art therapist, by Crystal Keels for Network, a publication of the Union Institute (Vol. 17, No. 1, March 2001)



There are cultures where the way people live their lives is an art form, and they don't even have the word 'art' in their vocabulary.


When you get to the particulars of practicing art, when you do work and shape materials with your hands, you get a direct experience of the transformational process. It is not just and abstract concept.


The therapist might have someone who is having trouble seeing the big picture work with collage materials or with mosaics. In both instances the person works with tiny pieces to create a larger image to see the bigger picture. That is part of the beauty of working in an art form - you can play with whatever it is that is bothering you and do anything you want with it. You can take a painting and shred it to pieces. You can't do that with a relationship with a loved one, but paper will let you do it. If you listen to what that paper is telling you in the process, you will find a way to address it in your relationship because you have had a chance to practice or play it out in the paper.


When people connect feeling and art in their lives it always seems to lead to discovery. People somehow discover an insight that they've had all along- that the arts can be healing.


In all my encounters with art therapists themselves, once they identified what the image of their disenchantment looked like, then it was a matter of working with the image and playing with it to see what else it could offer. Invariably what happens is that the person's perception of the situation changes. Again, the image becomes an opportunity for transformation. It is enchanting to see other people transformed by that process and see how their lives take different directions or are infused with new vitality.


From Creating a New Surface: Growing Through Grief by Sandy Mayo (same volume)

She recently completed her Union Institute doctoral studies in creative arts and women's studies. Mayo's fine arts experience includes over 20 years as an abstract artist and 10 years as a performance artist using Barbie doll imagery. She holds an M.F.A. from Vermont College/Norwich and is a member of the Vermont Women's Caucus for Art.



Reciprocity Between Life and Art

In my Contextual Essay, I described hoe, "while working with my husband's (recently deceased) personal objects, other second-hand materials, and traditional art materials, symbols and images grew out of ambiguous pictorial elements. Their meaning is revealed to me through what Levi-Strauss in his book The Savage Mind described as 'art's reciprocity,' which occurs when one develops the surface plane through one's personal and intuitive engagement in an action-oriented construction process. Simply stated, this describes a system of exchange that occurs in the interaction between myself and the material with which I work. Levi-Strauss' discussions of reciprocity as a byproduct of working with bricolage's structural operational methodology, where intuitive, significant codifications, embedded in the mind-mix with psycho-archetypal construction from a prior and non-cognitive engagement process, support the idea that knowledge continually mixes with whatever the experience is at hand. This causes a reciprocal arrangement to exist between what the art maker physically experiences on the surface and how the mind's inner ocular interpreter reconfigures said sentient, non-cognitive experiences into concrete analogies and abstract expressions (i.e., symbols and images). Therefore, significant emotional, psychological, cultural, social, and religious experiences located within the mind's 'inner' landscape are revealed in the painting's composition, through the combining of bricolage's operational methodology with the art maker's phenomenological engagement with his/her 'tools' and materials.

Throughout the analysis of my creative process, I realized that my initial thoughts would reoccur from many different perceptions, presenting me with a variety of visual ecologies, e.g., organizing them to a visual nomenclature of isomorphisms that does not necessarily arise from any learned rationale or quantified strategy for choosing one idea or a cluster of ideation over another, nor does the continual repetition of similar messages. Markings on a Paleolithic cave wall, a Cycladic bow, or a 20th-century painting can generate similar responses. Crevices in a mountain, a planet, a sculpture, or in a face can do the same. Though each represents a different shape, landscape, or physical composition, their internal structure or particular character can be perceived in a similar manner. Similarities or isomorphisms such as these evolve through continuous association between the conscious and subconscious mind with the event at hand. Thus, while moving through life following a rational, socialized understanding of reality, the unconscious mind collects experiences from our direct association with an event, regardless of how we have been taught to think and respond to events in general.

Essential associations form life-characterized properties and evolve into a system of abstract symbols and images that continue informing us in both a linear and non-linear aspect. The interchange and transformation of associations to fit the present situation are the stuff of which myths and rituals are made. Historic examples of this include representations in pictorial language on ancient bowls, cloth, caves, totems, and similarities in the psychological ramification of their meaning in ancient contemporary society. Wavy lines, circles, stars, and triangles all possess certain inherent meanings. Dolls are an excellent means to interpret myths, rituals, and symbols that identify with a society's collective consciousness and psychological distancing. Whether it is a Barbie dolls, an Athena, or a Venus of Willendorf figurine, we are being informed about society's perception of women..