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Art therapy: A study showing how meaning in visual imagery can be communicated symbolically and as a facilitator for wellbeing.

Rebecca White

Submitted to Hereford College of Arts In partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degrees of BA (Hons) (Fine Art).

Validated by the University of Wales

Full word count: 9,089 Edited word count: 7, 995


CONTENTS INTRODUCTION: …………………………………………..…………………………………………..………pg 3 CHAPTER 1: Origins and history of art therapy and significant influences………….pg 5 CHAPTER 2: An introduction to the tools of art therapy………………………………….…pg 7 CHAPTER 3: Using art therapy [symbolically]…………………………………………………….pg 9 CHAPTER 4: Problems of Art Therapy, ambiguity of meaning and art……………….pgs 23 CHAPTER 5: Sublimation……………………………………………………………………………………pgs 29 CONCLUSION: …………………………………………………………………………………….…….……..pgs 34 BIBLIOGRAPHY:……………………………………………………………………………………….……….pgs 36 IMAGES:……………………………………………………………………………………………………………pgs 40


______________________________________________________________________________ INTRODUCTION _________________________

To set art therapy in the wider context of art we have to come to some sort of definition of the term ‘art’. This is challenging as art has come to embrace so many forms and ideas, but if we go back to Fifth Century BC Athens, Plato characterises the nature of art in terms of mimesis, whose approximate meaning is imitation; representing the world as a model of beauty and truth. This concept has undergone much debate in the field of aesthetics looking to implications of creativity, interpretation and “…Mimesis is thus concerned not only with the 'imitation' or 'representation' of reality and all the complex ontological questions that entails, but also with issues of meaning and value.” (Murray, 2004) Art therapy parallels the complexity of these ideas to explore areas of a patient’s unconscious mind by employing their artistic creativity and an understanding of symbolic language. This study aims to draw conclusions about how meaning can be located within visual imagery; looking to its uses in the field of art therapy. Here I aimed to establish how art can be used as a way for the creator to find meaning using art therapy as a means for self-discovery. On this point I aimed to examine also the implications of the way in which meaning is communicated in it’s journey from viewer to receiver, notably looking to the role of the art therapist as interpreter and discussing the issue of ambiguity of meaning when art is used as a tool for communication as signs signify different things to different people dependant on your personal and cultural associations which provides insight into how can we visually show meaning, and as an artist explore how to direct my audience to infer my intended meaning. I also raise enquiry as to whether art could be valued to have meaning in the process rather than art for interpretation; art as therapeutic. 3

I undertook this study to explore ways in which I could use art to explore my self and my personal problems past and present as I was drawn to art that was confessional. For me I always wanted my art to possess meaning, I wasn’t engaged with art which professed to have no meaning and looked to the work of Louise Bourgeois, Tracy Emin and Grayson Perry. However, when I tried to explore my memories as subjects to inform my art I found I had initial flashes without feelings; I was numb. Yet I knew I was angry. I had developed phobias also such as driving, heights, escalators, and writing. My interest in confessional artists who have undertaken therapy led me to explore if perhaps it helped them find meaning. Louise Bourgeois underwent Freudian psychoanalysis, (the theoretical field that informed much of art therapy) and is reported to have produced doodles and random questions (a technique that belonged to a Freudian process called free association) where she has tried to source meaning and understanding. Art historian, Christopher Turner (2012), reported that “…her free associations and doodles not only suggest clues as to the personal relationships and conflicts that inform all her work, but seem to offer direct links to her creative process.” Bourgeois considered art as her parallel "form of psychoanalysis", offering privileged and unique access to the unconscious, as well as a form of psychological release. (Turner, 2012)


___________________________________________________________________________ CHAPTER 1: Origins and history of art therapy and significant influences _____________________________________

To define what art therapy is and how it can be used, we need to look at its origins in therapy and especially psychotherapy. Therapy is a partnership of treating and healing, where there is an alliance between the therapist and the part of the patient which is not sick, to cure the patient’s illness. This could work because of the fact that humans have always used creative practice therapeutically and have felt the necessity throughout history to indulge in the enjoyment of making marks. Some of the ideas of the psychotherapists Freud and Jung informed art therapy, particularly with their belief in the existence of the unconscious as a hard to reach and separate part of our minds from our conscious thought. From this theory developed ideas that art therapy could be a means of accessing this unconsciousness. A major development in art therapy came when, in 1914, Margaret Naumburg founded the Walden School which was known as an innovator in progressive education; where selfmotivated learning and art were central to the curriculum (Rubin, 1998). As a scholar interested in child development, education, art, and having undergone both Freudian and Jungian analysis herself, she developed and synthesised these theories, which became a basis for her developing approaches to education and later art therapy. (Rubin, 1998). While working with individuals at the New York Psychiatric Institute in 1941, she developed what eventually became Dynamically Oriented Art Therapy which utilised Freudian theories of free association as a way to use a continuous and free stream of verbalised thought to release ideas from our unconscious. (Rubin, 1998). She also found value in Jung’s theories which argue that we find symbolic meaning in imagery. Jung believed that within our subconscious we hold a blueprint of symbols which have been passed down through our ancestors, perceiving these to be a universal language of symbolism; 5

