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Karen Perry-Anderson February 25, 2014

Art historians tell us about Paleolithic cave paintings with powerful images symbolic of their creator’s hopes, fears, and experiences. In the absence of a written language, the images lining the caves give us insight into the inner workings of the Paleolithic human mind. While there is a definitive trail from the fields of psychology and psychiatry leading to the development of art therapy, this paper will deal primarily with art education’s contributions to the field. The contributors discussed in this paper were not aware that their attitudes would contribute to the future field of art therapy. Amidst the history of art education there are a few outliers with ideas formed from their own observations containing attributes which contributed to the coalescence of art education and psychology into the field of art therapy. The main contributing attribute shared by all the art educators and psychologists mentioned is awareness that untrained, un-coached mark making has value. Additionally this paper does not delve into the vast richness and applications of the art therapy field; it is meant to give a nod to the innovative art educators of the past whose unique visions saw more in the value of art education than its use for industry, decoration, or integration with other subjects in the school curriculum. The genesis of art therapy stems from the study of the art of primitive societies, mental patients, and children’s drawings (Malchiodi, 2003). The commonality in linking the above art forms is the authenticity of the untrained representations of the artist. Figure 1, on the left, shows a representation of an unprompted drawing of a child’s experience of a bombing in Palestine; juxtaposed with a coached drawing from a regular art class on the right. Both pieces are art work and present symbols of the child’s perception of reality. The difference is in the function of the work. An art therapist places art practices and interventions alongside talk as the central modality of treatment (Naumburg, 1950/1973). An art educator may place value on the drawing in representing the formal art elements (color, value, line, texture, shape, form, space).


Karen Perry-Anderson February 25, 2014


To find the influences on the art therapy profession from the past, a mention must be made of the history of art education. After the Civil War, a push by industrial interests in the Northeast to develop more competitive goods for export prompted the first publicly supported schools in America to begin teaching art in Massachusetts (Stankiewicz, 2001). Emphasis placed on the technical literacy of mechanical drawing thus heralded the birth of industrial art. Industrial art led to the attitude that drawing was a skill to learn and practice to perfection with no consideration for the inner expression of the individual. The remaining of the 19th century found art making in schools fulfilling various missions; focusing on holiday themes, decorative arts, and nature appreciation (Stankiewicz, 2001).


Karen Perry-Anderson February 25, 2014

A few voices appeared throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries to call attention to the importance of the individual’s inner artistic motivation. G. Stanley Hall, a psychologist lecturing in 1880, related that children’s naïve, spontaneous, and unsophisticated art should be valued as should their thoughts, feeling and impulses (Stankiewicz, 2001). In 1897, James Hall, an art educator, lamented industrial drawing negated the art spirit of a child in limiting their artistic instinct (Stankiewicz, 2001). Henry Schaefer-Simmern, an art educator in the mid-twentieth century from Berkely, California, developed a theory he called visual conceiving (Gradle, 2009). Schaefer-Simmern believed that people of all ages and abilities have an innate ability to visually express their perceptions of experiences. He did not believe in drawing from life or copying. “The artistic form could not emerge mindlessly from eye to hand; it had to be a process of drawing out from eye through mind to hand” (Gradle, 2009, p. 6). Schaefer-Simmern’s contribution to art therapy does not lie in the psychological examination of


Karen Perry-Anderson February 25, 2014

images, which he did not value, but in the importance of using the imagination and subjects relevant to students to produce the most authentic art work.

James Sully, another psychologist studying children’s art making was one of the first to recognize the importance of unfettered scribbling. In referring to a four year old girl’s scribble drawing, Sully noted it was, “closely analogous to the symbolism of language” in that the representation, arbitrarily chosen functioned as a symbol and not as a likeness (Efland, 1990, p. 161).The scribble, later to become important in many art therapy modalities in the late twentieth century was first embraced by art educator Florence Cane. Florence Cane viewed artistic exploration as important in developing psychological development (Stankiewicz, 2001). In particular Cane believed the scribble to be of utmost importance so much so that she devoted an entire chapter to it in her book, The Artist in Each of Us (1989). Influenced by the ideas of the psychologist Carl Jung, Cane felt the scribble was a means of bringing thoughts from the unconscious to give voice to them in the conscious world. She allowed students to freely mark papers using large motor movements and then would FLORENCE CANE

have them find recognizable objects to embellish and talk about. Cane had undergone Jungian analysis and was

intrigued with his ideas on the unconscious and conscious (Cane, 1989). Jung along with the psychologist Heinz Werner influenced art education with their ideas on physiognomic perception (McWhinnie, 1985). Physiognomic perception is the tendency to apply human-like characteristics to objects. Werner believed that it was natural for artists to perceive things physiognomically and pointed to the work and writings of the artist Kandinsky (McWhinnie, 1985). McWhinnie elaborates “Kandinsky, more than other early 20 th century painters, was concerned with not only explanations for what he perceived as an artist but also for conceptions of artistic perception that were rooted in psychology” (McWhinnie, 1985, p. 96). Werner and Jung produced writings about the nature and function of metaphor in art and imagery.


