On Art Therapy or Art Education? What About Just Plain Old Art?
It is impossible to talk about any community based art work without also presenting the context in which it is situated. Bersson suggests: "Only with contextual understanding and cultural literacy can art educators sufficiently emancipate themselves from acculturation and discover alternatives to prevailing conceptions of art and education" (1986, p.43). In many ways, the context is more important than the sum of its parts when it comes to an issue s based collection like this one as the significance of each piece is amplified by its membership in the whole. The "Parle-moi d'amour" exhibit has been presented by the organization "Les Impatients"  since 1999 in various locations but has been situated primarily at the Wellington center in the heart of Verdun for the last 3 years. This theme is of particular interest for me as an art therapist because it features the artwork of current and former mental health services consumers of the Douglas hospital and Les Impatients. On a personal note, I have a longstanding fascination with the Douglas hospital because it once housed 1200 patients as the preeminent mental health institution in Montreal, but also because it has a record of placing high value on the artistic creativity of its users, and happens to sit directly opposite my backyard. As a multidisciplinary student of art education, with master's studies in art therapy, I have been wondering about the differences and similarities which exist between these two fields. A number of art therapists and art educators have written about the close and sometimes ambiguous relationship (Edwards, 1976, Kramer, 1980, 2002, Naumburg, 2001, St. John, 1986, D'Amico, 1943, Dunn-Snow & D'Amelio 2000, Dalke, 1984 ). While most authors make explicit the belief that the two professional scopes of practice overlap, some art therapists and educators alike have said to me that the differences are irreconcilable. Once, I too drew a line in the sand in my struggle to define art therapy as distinct from any other field. I believed those claiming emphatically that art history and the teaching of technique have no place in art therapy sessions or that an art educator must never cross the line into the realm of therapeutic art. Today, I believe these to be the positions of purists, more intent on the preservation of professional territory than with the cultivation of novel approaches to learning and healing. To be fair, paid positions doing what one loves to do in art, art education or art therapy professions do seem scarce. Yet I remain caution when attempting to define any art related field categorically because as Kramer poignantly asserts: "No new discovery or method is exempt from the menace of mechanization, perversion into its opposite...methods, developed to stimulate creative work, have been perverted into ways of circumventing and avoiding the creative act" (2001, p.7). With this in mind, let us proceed to a gallery walkthrough.
As I enter the space, I walk past a little boutique, featuring locally crafted bags, pins, hats, scarves and find myself in a small twenty by twenty foot white room. On the wall, black on white words read: "...Les Impatients' mission is to help those with mental health issues, through artistic expression. Les Impatients offers creative workshops which encourage exchanges with community through the exposition of participants' work". Next to this mission statement is a "Rules of the Game" description which lets viewers know how they can bid on art work through the silent auction format. At first glance, the juxtaposition of the mission statement and the silent auction purchasing instructions, creates a dissonant vibration which soon yields to a pressing curiosity about the artwork surrounding me. Quickly enough, I make my way through this first room, thinking that the exhibit is a little anemic. I move from screen print, to lithograph, then to a fibers installation and finally to a four sided pillar where a dozen small pieces of art are just hanging out. Thread. Embroidery. Warm and cold. Round, angular, soft, sharp, all stitched into one small 25 by 25 centimeter beige duck canvas . While it is one of the smallest pieces in the entire exhibit, there is a massive but playful tension in the work between notions of masculine and feminine which are suggested by the stereotypical use of warm reds and pinks and cool, deep blues. The two bodies are locked together by a clasp which immediately recalls a similar form painted in my own work  more than 15 years ago. That symbol unlocked my decision to review the piece, so I began a rough sketch then a second more detailed sketch in the proper orientation . The work draws me in further as I notice the medium is one which has captivated my artistic sensibility for a few years. Art work which is made of thread, fibers and yarn through a process of knitting, stitching, embroidering and quilting seems to be an increasingly popular mode of self expression. Perhaps it is just my interest in fiber art which causes me to notice it more often. Having spent my life in the arts in one form or another, I can say that I was never exposed to this kind of work. Like many students of fine art, I was exposed to the mostly white, mostly male, mostly European canon and I believe there is something distinctly feminine or female about this piece. While I am aware of the danger inherent to associating a particular artistic style with sex, gender or ethnicity, the emergence and popularization of fiber art may be evidence of a significant movement of women and women's ways of knowing into the established art world and popular visual culture. A quick Wikipedia (n.d) lookup of the