existing within and across cultures. (Stevens, 2001) Jung studied his own vivid dreams and fantasies and wrote them down in his Red Book. This process led him to encourage his patients to draw and paint as part of their analysis and found recurrent symbols in their imagery. It was this process that influenced Naumburg’s thought that creating art would allow us to release, recognise, and work through our unconscious feelings (Rubin, 1998) Jung’s image based therapy was a process to create a distance between the patients and their immediate problems where chaotic feelings could be expressed through painting. He called this Active Imagination and he suggests that it is similar to dreaming, arguing that: “Often the hands know how to solve a riddle which the intellect has struggled in vain.” (Jung, 1916 cited in Schaverien, 2006) As art therapist Judith Rubin (1998) highlights, Naumburg was open to the meaning of visual symbols, but saw a need to rely principally on the clients own associations. Naumburg defines her thoughts on these theories and argues that for her art therapy is“…based on the recognition that man’s most fundamental thoughts and feelings, derived from the unconscious, reach expression in images rather than words (Naumburg, 1958: 511 cited in Case and Dalley, 1992: 52) Her ideas stressed on the dynamic unconscious, developed by Freud and Jung, which held an understanding of the patients internal worlds where unresolved issues caused unconscious conflict and painful symptoms. This theory suggested that conflict is caused by suppressing and distressing memories, but can be discovered through bypassing defences, as in art. (Rubin, 2009: 96)


_____________________________________________________________________ CHAPTER 2: An introduction to the tools of art therapy ________________________________________________

Here I have drawn up a list of what I would argue are the main tools of art therapy; used with various art forms to allow the patient to express themselves.

Active Imagination Active imagination is a term invented by Jung to describe self-induced hallucinations that he used to facilitate self-analysis (Stevens, 2001), and as the art therapist Rubin notes that Jung felt there were “…messages to be heard in visual symbols…” (Rubin, 2010: 98) It can be understood to be a process where we start picking up “…messages from the unconscious…” (Rubin, 2001: 97) and form an active relationship with their imagery (Edwards, 2004). Free Association Developed from psychoanalysis where “…the patient was required to put into words without censorship whatever thoughts or phantasies spontaneously occurred…requiring the patient to retain a larger measure of autonomy.” (Storr, 1989: 40) Self-Actualisation Jung developed ideas around “the dynamics of personal transformation and growth” which could be brought to fruition if one “…worked with and confronted the unconscious…” for the purpose of self-realisation. (Stevens, 1994: 38) Within art therapy this is the process of looking into one self and exploring the imagery in one’s unconscious through creative expression to find ones own meaning and become more self aware (Malchiodi, 1999: 229)


Sublimation Building on Freudian ideas of sublimation, art therapist Kramer (2000: 251) argues for art as therapy and states that “…creative activity serves both as a substitute for direct gratification and as a defence against impulses toward it.” Semiotics Within the field of semiotics theories discuss the nature of how language and images can signify meaning; this meaning can take form through the application of metaphor. Semiotics theorist Hall explains that “…with metaphor there is an implied comparison between two similar or dissimilar things that share a certain quality.” (Hall, 2007: 38) Thus, working through a process of transference metaphors work for example where if x was dissimilar to y, x could embody qualities that are metaphorically, but not literally, similar to y. Art therapists encourage patients to look at images metaphorically. If, for example, the patient has produced an image of a tiger, the therapist will not interpret the image as representing the fierceness of the tiger, but will ask the patient to describe the tiger’s fur, to talk creatively about its texture. I would infer from this that this develops a visual language which empowers the patient to be more creative in their artwork and to bring up emotions from deep within their subconscious.

The following is used to promote discussion: Scribble: A scribble is the simplest form of drawing. A precursor for children before form in drawing is established therefore an exercise which is unchallenging artistically and a suitable tool for early art therapy sessions. (Rubin, 2010)


___________________________________________________________________________ CHAPTER 3: Using art therapy [symbolically] ______________________________________________________

Jung’s archetypes, Individuation and Self-Actualisation The theoretical field of semiotics acknowledges the potential for visual signs to signify meaning (Hall, 2007), and this chapter will be demonstrating how interpretive art therapists sit on the premise that visual art can be used for its interpretative qualities; as a means to locate symbolic meaning by the therapist or the patient themselves. As argued by art therapist Malchiodi (1999: 36; 2007) Jung’s ideas on archetypes led art therapists to look to symbolic meanings within patients’ artworks. Jung’s belief was that “…the archetype is essentially an unconscious content that is altered by becoming conscious and by being perceived…” (Jung, 1990)

Case Study 1: Using drawing or painting, a process Carl Jung called individuation encourages patients to locate their identities through the progression of successive image making; for selfactualization. For example, when I was trying to recall the circumstances of a sexual assault when I was young, by drawing the episode (the perpetrator, his bike, the surroundings) it became clear that a third person, the perpetrator’s girlfriend was also present, and had in fact scripted the assault. This fact had been completely lost from my conscious memory, but she came forward in my memory, manifesting as a mother archetype1, and at the time of the incident I was having


The Earthmother – Symbolic of fruition, abundance and fertility, this character traditionally offers spiritual and emotional nourishment to those with whom she comes in contact (e.g., Mother Nature, Mother Country, alma mater). (Wedgeworth, n.d.) (One of Jung’s archetypes)


rows with my mum and had fanaticised about finding a new mother. This brought new meaning to me as it demonstrated why I had trusted the perpetrators more at the time because there was a mother figure present and this has now resolved my feelings of guilt about the episode; now I allow myself to feel angry because this knowledge has removed my responsibility for the episode. Therefore I acknowledge that my unconscious, through the production of art, had brought forward figures that when understood symbolically gave me meaning and understanding.