Karen Perry-Anderson February 25, 2014

McWhinnie (1985) relates that Jung and Werner’s insights demonstrated that the nature of the metaphor seemed to tap into different parts of the brain as a different way of knowing. Figures 2 and 3 show two of Cane’s student’s scribble drawings and the images elaborated from them of praying women and a seal with a ball respectively. She would ask students questions about their images and felt those conversations led to resolution of


individual students personal issues. Cane also embraced the unconscious as a different way of knowing. She described the imagination as a “child’s passport to the world” (Cane, 1989, p. 56). Cane looked to the writings of Leonardo da FIGURE 3

Vinci for support of her scribble method to bring out the imagination. In her book, Cane relates

how da Vinci would gaze at a mottled stone wall and imagine mountains, rivers, rocks, trees, plains, wide valleys, and various groups of hills, faces, and outlandish costumes. She quotes da Vinci in describing his visualizations “in the walls you will find an infinite number of things which you can then reduce and separate into well-conceived forms” (Cane, 1989, p. 57). Cane receives lesser credit for her methods, some used today in art therapy than that of her younger sister Margaret Naumburg, considered the ‘mother of art therapy’. The book, Handbook of Art Therapy (Malchiodi, 2003), mentions the use of a modality called “scribble chase” that is identical to Cane’s descriptions in her book.

Art educators throughout the nineteenth and early to mid-twentieth century that were able to step away from the common directives on how art making should be instructed to advocate the innate use of imagination, fed the ideas from art education contributing to the field of art therapy. Vincent Van Gogh illustrates more vividly the effectiveness of the revelations of the imagination over drawing from life (Cane, 1989). The oil painting in Figure 4, The Starry Night Over the


Karen Perry-Anderson February 25, 2014

Rhone, 1888, was painting done by Van Gogh at the urging of his brother Theo. Theo was concerned about Vincent’s ability to make money and felt he should stick with the new style of painting called Impressionism. Cane’s


(1989) book tells us the story of how Van Gogh struggled with drawing from life for this first starry night sky painting. In a letter to Emil Bernard he says, “The imagination is certainly a faculty we must develop and it alone can bring us to creation of a more exalting and consoling nature than we are shown in a solitary glance at reality-we perceive. A star-spangled sky, for instance, that’s a thing I would like to try to do…but how can I manage unless I make up my mind to work from imagination?” Giving in to Theo’s wishes he painted the above painting and described it in a letter to Theo in a very clinical way, “On the blue-green field of the sky the Great Bear sparkles, its discreet pallor contrasting with the brutal gold of the gas light” (Cane, 1989, p. 127). The following year after gaining courage from post-impressionist artist Gauguin, he FIGURE 5

painted from his imagination the second Starry Night, oil, 1889, shown in Figure 5. Cane (1989), discussing the two paintings eschews the essence of art education and art therapy in saying, “There are two aspects of the imagination. The one embodies things unknown. The other spiritualizes what is visible and corporeal, filling it with

higher meaning” (pp. 128-29).


Karen Perry-Anderson February 25, 2014

References Cane, F. (1989). The artist in each of us. Craftsbury Common, VT: Art Therapy Publications. Efland, A. D. (1990). A history of art education: Intellectual and social currents in teaching the visual arts. New York, NY: Teachers College Press. Gradle, S. A. (2009). Another look at holistic art education: Exploring the legacy of Henry Schaefer-Simmern. International Journal of Education the Arts, 10(1). Retrieved from Malchiodi, C. A. (Ed.). (2003). Handbook of art therapy. New York, NY: The Guilford Press. McWhinnie, H. (1985). Carl Jung and Heinz Werner and implications for foundational studies in art education and art therapy. The Arts in Psychotherapy, (12)2, Retrieved from Naumburg, M. (1950). Introduction to art therapy: Studies of the “free� art expression of behavior problem children and adolescents as a means of diagnosis and therapy. New York, NY: Teachers College Press. Stankiewicz, M. A. (2001). Anyone can learn to draw. In M. A. Stankiewicz, Roots of art education practice. Worcester, MA: Davis Publications.

Whispers from the past: The influence of art education on art therapy  

The history of art education reveals strict directives from which the field struggled to find an identity. Among the ideas and attributes o...