Edith Kramer, Art Therapist’s Third Hand


Makarova, E. and Kuchuk, E. (2013) Edith Kramer: Art as Therapy. [Film Still]

“Art is so absent from our time now. The hunger for art therapy is partly the absence of art as a natural element of daily living. We are surrounded by objects that are machine made that don’t tell us anything about the maker, or anything about the…worldview of that person. There is a hunger and really a lack that permeates all our lives that then makes people search for art, or for an experience where they can do a little of that sort of thing—which might not have been necessary at the time when we made our own furniture. If we made a wardrobe, we might paint something on it, or if we embroidered things, or if we made a handle of a pitchfork, it got something of ourselves in the handle. All that is missing today. In part, I believe this absence has given rise to art therapy as a profession” (Edith Kramer in The Legacy of Edith Kramer: A Multifaceted View, edited by Lani Gerity and Susan Ainlay Anand).

Article: Obituary, Edith Kramer in the journal Art Therapy Online 
369-Article Text-390-1-10-20150120


Kramer, E. (2006) Self Portrait [Painting]. Austria: Private Collection

” I advise you to remain yourself maladapted to all in our society that would stifle independent thought and action” Edith Kramer, “A History and Lineage of Art Therapy as Practiced by Edith Kramer” Art as Therapy: Collected Papers by Edith Kramer and Lani Gerity, p. 24)

Contributions to Art Therapy Practice
The Art Therapist’s Third Hand



The art therapist must develop a third eye with the insight to “perceive the multifaceted messages embodied in artwork produced in the course of art therapy—messages that may defy translation into words…In conjunction with this special vision, art therapists must also contribute a “Third Hand”, a hand that helps the creative process along without being intrusive, without distorting meaning or imposing pictorial ideas or preferences alien to the client…[art therapists] must cultivate an area of artistic competence…employed solely for empathic service to others” (Edith Kramer, “The Art Therapist’s Third Hand: Reflections on Art, Art Therapy, and Society at Large” Art as Therapy: Collected Papers by Edith Kramer and Lani Gerity, p. 48)

Art as Therapy

“Art therapists who are really expert in their own province can offer something that psychoanalysis and other kind of specialists in the “talking cures” cannot: the opportunity to experience the kind of functioning that is possible only in the process of making of artworks and to gain the insights that may be obtained through this kind of experience and in no other way”. (Edith Kramer and Elinor Ulman, “Exploration of Definition” in Art as Therapy: Collected Papers by Edith Kramer and Lani Gerity, p. 34)

“There is the erroneous belief that art therapy is concerned almost exclusively with spontaneous art expression—that is with the use of art media that evokes the raw material of art, but inevitably stops short of art..Such spontaneous production is invaluable in gaining access to a patient’s inner life and therefore is a legitimate part of art therapy, but is by no means the whole of it. Art therapy includes, as well, the task of integration”. (Edith Kramer, “The Unity of Process and Product” in Art as Therapy: Collected Papers by Edith Kramer and Lani Gerity, p. 37)

There is a “false dichotomy of process and product. When concentration on process results in systematic neglect of or disrespect for its natural culmination—the product—the patient is deprived both [of their] goal and of the reward for [their] labours. The processes that are fostered in such incomplete endeavours must remain primitive and abortive and thus they cannot serve as models of healthy functioning”  (Edith Kramer, ” The Unity of Process and Product” in Art as Therapy: Collected Papers by Edith Kramer and Lani Gerity, p. 38).

Sublimation within Art Therapy 

Sublimation is a term proposed by Freud, and it is a process that facilitates creative and intellectual activity. Sublimation is related to instinctual drives, urges, and desires. It is associated with the unconscious processes of the Id. Sublimation channels instincts towards ego integration and the achievement of socially acceptable aims on a cultural level, such as in regards to the arts, social activism, spirituality, sports, sciences, and other socially valued pursuits. Sublimation is the transformation of instinctual activity. “For example the baby’s instinct to play with faeces might be sublimated into making mud pies, moulding clay, kneading dough, finger painting and eventually creating art…The ego’s job is to mediate between the instinctual wishes of the Id and the demands of reality. In this function the ego is a unifying life force…reflected in the creative product” (Art and Psychoanalysis by Laurie Schneider Adams, p. 6)

The conflict between inner tensions and social adaptation can be creatively expressed within culture. Sublimation was a goal of Edith Kramer’s approach to art therapy versus the dynamics of transference. It was the channelling of unconscious desire and conflict into creativity, art, and culture that fulfilled as sense of meaning and purpose. It was not unlike finding a place for oneself within society, where creativity could be a voice and a remedy for inner discord.