Case Study 2: The image below, drawn spontaneously by a 16 year old girl, appears to resemble the iconic imagery of the band Black Sabbath and the appearance of the devil2 as an archetype would suggest that it discloses symbolically a message of disharmony and this is corroborated by Jungian analyst Furth’s (2002: p37) suggestion that feelings of fear and horror are present within this patient’s imagery. Discussing the case, Furth (2002) explained that the image was drawn six months after the girl’s father’s death. I would argue that it would be easy to misdirect the meaning of the symbolic archetype, especially as the drawing could be read as simply fan art but when one in undergoing analysis within the therapeutic setting it cannot be disputed that such significant symbols as the devil have potent associations and more reflective meaning. I would suggest, in line with Naumburg’s thoughts (1998), that when a child cannot communicate feelings of crisis verbally or make sense of those feelings, as in cases of trauma, the unconscious will communicate for them through the images they produce. However, for me, I believe that Jung’s archetypes are only a beginning. In reality, I’d argue in line with semiotic writer Hall (2007), that our symbolic associations are born from our personal and culturally inherited experiences. If this image appeared in someone’s art, I would argue that the message or meaning we attach to the archetypes is personal, and the archetype acts as a metaphor to be shared between the patient


The Devil Figure – Evil incarnate, this character offers worldly goods, fame, or knowledge to the protagonist in exchange for possession of his soul. (Wedgeworth, n.d.) (One of Jung’s archetypes)


and the art therapist. Jungian analyst, author and psychiatrist Stevens, takes from Jung’s writings that, “Archetypes…combine the individual with the universal, the general with the unique, in that they are common to all humanity yet nevertheless manifest themselves in every human being in a peculiar way to him or her” (Stevens, 2001: 50)

Figure 1a: Anonymous, (cited in Furth, 2000: 37)

Figure 1b: Black Sabbath: Death Rider 1980

The ‘666’ symbol and devil character can be located within Christian iconography and in this case it appears it has been appropriated to the band, Black Sabbath. The iconic imagery from Black Sabbath becomes her archetype, perhaps from her personal tastes or interests. Her associations to that image, a symbol, will be relevant to her. The girl had been repeatedly running away from home, but through the image, she was able to locate her feelings of not having any friends and residing in a black time where she felt only her father could understand her; feelings of hopelessness. (Furth, 2002) Jung believed that we use imagery to locate ourselves. Through the imagery she was able to understand herself, her feelings and in line with Jungian theory this can be understood as her gaining the ability to self-actualise and she gained this insight through the therapy locating and 11

associating with meaning in her art and I’ve observed how often personal issues can be represented through the use of symbols, metaphors; as representations of themselves.

Metaphors: symbolic representations of the self.

Diagnostic drawing tests:

In therapy patients may be asked to draw a house, a tree and a person as the image produced is used by therapists to find emotional signifiers and personality traits. The relevance of elements of the drawn image has been agreed by researches in drawing analysis and a rubric has been put forward for their analysis largely relating to the formal elements of the drawing. Elements within these drawings can demonstrate anxieties, disturbance, instability and other personal attitudes. This study presents case study 3 and 4 to explore how the occurrence of the ‘person’/figure as metaphor for the self, within both the diagnostic test ‘Draw a Person’, and as it occurs in less directed therapy.

Case Study 3: Draw a person test (cited in Oster and Crone, 2004: 79). The patient is asked to draw a person as they would like and the reliability of this test relies on use of rubric for interpretation, for example:

1. Poor integration of body parts – impulsivity/low frustration tolerance. 2. Shading – anxiety (more shading, greater the degree of anxiety.) 2b. Shaded face – seriously disturbed, damaged self-concept 12. Hands cut off – troubled feelings of inadequacy. (Cited in Oster and Crone, 2004: 78)


For clinicians a drawn person is revealing as it allows a patient in therapy to express a side of themselves that they have been unable to share with others in the past (Oster and Crone, 2004), thus I would concur that this reaffirms the belief that a visual image can be used for interpretation when the spoken word has not been forthcoming. According to psychiatric thought, defences are lowered when the patient uses creative artwork (Oster and Crone, 2004). I would infer that this means that the patient’s drawings will represent a truer state of their emotional concerns than a more formal conversation might produce. Brenda was a teenage girl who self-harmed and showed some idealisation of suicide. As part of her therapy she was given the draw a person task as it was imperative to make a quick diagnosis as she was in danger. In her drawing Brenda drew herself with cut off hands which indicated feelings of anxiety; as did the drawing’s facial features. The rigidity of the drawn figure indicated that she was overwhelmed by emotion at the present time. Brenda had volunteered this information about herself through drawing; revealing meaning that she was unable to communicate verbally. Therefore, I would infer that the conscious mind’s defences are less dominant than when the patient is being artistically creative and symbolically selfreflective and thus provides a source to interpret meaning. I would agree with psychologists Oster and Crone (2004) that meaningful diagnosis can not be made from a single sign but with Brenda’s case she provided several indicators of anxiety.

