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Columns : Art Life - Susan Mackay Last Updated: Feb 6, 2017 - 2:32:04 PM

Art Therapy
By Susan Mackay
Feb 23, 2007 - 4:59:52 PM

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My class at the Susan Wallace Community Centre

Art being my passion, there are days whilst standing on my proverbial soap box and ranting about the importance of art - how painting, drawing, creating, art therapy, therapeutic art, conceptual art, contemporary art, community art, public art etc etc, add to the wealth of the individual and the growth of communities - I become aware my audience, of maybe one, has a look on their face that flits between boredom, incomprehension and awe!

Conceptual Art, therapeutic art, public art etc etc, all these fabulous titles seem to detract from the intrinsic point I am attempting to make, which is that ALL art, irrespective of  ‘title’, medium, genre or intent, ALL art, (creative process) is good. Its good for our souls, its good for our mental health, it is good for the individual and good for the community. It gives us skills that in the normal rushing about of our days, we may loose, for example patience, observation and focus. It is relaxing and fun.

In the Susan Wallace Community Centre, there are 25 children crowded around a large table, all busily, noisily engrossed. One girl sits to the side; her eyes seem lost in an internal world.   I encourage her to come and sit at the table with the other children. She has difficulty moving but eventually, she sits at a chair in the midst of the melee, closer to the table. I am not sure how much she understands as there is no visible flicker of understanding in her face or eyes. I reach for a piece of smooth bark that the other children had eagerly gathered from outside, on our expedition for treasure.(plastic bags, bottle caps, leaves, flowers, broken plastic etc) The bark in her hand, I point out its smooth lines and texture. We squeeze glue onto its surface, and then with patient intent she pushes some small pieces of crushed colourful tissue paper onto it. The bark has a slight curl and seems to cup the bright spots of tissue.   She holds it in her awkward hands and says “Pretty” then smiles with deep satisfaction.


The other children are maybe less discerning in their approach to creating from the chaotic mixture of items on the table. There is happy range of trash, nature and art materials. With no hesitation or embarrassment the children are creating pieces of contemporary art.  (This week creating ‘mobiles’ to hang on a tree outside) This is the 5th week in a six week programme initiated by STARTS and funded by the National Endowment for Arts.  The starting point for this series of classes was the work of Bahamian Artist Antonius Roberts. We looked at his work ‘Sacred Space’ and from that, explored the concept of ‘safe space’(their interpretation of ‘sacred’). We have collaged, painted, created environmental art, drawn outside with chalks, walked through spaces, thought about colour and texture, form and content. The children are fast to understand the concepts behind the symbolism of colour and texture. We talk a lot. Review each week and even in the chaos I am fascinated to watch the confidence of each child seep through to the next. They are boisterous and critical but also sympathetic and imaginative.  


In the first week, although diving into the processes of collage to sketching and immersing in the intellectual and manual processes they were obviously uncomfortable not taking home a ‘finished piece’ of art to proudly show their parents.  


This aspect of priority on process, not product, is common not just to Conceptual or Contemporary art - Art therapy looks at creating and a ‘finished product’ more as a means to open an internal door than to have made something aesthetically pleasing.   (Often through these processes the product is far from ‘pretty’).

Art therapy is an established mental health profession that uses the creative process of art making to improve and enhance the physical, mental and emotional well-being of individuals of all ages. It is based on the belief that the creative process involved in artistic self-expression helps people to resolve conflicts and problems, develop interpersonal skills, manage behaviour, reduce stress, increase self-esteem and self-awareness, and achieve insight.”

I believe Art Therapy has an advantage over more traditional therapies, by being familiar to most everyone. It is a common experience through which one can explore life challenges, whilst recognising everyone’s unique interpretation and process.

The classes at the Susan Wallace Community Center, are most explicitly NOT art therapy. Art Therapy sessions have a very different feel, as my friend, Art Therapist Ginny Carvisiglia explains

“Art therapy is much more concerned with the process of the image making rather than the product. The work should be mainly non-directive as the theme, materials etc that the client chooses are all reflective of the inner thoughts and feeling they are trying to express. In an art therapy session the room will have all manner of materials on offer and the client can choose whatever they like, usually there is no theme or intervention in this part of the session from the therapist. Some times though it can be easier, especially in one off or shorter periods of work to introduce very loose themes, especially if the people doing the work have specific needs, such as women who have suffered abuse, children of mentally ill parents etc”

NOT Art Therapy, but the intrinsic benefit to the children at the community centre to freely express and create in a non judgemental environment – even the simple satisfaction of tissue paper stuck on bark – is endless.  At the centre, creating art is noisy, it is messy, it is chaotic, but also, it is safe and it is fun. The children learn, just a little bit more about themselves and each other. They learn a little bit more about their environment. They learn about Art and Artists. They learn about symbolism and self expression. They learn to observe, think and feel. In a fast paced consumerist world, I believe these are good things.

To explore the world of art, at the Freeport Art Center – Alisa Streather Robinson gives art classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays 6-8pm for adults and children 10 years and up. Call 351-4603 for details.




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