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An Overview of the History of Art Therapy

Created by Priscilla Beck

About Me:

My name is Priscilla Beck I am an Art Teacher, Artist and Perpetual Student I earned my Bachelors of Art Education from Herron School of Art and Design I am working toward my Masters in Art Education from University of Florida

My most recent painting

What is Art Therapy? !   According to the American Art Therapy Association,

Art Therapy is a mental health profession in which clients, facilitated by the art therapist, use art media, the creative process, and resulting artwork to explore their feelings, reconcile emotional conflicts, foster selfawareness, manage behavior and addictions, develop social skills, improve reality orientation, reduce anxiety, and increase self-esteem ( #About).

Exploring Art Therapy !   How did art therapy evolve and what were the

historical contexts in which it developed? !   What contributing individuals helped to pave the road

for the development of art therapy? !   What are the different approaches to art therapy? !   How has the history of art education and the history of

art therapy been intertwined?

The Evolution of Art Therapy !   Since the earliest understanding of human existence,

people have used graphic depictions to serve as religious, mystical or psychological purposes (Packard, 1980).

Paleolithic cave painting, Lascaux, France. 15,000 to 10,000 B.C

Influential People !   According to the article by Sandra Packard, Plato; a

Greek philosopher, considered art to be a flight from reality and true knowledge, and believed in the power of art to transform human emotion (Packard, 1980).

The Healing Power of Art !   John Dewey, an educator and philosopher, believed in

the power of art to unlock the creative capacities of children (Drachnik, 1976).

Dewey initiated “hands on learning”

!   John Dewey quoted, “The various

fine arts, architecture, sculpture, painting, music, and poetry, are the successive attempts of the mind adequately, to express its own ideal nature, or, more correctly stated, adequately to produce that which will satisfy its own demands for and love of a perfectly harmonious nature, something in which admiration may rest” (Packard 1980, p11).

The influence of psychology !   Sigmund Freud believed the goal of therapy was a

freedom through knowledge of ones self (Packard 1980).

Sigmund’s Contribution !   He introduced two

main ideas in art therapy:

Salvador Dali, Dream caused by a Bee around a Pomegranate a Second Before Awakening

1. Analysis of art products could help provide information about a client as pictures were often times more productive in understanding a patient’s dreams, fantasies and fears (Packard 1980).

Creativity to heal 2. Creativity could be used as a healing process for disorganized or disturbed thinking (Packard, 1980).

Jackson Pollock, Autumn Rhythm 1950

Carl Jung !   He believed

that the unconscious could instigate imagination and creativity which could lead to healing powers (Packard 1980).

The collective unconscious !   Carl Jung, a psychologist, was well known for his study

of the symbolic language of art often initiated by the unconscious. The Sleep of Reason produces Monsters, Francisco Goya

Cesare Lombroso !   He was interested in making sense of the art created by

the mentally ill. He also helped to pave the way for the term “madness of genius” when making attempts to understand the art of those termed geniuses (Packard, 1980).

Vincent Van Gogh, 1890, Wheatfield with Crows

Hans Prinzhorn !   Hans also wrote about the The Scream by Edvard Munch

fascinating images created by mentally ill patients. Through his investigations, others were able to recognize and understand the formal principles and symbolism that resided within an artwork attempting to help the patient communicate and reach selfidentification (Packard, 1980).

Victor Lowenfield !   During the late forties and fifties, Lowenfield

established a framework in which children develop in and through art.

Drawing Development in Children, Victor Lowenfield & Betty Edwards- retrieved from kiddrawing.html

Creative and Mental Growth !

Lowenfield was interested in creative and psychological growth in which the child was of primary importance in education.

!   He can be attributed to

the term “art education therapy”(Drachnik, 1976).

Everyone needs art! !

Lowenfield also can be attributed to research with handicapped children such as the blind, the deaf, the emotionally disturbed and the intellectually impaired (Drachnik, 1976).

Image derived from: 2012/07/golden-wings-children-making-art-01.jpg

Margaret Naumberg !  

Margaret Naumberg was a significant leader in art therapy with an approach to art therapy labeled “Analytically Oriented Art Therapy”


Margaret Naumberg’s approach was based off of the ideas of Sigmund Freud, which focused on the release of the unconscious mind through the use of spontaneous art expression (Packard, 1980).

!   Margaret believed that art therapy provided a release of

repressed emotions and could be a symbolic form of expression in patients that were unable to use words.

Bringing Art Therapy Nationwide !   Through Naumberg’s writing, teaching and lecturing,

she was able to bring art therapy into greater existence nationwide.

Edith Kramer !   Edith Kramer was an

artist, a teacher, and a therapist. !   Her philosophy about

Art Therapy stemmed from the belief that the process of creating art was healing in itself.

Creating an atmosphere !   In Kramer’s opinion the therapist was to provide an

atmosphere cohesive for creating and assist in the process of sublimination, in which the unconscious and the conscious coincide to make art (Packard, 1980).

!   Kramer believed that the only way conflict could be

resolved was for it to be re-experienced, resolved and integrated, all of which could be done through art therapy (Packard, 1980).

Four Categories of Art Therapy !  

According to Robert Ault, an art therapist in 1974, art therapy may be placed into one of the four categories.

!   1. Analytic Therapy: Uses Psychoanalysis !   2. Functional Art Therapy: Meant for physical disorders or

intellectual disability

!   3. Gestalt Art Therapy: Uses art to produce personal

growth, responsibility and experience.

!   4. Psycho-educational art therapy: involves a learning process

within the structure of the art activity.


(Drachnik, 1976)

American Art Therapy Association !   In 1969, the American Art Therapy Association was

founded which helped officially recognize the field.

!   Professional standards were established and Art

Therapists were allowed to become registered art therapists.

Training in Art Therapy !   The first graduate training program was developed by

Dr. Morris Goldman and Dr. Paul Fink at Hahnemann Medical College and Hospital (Packard 1980).

Graduate programs today !   Graduate Programs leading to accreditation as a

Registered Art Therapist exist in twenty out of fifty states.

References !  

Packard, S. (1980). The history of art therapy education. Art Education, 33(4), 10-13. Retrieved from


Drachnik, C. (1976). A historical relationship between art therapy and art education and the possibilities for future integration. Ar Education, 29(7), 16-19.


Kramer, E. (1980). Art therapy and art education: Overlapping functions. Art Education, 33(4), 16-17.


Swenson, A. (1991). Relationships: Art education, art therapy, and special education. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 72, 40-42.


London, P. (1988). Art therapy’s contribution to art education: Toward meaning, not decoration. Art Education, 41(6), 44-48.

History of art therapy  
History of art therapy  

Explore the evolution of Art therapy including its roots embedded in the historical context of philosophy, psychology and education.