Case Study 4: Tom, who was nine, had been referred to art therapy because of his mother’s concerns about his emotional outbursts. Tom had experienced the physical abuse from his father directed towards both his mother and himself. Within the therapy session Tom wanted the therapist to draw around his body to create a life sized template. Within the image he used red paint for “…the head, hands and feet to symbolise anger; black on the stomach area…” symbolised his disappointment and he used lots of glitter which is suggested to have indicated the hope of a happier future (n.d. On this same portrait he had drawn a cross near his mouth, which I would recognise culturally as a prohibitive or corrective sign. When asked by the art therapist the meaning of the cross, he was unable to discuss it but he revealed sadness that his mother did not communicate with him as much as he would have liked.


Figure 2: Re: Tom, age 9. (n. d. NORTH DERBYSHIRE WOMAN’S AID) [WWW]

Once his mother was told about Tom’s concerns, she made a conscious effort to communicate with him more. Although the boy did not understand why he drew a cross over his mouth, or chose not to disclose this information, it was during discussion promoted by its occurrence that the boy revealed the problem. This personally created a symbolic metaphor for feelings of not being heard reveals that art in therapy can be used for its interpretive qualities when the therapist’s locates potential signifiers and opens up discourse with the patient. This shows how therapy requires the employment of many factors to make a diagnosis, not solely the interpretation of symbolic language but in this case requires discussion to discover context of a


given sign. These case studies show how representations of the self can communicate anxieties and problems through symbolic imagery acting as visual clues to meaning. Furthermore, it appears that expressing oneself in an artwork creates a distancing from the feelings and emotions that are causing them pain. Often these emotions become confused and cause severe physical and emotional distress. (Oster and Crone, 2004) I would argue that the person image becomes a metaphor for themselves and their state of being. This argument can be given further credence when it appears naturally; as with Case study 4.

Using metaphors within art therapy

It is not surprising that metaphor is so important for communicating in art therapy it has always been a part of our development; as children we learn through creation and play and in our story books evil is associated with witches ‘the baddie/ the goodie’. For instance in my English class at school we were introduced to the concept of metaphors. Tasked to create our own metaphors presented exciting challenges. It enabled us to create rich narratives using metaphors that we had created ourselves from our experiences. This exercise said a lot about who we were and showed the enormous variety of people and experiences in that class of eleven year olds. Art historian Gombrich provides a definition of a metaphor: The possibility of metaphor springs from the infinite elasticity of the human mind; it testifies to its capacity to perceive and assimilate new experiences as modifications to earlier ones, of finding equivalence in the most disparate phenomena and of substituting one for another. Without this constant process of substitution neither language nor art, nor indeed civilized life would be possible. (1952 cited in Case and Dalley, 1990: 12) Case study 5:

The art therapist Riley (2004: 107) describes an art therapy intervention where she, working with difficult teenagers, encouraged them unwittingly to think metaphorically by tasking the group to create zoo animals and a zoo for them to live in.


The children created narratives which scripted the animals as being helpful, isolated or threatening. I would argue that the children used the animals for a form of role play communicating symbolic metaphors of themselves, and as directors they choose indirectly locate the meanings when expressing themselves.

Free Association

Surrealists sought to create art through a process of automatism: “…the creation of art without conscious control.” (Gardner: Kleiner, 2006: 723) Artists such as Miro described his art making as “…a back and forth switch between the unconscious and conscious.” (Gardner: Kleiner 2006: 723) According to Freudian theory the ego defence mechanism of repression often comes into play by blocking our consciousness from accessing areas of the unconscious where harmful feelings of guilt are associated to memories. (Storr, 2001) Naumburg (1965, reprinted in 2001: 46-64) took influence from Freud’s ideas of free association which was a technique he used with his patients to help them break through these defences, where repressed memories can reach expression and access the unconscious through spontaneous image making by “…circumventing the limitations of verbal speech and the evading self- censorship.” (Edwards, 1998: 124) Like the automotive art, this technique utilises spontaneous expression and Naumburg adopted it by encouraging her patients to draw freely, with free choice, and speaking freely about what they had created to find their own associations. Here patients determined their meaning for the artwork (Naumburg, 2001). This contrasts to the diagnostic drawing tests which I have discussed above where patients draw for interpretation by the therapist. Naumburg (2001) found that with this new method she could hear their concerns more clearly. Therefore the imagery created of what resides in our unconscious could be reflective and reveals our problems.


Through my experience, this technique worked for me as a revealing process, as mentioned earlier, with Case study 1, the spontaneous image making allowed me to by pass my repression and materialise a long forgotten perpetrator in my imagery. A lack of understanding I had of the event and the potential scorn of others left me feeling that I had acted inappropriately and behaved badly; against the norm. This caused me a sense of guilt; these feelings are upsetting and harm our ego. This clearly shows how valuable free association can be used to bypass firm memory blocks and release the forgotten details that help us to better understand the event we found so upsetting.