“Art depends on society and contributes to society…according to the changing historical situation, art contributes to magic, religion, politics, the crafts and many other fields” (Edith Kramer, “Art Therapy and Sublimation” Art as Therapy: Collected Papers by Edith Kramer and Lani Gerity).

Art communicates an artist’s “inner experiences to [an] audience in a sublimated culturally and socially productive form. The artist shares the artist’s inner experiences on several levels, so that the audience experiences at once something of the primitive asocial impulse which the artist had to master, and the triumph of the successful transformation of the raw materials into a work of art. In the ideal case, the spectator experiences a kind of minor miracle, as the artist’s creative work makes it possible for the participant to achieve vicariously…a degree of sublimation which is ordinarily beyond the individual’s reach” (Edith Kramer, “Art Therapy and Sublimation” Art as Therapy: Collected Papers by Edith Kramer and Lani Gerity).


Kramer, E. (n.d.)  The Legacy of Edith Kramer: A Multifaceted View [Painting]. Herschel Stroyman: Routledge Publishers.


Reference: http://www.edithkramer.com/Edith_Kramer_Background.html

1916 Born, Vienna, Austria.

1934 Graduated from Realgymnasium, Vienna. Attended art classes at the Kunstgewerbeschule in Vienna. Studied sculpture with Fritz Wotruba, Vienna. Studied drawing and painting in Vienna and Prague with Friedl Dicker who was a Bauhaus graduate and instructor. The pedagogic methods of the Bauhaus’ have been formative in the artist’s  development and remain an essential element of her understanding of the visual arts.

1938 Arrived as a refugee in the United States; Citizenship 1944. Continued to pursue the practice of art in the United States.


1971 American Art Therapy Association,Honorary Life Membership


1973 – 2005 Adjunct Professor of Art Therapy, Graduate Art Therapy Program, New York University 

1972 – 2000 Assistant Professor, Graduate Art Therapy Program,  George Washington University

1995 (April -May) Artist in Residence, Edith Cowan University, Perth, Western Australia 

1996Honorary Doctorate of Art Therapy, Worwich University, VT 1999Lectures & Workshops on Art therapy, Moskow & St. Petersburg (Sponsored by Austrian Embassy Moskow)

1977 – 1983 Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, Albert Einstein Medical College

1974 – 1978 Consultant in Art Therapy, Albert Einstein College of Medicine,  Department of Child Psychiatry, Bronx, NY

1963 – 1974 Art Therapist, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Department of Child  Psychiatry, Bronx, NY 

1964 – 1974 Art Therapist, Guild School of the Jewish Guild for the Blind, New York, NY 1968 – 1971 Instructor, Supervisor, Art Therapy Program, Hahnemann Medical College,  Philadelphia, PA 

1961 Editorial Board, founding member, American Journal of Art Therapy  [formerly the Bulletin of Art Therapy] 

1959 – 1970 Instructor, Arts in Therapies Program at the Turtle Bay Music School,  New York, NY 

1959 – 1974 Instructor, New School for Social Research, New York, NY 

1960 – 1963 Initiated and conducted therapeutically oriented art program,  Leak and Watts Children’s Home, Yonkers, NY

1950 – 1957 Initiated and conducted art therapy program at Wiltwyck School for Boys, New York, NY a therapeutic community. Kramer was given the title art therapist during her work here.

1941 – 1944 Machinist’s Assistant; World War II Service 

1938 – 1941 Art and Shop teacher, Little Red School House, New York, NY