term "fiber art" confirms that most prominent fiber artists are women and the message and medium of fiber art has been conceptually influenced by postmodernist ideas and feminism. As I look down and to the left to see the i.d. card for the piece, I notice that the artist is one of my colleagues in art therapy, Pascale Godbout. At this point, I realize that the works are not only from current and former mental health consumers of the Douglas hospital and Les Impatients but also local artists and art therapists. What is this strange place where artists, art therapists and people coping with mental illness share in art together? While there is no possibility of an interview with the artist, I am struck by serendipity several more times before I leave the exhibit. Beyond the small room where the first thirty or so pieces were discovered, there is a short hallway, lined with just as many varied and interesting works -each by a different artist. By now, collective themes are emergent in the work but I want to see more before I draw any conclusions. On the second floor there are a mindboggling 60 or so additional works. Methodically, I make my way into each one with the sensibility of an artist, an art therapist and an art educator. Each of those knowledge filters casts each piece of art in a different light. The artist is looking at the whole intuitively, sensing that which cannot be described with words, looking for self reflected in the conveyed emotion and intellect of the other. The art educator is looking at the work for signs of skill, talent, and training while cataloguing the formal elements and technique of the product. The art therapist is abstracting the process from the product, trying to figure out what the hands and face of the creators were doing in the active phase of the art making process. Kramer finds that: "When distinctions between the work of art therapists and art educators are discussed, it is often stated that art education is product oriented while art therapy is process oriented" and qualifies: "I find that this oversimplification confuses more than it enlightens" (1980, p. 16). Yet, Kramer also observes that art educators sometimes become product oriented as a result of external pressure to demonstrate achievements while art therapists are thought of as process oriented because they come to expect a "much lower rate of finished work" (1980, p.16). Whatever the case may be, art therapists and art educators look at their respective processes and products in a different light most of the time. As I continue my inspection, the art therapist in me is looking for latent meaning and signs of intention through the structures and symbols of the work, mentally sifting through the content of the entire collection in search of a statistically significant mean narrative value. At last, it bubbles to the surface: this collection tells tales of relationship. The pieces also speak to personal journeys of suffering, longing, loneliness and loss, but mostly, they say: "relationship". This inference is made based on the number of pieces which, like Pascale's suggest some form of dyadic interaction in the image or title. As I snoop around on the second floor, I walk into an art making studio where providence brings me to a woman with a unique perspective on the functionality of the center. Her name is Elmina she is a professional artist, who facilitates weekly art making workshops for 8-12 participants from Les Impatients. She consents to an interview. Elmina tells me that she has no training in art education nor therapy and that she approaches the art workshops on behalf of Les Impatients from the angle of a professional artist. Elmina is in a sense, the perfect subject for this interview because she is in a grey zone, between two conceptual landscapes, with one foot in each. It is not possible to say that she is teaching art because one technically needs a degree and practical training to do that. It is not possible to say that she is doing art therapy because one officially needs a degree and practical training to do that and yet, Elmina sits squarely at the crossroads of issues based community art education, studio based art as therapy and Art itself. She is not working for art "something" nor art "anything" as in art therapy, art education, art history and art criticism or art aestheticism but stands just for plain old Art with a capital "A". Bersson posits that true cultural democracy: "...calls for art education of, by, and for all the people" (1986, p.44). Perhaps in the case of her Les Impatients', an artist is the most representative and democratic choice for the task of art education. It occurs to me that we sometimes forget that creative process and art making, facilitated by a professional artist is an educational -perhaps even therapeutic- endeavour which has merit on its own. When did we lose respect for what the artist is bringing to the table? Did science and technology do this to us by forcing us to quantify the value of what we do? London wrote in 1988 that: "Art education need only re-examine its own tradition of the artist as healer and art as transformation and claim them for itself" (p.41). Given contemporary focus in art education, I would say that this re-examination has led to a field which is today more in touch with the populations it serves than it was 20 or 30 years ago. Is it time for the artist to engage in a similar process of re-examination. The research of Magsamen & Battro reveals that: "The National Science Foundation, Harvard's Project Zero, The Dana Foundation, Johns Hopkins University, and others have launched initiatives from different perspectives to more deeply explore the possibility of both correlation and causal