Use of the scribble technique in free association The scribble technique is one process that is used to enable the creation of spontaneous image making. Art therapists using this technique encourage patients to identify images and shapes and use drawing material to develop a picture within the scribbles and to write about these ideas; thinking about their image making connections eventually in relation to events in their life; thus finding meaning. (Rubin, 2010: 135-155) This technique reminds me of the practice of locating images within clouds and for me shows how we have an innate ability of image recognition, a memory of symbols and images within our minds even when dealing with scribbles that are drawn to represent nothing. What a patient found in their images to me would reveal a lot about their thoughts, experiences, culture and perspective.

Active Imagination Malchiodi (2010: Psychology Today) says that Freud’s free association of listening to dreams coupled with Carl Jung’s active imagination set the path for the use of art in psychotherapy. It has been acknowledged that active imagination was somewhat an extension of Freud’s free association (Chodorow, 1997 in Malchiodi: 2010) She further acknowledges that variations of this Jungian tool are used by art therapists today to help their patients find meaning in their art (2010: Psychology Today).


Within Jung’s ideas of active imagination, he wanted his patients to form an active relationship with imagery (Edwards, 2004: 30), and Jung noted that with this process the patients begin to make use of things such as colour and “…merely intellectual interest gives way to emotional participation” (Jung, 1969: pg31, cited in Edwards, 2004.) Case Study 6: As an exercise I decided to draw my dissertation utilising this tool (see Fig 3). I already knew it was causing me intense fear and worry, but I drew it without control or intention for a specific outcome; I wanted to see if images would evolve from my unconscious in line with the instructions given by Jungian analyst Dr Stein, (2010).


Figure 3: My Dissertation (White, 2012)

I drew it as a little book at first, unbound. Then I began drawing a representation of the visual size of the dissertation and the word count which was a major anxiety; as I had begun to feel that I needed to see the many pages I could not picture in my head. I was compelled to use red 19

to visualize the fear I felt; upset and losing confidence I then felt a need to mother myself by building hearts over the dissertation. In this image I created a character, ‘Mr Wordy’, to try to find something that I could believe in, something to guide me rather than hinder me. I also spontaneously used culturally inherited symbols sourced from mass media ‘Because you’re worth it’ (L’Oreal shampoo advert); feelings were evolving where my insecurities were played out on the page, and soon appeared a dreaded and necessary venue; a library that facilitates dissertation binding, which then took on the guise of a Christian church. All my values came to the fore with notes on it suggesting that my research and experimentation could help others; future students. I began to find my fears, in particular a nagging and persistent worry about the presentation of the whole piece and the placing of images within the text. However, this was not a worry that I had consciously acknowledged and was revealed to me when looking for meaning within my sketch. The drawing exercise revealed it to me and also enabled me to visualise a solution as I could see that not every page needed an image - far from it. This exercise allowed me to see that the dissertation was not as huge as I had once thought. I was also able to see that the word spacing filled the pages doubly fast. The first unbound image also showed me that binding was an issue. It made me recognise my fears about getting it bound on time. But here it was bound already. Where to get it bound scared me also I found using Christian imagery enabled me to feel safe. The dissertation’s binding place had symbolically become the Christian church. I was able to trust my imagery and I was actively playing with my fears and creating fantasies. My ideas were abstract and in constant flux. They developed and moved in and out as I went along; it resembled daydreaming. I compare it to doodling with reflections: What if I draw this here? Is this useful? How do I feel? What can I draw that will make me feel better? Mr Wordy become a ‘good guy’ not a ‘bad guy’. My dissertation also became a ‘goodie’. The place to bind my dissertation became a good place. I found turning to religious iconography reassured me; associated with thoughts of ‘God loves you and won’t let you down’. My core belief is that art therapy is to do good for people; therefore my dissertation on art therapy must be a Christian (i.e. good) undertaking. I had to go through this process to locate my fears, allay


them and enable me to continue. I had found meaning using symbolic imagery; a blind fear was clarified, art offered meaning to me and I was guided by this tool. My active imagination may seem childish to many but as Malchiodi highlights, Jung discovered active imagination out of his personal need, turning to play, art and imagination to find symbolism; representations of his emotions: “I had no choice but to take up that child’s life with his childish games.” (Jung, 1962: p174, cited by Chodorow, 1997 in Malchiodi, 2010: Psychology today) Through this childish process Malchiodi highlights Jung’s emphasis on utilising fantasy and the role of the unconscious: “Open up to the unconscious and allow fantasy to take over whilst at the same time maintaining an active point of view” Malchiodi (2010: Psychology Today). This suggests that it is through maintaining an active view, but with a sense of fluidity, that a patient could discover their own symbolic imagery. Jung believes that this tool allows a patient to discover their own archetypes. On this point, Malchiodi highlights Jung’s belief that with this process you may have to return to the image at a later time and continue the process. When I did this I remembered that Mr Wordy was actually a TV character from an educational series viewed during my time at junior school. This suggests that my unconscious had worked with my conscious and I had inherited this personal archetype. With this discovery it instilled more faith in my fantasy character as an aid and enabled me to find a personal understanding: “The goal of active imagination is to help you explore yourself through metaphor and to develop a spontaneous, personal narrative to enhance understanding, insight and growth” (Malchiodi, 2007: p227) Although the answers don’t necessarily hit you straight away, through this process of active imagination I began to grow in confidence and feel that difficulties could be overcome and needn’t be so intimidating. Like Jung, through imaginative active play I found therapeutic healing. My intellectual understanding that I was worried by my dissertation became overtaken by emotional expression; I had become entranced in the creative process.


