S1 - Violent Imagery and Agency

Abstract for TAoAT 2002 by Lynn Aulich

The subject of the paper is the morbid and violent imagery appearing in artwork made by patients of an adolescent forensic service. People working in forensic psychiatry, child psychiatry and education with mentally disordered and emotionally disturbed young people become very anxious about violent imagery fearing that the ideas in the drawings will be acted out. In a recent case police gathered a young persons drawings and doodles as forensic evidence and asked for an opinion as to whether or not the pictures indicated an intent to harm.

The discussion is based on the findings of a content analysis of paintings and drawings made by a sample of 20 young people. The prevalence of violent and morbid imagery will be discussed in terms of the artists’ experience of trauma in the past, and the possibility that some of these images reveal the failure to process trauma. Violent and morbid imagery can be seen as perseverating, spreading trauma, re-enactment of offences, or as a healthy expression of anger, depending on the context the image was made in, the individual young person and their circumstances.

The commitment of serious offences can be understood as re-enactment of earlier trauma, where a victim becomes the perpetrator. Serious offences further traumatise the perpetrator. Trauma and its re-enactment as an offence can be repeated in the process of art making in a symbolic form and engaged with therapeutically.

The paper will use the anthropology of art (Alfred Gell 1997), particularly his theory of art, agency and embodiment to explore dynamics in the art therapy session, particularly in relation to violent and morbid imagery.

Key words:

  • violent imagery
  • trauma
  • agency

Biography of Lynn Aulich

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