relations between the arts and learning..." (2011, p.1). I am betting that we will learn a great deal more about just how valuable Elmina's work truly is. As we continue our discussion about what goes on at the Wellington center, she confirms to me that Les Impatients sometimes use art as an occupational activity which can have therapeutic and educational benefits as a bi-product. It is made clear that this group facilitator derives a sense of accomplishment when participants relate their creative work to their lived experiences. Elmina adds that an art therapist might be more directive and proceed from a position more anchored in psychological theory but that her goal is to have participants learn something about art while exchanging and sharing within the group. This professional is an artist first, teacher second and facilitator of therapeutic outcomes related to client-based variables third. The point is made that a professional artist, with an active art practice can offer something to participants which many art therapists cannot because they tend to neglect personal artistic practice in favour of doing therapy. Do we art therapists and art educators neglect our personal commitment to creative process because we are so busy doing our paid work? Are we out of touch with our own creative potential while claiming to be able to foster that potential in others? We both agree that art making in the context of this exhibit is educational because it raises awareness of mental health issues for the larger public while also imparting artistic and social skills to participants. We both agree that some measure of therapy can be a bi-product of art making in its own right. Some of my senior colleagues have given me trouble for suggesting in online educational forums that art can be therapeutic in the absence of an art therapist and that people can engage in self directed healing and self directed therapy through art. They tell me I am muddying the waters by confusing definitions of disciplines. Yet, in a democracy, education and mental health must be built from the ground up and self directed because that is the only path to personal empowerment which is central to democratic life. It makes no sense to have a top-down system in which specialist art educators and mental health geniuses hand us our education in the form of books and sanity in the form of pills when we ought to be taking charge of those things for ourselves. In fact, the current approaches to mental health and education are disempowering because the implied message is: "you can't do it yourself. You need a specialist to diagnose you, educate you and guide you safely through the process of making art ". The "Parle-moi d'amour" exhibit advances an antidote to this learned helplessness by encouraging participants to understand that : "We are all artists. We can do-for-self". Is it too far a stretch then to suggest that issues-based community art education and art as therapy function in the context of this show as an "anti-depressant, an anxiolytic or an anti-insanity". To this effect, art therapist and art educator Michael Edwards finds: "The cultural acceptance of a work of art also serves, at least partly, to sanction its sanity" (1976, p.66).
As I researched further into the history of Les Impatients, I noticed that the organization was originally named the Foundation for Therapeutic Art and Art Brut. It is not lost on me that the term therapeutic art is subtly different from the term art therapy because it implies that there are therapeutic properties inherent to art itself. This is not to say that those engaged in therapeutic art are engaged in art therapy however. London notes that: "employing art-making as an instrument of therapy occurs when the creative act and the objects it generates are used as mirrors of the mind wherein the client may represent, examine, and come to terms with those events and thoughts central to higher life" (1988, p.47). Creative process in therapy or education serves the function of increasing pleasure and satisfaction for artists as they gain experiential knowledge of that process and develop mastery of materials and technique. Engagement with art naturally lends itself to therapeutic sublimation whether it be in the context of education or therapy. Whether we are talking about studio based art as therapy or issues based community art education, Edith Kramer finds that both educator and therapist alike are: "...temporarily projected into the role of various significant people in the life of either pupil or patient" (2001, p. 48). Could it be that similar processes are at play in human relationships, across educational and therapeutic contexts? Naumburg describes a function of creative process in art which appears to belong no more to art therapy than art to education: "When we liberate a person from inhibitions, we lift depression and are gratified by immediate change of mood. When we try to build up structure, we take away direct instinctual gratification. When there is success, increased mastery and ego strength eventually produce a feeling of victory and elation, but the process is more strenuous and rewards come slowly" (2001, p. 13). London also highlights similarities between art education and art therapy: "Art therapy employs the creative act, the act of forming metaphors for one's inner life, just as art education does. But art therapy employs art as an instrument of transformation of self, then eventually the transformation of society" (1988, p.48) While this may have been true in 1988 when the text was written, issues-based community art education changes all that by inserting itself at the community level and addressing those social issues like poverty, race, gender, mental