I have found great overlap between the theories of free association and active imagination as I feel both offer methods for self-awareness/discovery. However, where active imagination offers fantasy as a way to play with problem solving through the guiding of personal symbols, whereas free association seems to be a way to interpret what your problems are in the way you discover the source of your emotional discontent. Free association and active imagination has enabled me to locate my fears and problems through symbolic imagery and I was able to create metaphors. However, the issue art therapy that arises for me is how art can be used for its interpretive qualities being that others might not understand or have the same associations that I have with my signs. This issue is concerned mainly with therapy sessions where verbalisation is not forthcoming and will be explored in the chapter to follow.


___________________________________________________________________________ CHAPTER 4: Problems of Art Therapy, ambiguity of meaning and art _________________________________________________________ How we interpret art can be based on our own beliefs and experiences. Semiotic theorists studied how it is we come to make interpretations and have developed ideas that it is our recognition of signs within images that enable interpretation. Saussure believed that a sign (signifier) has the potential to signify a particular meaning (Hall, 2007).

Figure 5: (Channel 4 Š 2013) Desperate Housewives: Series 2

Figure 6: Desperate Housewives (Ottens 2012) Figure 4: Lucas Cranach, Adam and Eve, 1526, oil on panel An apple becomes a sign that signifies temptation in the painiting by Cranach, it can also be seen how this signified meaning can be transferred to the characters in the US drama series Desperate Housewives. 23

However, the apple (the sign) has the potential to signify health in the context of a food advertisement. A further issue is that the meaning is dependant on the cultural experiences of the receiver as signs are “…produced and consumed within the particular context of a specific society” (Hall, 2007) and can signify different meanings within or across different cultures. An example of this is colour. If we consider the colour blue, it has many very different associations, such as blue can be deemed as spiritual, cold, sadness or calming or it can be seen as rude (blue joke). If we look to religious iconography for example we can see correlations that have developed between colour and meaning or Surrealism where the correlation between sign and meaning are elusive (La terre est bleue comme une orange3 - The earth is blue like an orange) In religious iconography, it’s familiar to see Madonna the Virgin Mary painted in blue robes (Ball, n.d. The National Gallery) from the fourteenth Century, prior to this she was be-robed in red. As Charter and Stones describe (n.d., The National Gallery) the paint pigment Ultramarine blue was made from the precious material lapis lazuli which was more expensive than gold. Ball (n.d. The National Gallery) expressed that this material was incredibly hard to mine and thus was only used “…for the most precious parts of a painting…” as a devotional offering to God. This blue became iconic for the Madonna as seen with statues of her in Vatican City to the costumes for nativity plays in the U.K in both Catholic and C of E schools and churches.


La terre est bleue , Paul Eluard 14 December 1895 – 18 November 1952


Figure 7: The Virgin and Child with

Figure 8: Lapis lazuli (Chater and Stones,

Saints Dominic and Aurea

The National Gallery)

Duccio approx. 1312-15

This shows how one culture could build an association with the colour blue as ‘spiritual’ and thus shows how meaning can be associated to colour to a selected group of people. I would argue that this shows how symbolic association is possible. However, this association depends on their cultural experiences and thus meaning is ambiguous in art for the receiver because interpretation will vary. The potential for this visual imagery to communicate varying meaning can be seen with colour given that blue can mean sad, calm, or as per our previous example (lapis) spiritual. However, given that an interpretation is subject to ones cultural associations and that the intended signified meaning attributed to a sign is dependant on the producer, raises the question of how a clinician can know that an image that a patient makes has a particular intended meaning. For Naumburg (Junge and Asawa, 1946 cited in Brookes, 2006: 7), the art therapist should encourage the patients to take an active role to find their own meanings and that the therapist should be wary not to project their own assumptions onto their patient’s art, and I too would argue that the priority must be with the sign’s inventor as well as to the signs themselves. For instance, the art therapist Riley (1999) found through her work with troubled teenagers that they have a spoken language which is particular to their group or subculture and they have power in their unique visual metaphors. In reality the therapist is unlikely to just analyse one image, it is more a series of imagery that starts to identify repetition of signs. Many therapists believe in the power of journaling, Malchiodi asks her patients to create feeling journals. She states that “…when people begin to explore feelings through art…through keeping a visual feelings journal they often naturally begin to think about colour and how it relates to emotion…” (1999: 155-156) thus encouraging their own personal signs and associations. Thus I propose: how does a patient know how to express their feelings pictorially? In answer to this, I offer Malchiodi’s (2007) example where during therapy sessions she asks her patients: “How do you use colour in your images to express emotion?” “Do certain colours have specific meanings to you?” 25

