Art and Art Therapy
Every once in a while the following question arises within me: where is this dividing line to be drawn that distinguishes art therapy from art? I am working as an abstract artist and have noticed that my paintings can sometimes be quite similar those works coming to us from psychiatric hospitals.
What distinguishes these from works of (supposedly sane) artists? Is possible to make a distinction? Or are we - artists and patient of psychiatric clinics alike - all more or less "insane"?
The act of painting gives me the same self-liberating effect that gives to the patients. I can release, relax myself, discover inner peace within me. That is why I ask myself: am I creating a work of art - or is the resulting product (=the painting) nothing but the result of my own psychic purification process? Is the painting primarily "for me"? And: can it give anything to the viewer, when its primary purpose was to heal me?
Art therapy works with the raw material...
Searching for answers to these questions I turned to books dealing especially with art therapy. In one written by Jolande Jacobi I found the following quotation:
"...Whereas "images out of the unconscious" can be addressed only as the raw material of the unconscious soul. They would require the concentrating and forming creative power of an real artist to be called actual works of art..." (1)
Considering this view an art work should have a quality of transcendence. The artist has worked through the emerging images (in contrast to the patient). The artists controls them and forms them (instead of being controlled by the images). The images breaking through is spontaneous and yet controlled, like the controlled implosion of a house. The artist is in charge.
Another point that distinguishes the art work of a patient from an artist's work is transpersonality. This transpersonal quality means that they are not longer related to "personal experiences" by the artist but rather independent of his/her personality. They are standing freely, they are the third element (if the artist and the viewer are the first two).
Art features transcendence and transpersonality
Looking at my own artistic development I can quite clearly say which of my paintings have a primarily therapeutic nature, and which ones possess the qualities of the transcendence and transpersonality. I believe it natural that an artist works through many personal issues in his/her early creative years. One has to "paint the devil on the wall" to then transcend it. Because only then, when overcoming these issues has occurred, can true artistic creation begin.
Does art require artistic ability?
An equally interesting aspect is the confrontation of artistic ability (the purely technically-formal aspects) and mental maturity. It is possible that a skilled artist might produce a weak painting in terms of spontaneous expression where a mature person might do a very strong painting, which eventually might lack technical skill.
In the best contemporary art it is clear that technical ability is losing its importance - benefiting a more spontaneous and authentic expression and depth in art work.
Is art Religion?
The word religion stems from religio - reconnection, connection with our primordial grounds. Art and religion related differently to each other in the course of history. In primitive cultures there is no distinction between them, art and religion are one. Art is more than just self expression, it is a mechanism to maintain the connection to the ground, to material reality. The one who does not create (including all forms of the humanly-artistic expression: dance, music, painting, medicine etc.), is dead.
In the so-called climax of culture, the renaissance, baroque etc., art serves religion. Michelangelo and his contemporaries made compelling works of art, but primarily they serve as illustrations of cleric or political content. The original function of art, namely to make a person feel his/her aliveness, is lost. Art gets monopolized into the hands of some few artist is and the big masses become merely ("dead") spectators.
Those who no longer dance, paint or make music are not alive except in a virtual world. They no longer experiences themselves - no longer recognize themselves. Their world will transformed into an abstract world of thought, no longer tangible, for we need creative expression in order to remember our human primitively creative nature.
Art keeps us within reality. It shows us that we consist of a body and a soul, and that this is "I", this "being" as which we conceive ourselves, is part of something larger, a larger reality. Dance, music, painting; all these activities attest our creativity and our aliveness. They make us experience our human condition - if we forget that we are human beings we become life-despising beasts.
Perhaps vicinity of art and art therapy indicates a contemporary development toward and ideal of creative expression for everyone.
The role of today's artists
In this context true artists - the ones that have mastered transcendence and transpersonality - will play a special role. Perhaps they will no longer hold their exclusive position as more and more normal citizens begin to create artistically. But their new function will be the one of the leading dancer: the master of ceremonies, the one that understands the ritual. They lead the masses, their works serve as inspiration: they show the way.
So: where is now the dividing line between art and art therapy? Perhaps there is no clear line but a rather fluent transition. And perhaps we all, both artists and patients in psychiatric clinics, are most of all human and our creativity is an innate part of that humanity.