Art Therapy in Art Galleries

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Photo: Oswald Tschirtner, Viele Menschen Drawing, from the MAC’s Fragmented Mind Exhibition, 2018 

Artwork: Shafique Uddin, Untitled (Village), MAC’s Fragmented Mind Exhibition, 2018

British Association of Art Therapists (BAAT) Museum and Galleries Special Interest Group Please check-out the Resources Section of the BAAT Museum and Galleries Special Interest Group for a bibliography and a list of links to reports, resources and articles on this topic.

Trauma Aware Art Museum Education Principles

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Resource: Art Therapy in Museums and Galleries: Reframing Practice edited by Ali Coles and Helen Jury

Reference for Text Below: Art as Therapy by Alain de Botton and John Armstrong (2013)

The Seven Functions of Art in an Art Gallery/Art Museum by Alain de Botton and John Armstrong 

  1. Remembering “Art helps us accomplish a task that is of central importance in our lives: to hold on to things we love when they are gone”…What we are worried about forgetting, however, tends to be quite particular. It isn’t just anything about a person or scene that’s at stake; we want to remember what really matters…Art is a way of preserving experiences”… (pages 8-10).
  2. Hope “The troubles of the world are so continually brought to our attention that we need tools that can preserve our hopeful disposition…One of the strangest features of experiencing art is its power, occasionally, to move us to tears; not when presented with a harrowing or terrifying image, but with a work of particular grace and loveliness that can be, for a moment, heartbreaking. What is happening to us as these special times of intense responsiveness to beauty?” (pages 13-25).
  3. Sorrow “The outward chatter of society is typically cheerful and upbeat, confess a problem to someone and they tend at once to look for a solutions and point us in a brighter direction…We need help in finding honour in some of our worst experiences, and art is there to lend them a social expression…Art can offer a grand and serious vantage point from which to survey the travails of our condition” (pages 26-31).
  4. Rebalancing “Few of us are entirely well balanced. Our psychological histories, relationships and working routines mean that our emotions can incline grievously in one direction or another. We may, for example, have a tendency to be too complacent, or too insecure; too trusting, or too suspicious; too serious, or too light-hearted. Art can put us in touch with concentrate doses of our missing dispositions, and thereby restore a measure of equilibrium…We hunger for artworks that will compensate for our inner fragilities and help return us to a viable mean…Art holds out the promise of inner wholeness…We want to behave well in our relationships, but slip up under pressure. We want to make more of ourselves, but lose motivation at a critical juncture. In these circumstances, we can derive enormous benefit from works of art that encourage us to be the best versions of ourselves…” (pages 32-43).
  5. Self-Understanding “We are not transparent to ourselves. We have intuitions, suspicions, hunches, vague musings and strangely mixed emotions, all of which resist dimple definition. We have moods, but we don’t really know them. Then, from time to time, we encounter works of art that seem to latch on to something we have felt but never recognised clearly before…In other words, a fugitive and elusive part of our own thinking, our own experience, is taken up, edited, and returned to us better than it was before, so that we feel, at last, that we know ourselves more clearly.” (pages 44-49).
  6. Growth “Art that starts by seeming alien to us is valuable because it presents us with ideas and attitudes that are not readily available in our familiar environments, and that we will need in order to accede to a full engagement with our humanity…Our usual routines may never awaken the important parts of ourselves; they will remain dormant until prodded, teased and usefully provoked by the world of art.” (pages 50-58).
  7. Appreciation “Art is one resource that can led us back to a more accurate assessment of what is valuable by working against habit and inviting us to recalibrate what we admire or love…It lies in the power of art to honour the elusive but real value of ordinary life. It can teach us to be more just towards ourselves as we endeavour to make the best of our circumstances…Art can do the opposite of glamorising the unattainable; it can awaken us to the genuine merit of life as we’re forced to lead it”. (pages 59-63).
The MAC Exhibition “Fragmented Mind” in 2018 showcased Outsider Art. Here are some references to learn more about Outsider Art.
Outsider Art and Art Therapy by Rachel Cohen (2017)
Outsider Art: From the Margins to the Marketplace  by David Maclagan (art therapist) (2009)
Raw Vision Magazine  

“Raw Vision Magazine remains the world’s only international journal of the art of the ‘unknown geniuses’ who are the creators of Outsider Art. Untrained, unschooled and uninfluenced by the art world, the work of these artists continues to stun and amaze. They invent their own forms, techniques and create private worlds. Only in the pages of Raw Vision can readers discover for themselves the world of Outsider Art. Raw Vision can give art lovers a unique insight into the power of ‘raw’ creativity which contrasts completely with the prosaic world of conceptual and institutional contemporary art so prevalent in our museums and galleries today. It is not for nothing that Outsider Art has been termed ‘the hidden face of contemporary art’, like the hidden face of the moon”. (www.rawvision.com)

Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC), Guidelines Applicable to Art Therapy in Art Galleries
  • Be aware of the impact of culture, equality and diversity on practice.
  • Understand the requirement to adapt practice to meet the needs of different groups and individuals.
  • Understand the importance of and be able to maintain confidentiality. (How can we maintain confidentiality in a public setting like an art gallery? Is a private workshop room available? How can a tour of an exhibition be undertaken with confidentiality?)
  • Understand how communication skills affect assessment and engagement of service users and how the means of communication should be modified to address and take account of factors such as age, capacity, learning ability and physical ability. (How can we communicate effectively, about contemporary art for example, with words that have meaning to the service user/client?)
  • Recognise the need to use interpersonal skills to encourage the active participation of service user.
  • Be able to explain the nature, purpose and techniques of therapy to service users and carers.
  • Be able to contribute effectively to work undertaken as part of a multi-disciplinary team
  • Understand the need to establish and sustain a therapeutic relationship within a creative and containing environment.
  • Understand how and why different approaches to the use of the arts in arts therapy and in other settings varies according to context and purpose