The use of journals keeps a record of the client’s developing signs and signifiers such as personal colour codes and symbolic associations to communicate meaning and these signifiers limits ambiguity; enabling the patient to locate meaning (Riley, 2004). Case Study 8: A patient who is not forthcoming in talking through their problems can without knowing it actually disclose their problems through repetition of symbolic signifiers within a succession of images. Malchiodi (2007) noted that one of her patient (an eight-year-old girl) who had been suffering stomach pains in silence had told the therapist that she was fine. However, Malchiodi found that the imagery presented something very different. A repetition of dark colours within the patient’s drawings concerned the therapist and highlighted the importance of a potential sign. From this a doctor’s examination discovered she was suffering from a stomach ulcer.

Figure 9: Self-portrait with a black interior by an eight-year-old, (cited in Malchiodi, 2007: 168, fig 8.1)


Figure 10: Drawing of a heart with a black centre by an eight-year-old, (cited in Malchiodi, 2007: 168. fig 8.2) Here the patient has communicated a physical pain through her drawings; indirectly and without being aware she was doing so, in an attempt to either hide it or she has misread its relevance. It is not conclusive that dark colours indicate ill health or pain, Malchiodi (2007) accepts that children and adults work can present colours that represent many experiences or feelings. This can be further argued as Bach4 (footnote) found that dark green can be indicative of good health or recovery, (cited Malchiodi, 1999). This supports the argument that each individual must be treated as such in their uniqueness (Furth: 1998) and that analysis can be supported with a succession of images. Malchiodi (2007) suggests that this stomach ulcer was caused prematurely through stress which indicates importance of context. Malchiodi, aware that the girl was from a violent family background, had utilised the symbolic language of the imagery in line with her medical knowledge of health and family history.


Bach (cited Malchiodi, 1999) found through her somatic studies that research on the potential for colour to signify

somatic problems that the intensity of colour can be indicative of health.


What I have aimed to demonstrate here is the way in which signs signify meaning depends on the context the sign appears in, as I agree with Hall (2007), that although the person who creates the signs is the more important, the receiver should also understand the semiotic language being used. Furthermore, the huge variety of associations one can make to a sign demonstrates how imagery provides a pool of resources. Therefore imagery created in therapy has the potential to offer a lot of meanings when perhaps the spoken word during therapy may have the potential to signify very little. Johnson (1987 cited in Riley: 94) argues that â€œâ€Śone of the strengths of art therapy treatment, lies in its ability of an art expression to contain a multiplicity of meanings.â€?


___________________________________________________________________________ CHAPTER 5: Sublimation _________________________________________________________

This chapter explores how art can be created for something other than to be interpreted for meaning – for therapeutic value. Art historian Turner provides insight to the work of Louise Bourgeois that parallels this argument:

On a piece of pink paper she scratched the slogan,…"Art is a guarantee of sanity." Her artwork was reparative, a form of mental mending. - 2012: The Guardian, Turner

Where Naumburg modified Freudian theory in its desires to emphasis insight, “…uncovering unconscious forces through images and associations to them…” (Rubin, 2010: 96), Edith Kramer, an art teacher and pioneer of art therapy, developed a different approach to the practice of art therapy. Kramer pursued and developed ideas of art as healing or, art as ‘therapeutic’ as she valued the creative process as both an innate human need, and in this sense healing; as opposed to art for diagnosis (Oster and Crone, 2004). She developed the idea that artworks didn’t need to be verbalised and the health properties lay in the creating of art (Ulman, 2001). To understand how creating can aid the mind she looked to Freud’s theories of how the mind works. She looked to Freud’s tripartite model of the mind, and looked particularly to Freud and his daughter Anna’s ideas of sublimation and how it helps ‘the ego’. Freud’s model suggests that the mind can be understood to be comprised of three parts: The Ego (our self) which is our conscious, and The Id and The Superego which make up our unconscious.


Figure 11: Tripartite model (in Berg, 2003: 49)

The Id is the oldest part of our mind and is what we are born with. It drives our primitive and instinctual needs and is emotional, illogical and unorganised. It has no collective will, only a “…striving to bring about the satisfaction of instinctive needs subject to the observance of the pleasure principle” (Freud cited in Storr, 2001: 61). The Ego is our consciousness which allows for reason; the reality principle. It has the power to “…delay immediate responses to external stimuli or internal instinctive promptings…” (Storr, 2001: 61) The Superego comprises the values and ideals that others, society, our parents and education have instilled in us; the morality principle. Berg (2003) highlights that if the Ego acts against the societal or moral ideals of our superego, then it will suffer feelings of guilt.

Figure 12: ‘iceberg model’ (Walsh, 2004)


Figure 13: Personality (in, n.d.)

