S 11 - Between art and therapy: using pictures from the world of art as an imaginal focus

Abstract for TAoAT 2002 by David MaclaganDavid Maclagan

The advantages of art therapists working with artwork made during the session are so well known that they are often taken for granted. Yet there are also disadvantages: people can find it hard to make the shift between being immersed an making and developing an imaginative response to what has just been made, whether by themselves or others. The use of an image from the world of art, providing it is not too famous or provocative, can give more scope, a more generous permission, for creative exploration. Such responses can be verbal (association or reverie) or pictorial (transcriptions or elaborations) and are thus close to what can happen in art therapy sessions. Such play with another’s image can link the personal world of individual life experience with the wider collective world embodied in works of art. Following Hillman, it extends the notion of ‘therapy’ to include ‘soul work’ outside strictly clinical contexts: it also chimes with recent writhing that encourages the creative reception of art (Armstrong, Elkins). I would like to share my experience of using artworks in this way in experimental workshops, and discuss how it might contribute to art therapy practice.

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