Whereas the Id and the Superego strive for immediate satisfaction, regardless of the person’s wellbeing, the Ego acts as the negotiator between the two, (Berg, 2003) and Kramer believed the art therapy should support ‘the ego’ (Rubin, 2010: 96). Art therapist Edwards articulates that with sublimation, unacceptable impulses are reshaped in the service of psychological and cultural development. Edwards describes in other words, sublimation being the process where “…sexual or aggressive feelings are transformed into socially valuable or productive forms such as artistic creativity…” (Edwards, 2004: 52). Malchiodi (2007: 37) argues that although the creative process can’t necessarily resolve the conflict, it can however “…provide a place where new attitudes and feelings can be expressed and tried out.” Case Study 7: An example of where art has been used for its therapeutic benefit can be seen with a scheme where art was produced by severely traumatised young people under the guidance of the children’s charity Kids Company and their 15 art psychotherapists “…to help children exorcise their traumas through creativity.” (Hill, 2012: The Guardian) The Royal Academy had given the charity free use of galleries within their London building over the summer of 2012; so that their work could be exhibited at the Royal Academy's exhibition Child Hood – the Real Event.


I would argue that this scheme utilised and illustrates the positive potentials of sublimation as the charity has achieved statistics of 88% on crime reduction, helping some of the most vulnerable and traumatised young people residing in London (many homeless) having suffered from parental abuse, drug abuse and rape. The charity founder, Camila Batmanghelidjh attributes a great deal of the charities success to their attention to arts as part of the young person’s recovery (Hill, 2012: The Guardian).

Figure 14: Above: Chris Yianni supported by the charity Kids Company, working on his as yet untitled artwork for the Royal Academy. Photograph: Graham Turner for the Guardian (in Hill, 2012: The Guardian) Batmanghelidjh believes that "Art unfreezes trauma from a state of explosive potency," she adds. "The children's artistic work tends to be aggressive and compulsive but it's very powerful and uplifting, too.� (cited in Hill, 2012: The Guardian) This fits with Rubin’s contextualisation of how sublimation might work as a tool in art therapy as it offers the invitation to:


…“put it (feeling, idea, impulse) on to paper”, or to “express it with clay”, as opposed to acting it out physically, is a way of taming impulsive drive discharge, and promoting the development of the ego functions. (Rubin, 2002: 42) The charities success have included a homeless girl who hadn’t received education since she was 10 receiving an unconditional offer into university, helping young adults get off drugs and stay out of prison. I can’t dispute the therapeutic value these young people experienced, as the charity founder Batmanghelidjh exclaims "They have so much poetry, these children, because they have seen the worst of humanity. When they re-engage with life, they have deep insight that is absolutely extraordinary." (cited in Hill, 2012: The Guardian). The artwork created by these kids and young adults, are expressions of their experienced trauma; they turn their fears into art. One young ex-offender, Yanni, whose life has been turned around by the charity created a mannequin which has a knife penetrating the chest. From the blade hang several flags reading: parents, criminal justice system, social services, society etc. Yanni discusses how the services and people that should have protected him instead ignored him when he was abused and their punishments led him to a life of crime and homelessness. (Hill, 2012: The Guardian)


_____________________________________________________________________________ CONCLUSION ____________________

I believe I have provided evidence within this study that art therapy works and visual imagery can be used to find symbolic meaning and improve wellbeing. I have shown this through my personal explorations/ case studies and through analysing case studies published from professionals working in the field of psychotherapy and art therapy; where image analysis is part of the practice. When using Free association I was able to recall my suppressed memories and to understand my feelings associated with them; this helped me with my sense of identity. Through my use of active imagination, in line with Jung’s Ideas of self actualisation for reaching one’s potential, I was able to play with fantasy to create something positive from a fear by locating personal symbols and creating metaphors. The knowledge of archetypes helped me recognise the roles of people as influences on my life and provided me with a better sense of identity. With this tool I found that the barrier I felt in my head became unravelled and I accessed my unconscious thoughts. In my exploration of sublimation I have found I too have harboured the psychological process of transference within my art practice. Painting from my experiences gave me ownership of feelings as pain and adult anger was offloaded as it was projected onto the canvas. Thus I see how art can be just for therapy. In relation to children who suffered abuse they created art for themselves to express their pain and sublimate their anger. As Sigmund Freud recalls his patients often said, "I could draw it," a dreamer often says to us, "but I don't know how to say it." (1979: 119 cited in Edwards, 2004: 29) I conclude that art therapy works because of symbolic ambiguities as opposed to in spite of it, as Johnson argues “One of the strengths of art therapy treatment, lies in the ability of an art expression to contain a multiplicity of meanings” (Johnson, 1987 cited Riley, 1999: p94) Searching through the many layers of meaning that symbolic imagery presents, coupled with the therapists use of intuition, the art therapist becomes detective. The use of symbols and creating a personal narrative is paramount to the process, this can be through creating visual metaphors, signs and providing signifiers, thus working symbolically and an art therapists understanding that it is the patients own metaphors for pain or confusion that create discoveries and to stand back with warmth and empathy as the process unfolds. 34

Robert Ault supports this success of locating meaning in his reaffirming of the phrase “…a picture may be ‘worth a thousand words” (cited in Rubin, 2009: 72)



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Becci White dissertation  

Art therapy: A study showing how meaning in visual imagery can be communicated symbolically and as a facilitator for wellbeing.

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