illness and the underserved (Hicks, 2013). In so doing, this form takes art education to the streets and out of the institution, in an effort to render discourse in art and through art more accessible, more participatory, and more democratic. On a conciliatory note, London adds: "The parent of both art education and art therapy is image-making. The traditional usage of image-making was to transform the quality of one's personal and collective life from a less to a more preferred status" (1988, p.48). In this last regard, art therapy and art education are one and the same. In most contexts, creative process serves the purpose of making concrete one's interior thoughts and feelings and reflecting these back through art. As an artist shares meaningful work with others, community finds itself stitched together by a common thread of consciousness. Art work which is brought to community for reflection, knits people into stronger, healthier members of society who are less socially isolated, less afraid of each other, less competitive but more empathetic, and more engaged democratically in the co-creation of cultural narratives. Beyond any doubt, I would call that therapeutic effect. Part of the life-affirming power of art resides on a nonverbal level which is embryonic to the unmediated relationship between artist and creation. This quintessential feature of art as therapy -or art education for that matter- may not be processed on the verbal level because it operates above, beneath and beyond linguistic capabilities. It is for this reason that we often hear artists say that they cannot fully account for the description of their art products through verbal means alone. Thus, the saying: "A picture is worth a thousand words" might more justly be reformulated as: "A picture is worth more words than we can conjure". In keeping with the exhibits implicit affirmation that art can be therapeutic in and of itself, we might also consider that art education has a therapeutic dimension. A number of authors implicate issues of gender, race, culture, ethnicity and education in mental health issues and criminality by highlighting an inverse correlation between educational level and a host of social ills (Harlow, 2003, Juster & Beaton, 1975, Lochner, 2011, Rosenfield, Phillips & White, 2006, Tehrani et al., 2006). These authors independently conclude that as access to education goes up, crime goes down. Victor Hugo reportedly said that: "He who opens a school door, closes a prison" (n.d). Could opening a school door in art education help to close a mental health institution? While criminality and mental illness deserve separate consideration, these same authors suggest a possible relationship between them, finding, as Kraehe & Acuff have suggested that: "Social categories of race, class, gender, sexuality, and others are mutually constitutive; that is, they are not simply added together as discrete sets of experiences (race + class + gender + sexuality) but instead, they overlap and comingle" (2013, p.299). The question, as it relates to the present review is: Does issues based community art education contribute in a positive manner to discourse around mental health issues? As it relates to the "Parle-moi d'amour" exhibit, the answer is clearly yes. Art education is serving the discussion in two distinct ways, by providing the mental health care consumer community with "education in art" and "education through art" as defined by Bersson (1986, p.41). In the first case, participants make art while developing the technical skills related to product execution through an understanding of formal elements, art critique and art appreciation and possibly even culturally relevant art history. In the second case, education through art goals range from "self realization and psychological integration to artistic individualism and personal aesthetic response" (Bersson, 1986, p.41). Expanding on Bersson's idea, education through art also serves the therapeutic function of enabling positive relational experiences between members of the artist group and members of the broader public which they might not otherwise have. Thus, in education through art, public awareness is raised about mental health issues, social isolation, stigma and discrimination may be reduced and this educational event leads to a preventative therapeutic effect for both artists and society at large. Could the scope of art education practice really be so immense as to include some therapeutic dimension? To answer this question, Ching-Chiu and Bertram find that: "...art plays a vital role at various levels in fostering youths' artistic engagements as a form of democratic practice" (2013, p. 338). Lee notes: "in the art classroom-where art, identity, and culture are inextricably linked-racially and culturally responsive teaching play a critical role in how teachers interact with students and ultimately how students themselves come to understand cultural diversity, social inclusion, and antiracist behaviours" (2012, p.48). Given that people coping with mental illness suffer from social exclusion and lack of democratic participation could art education be a point on the path to social justice? Taken a step further, could issues-based community art education be a form of social therapy? In line with this question, it appears that the "Parle-moi d'amour" exhibit situates itself within the context of social justice education which, according to Kraehe & Acuff focuses on: "...raising awareness of social issues and giving voice to the experiences of those on the margins of society" (2013, p. 302). I can hardly think of anyone further on the margins of society than those afflicted with mental illness. Is this exhibit their therapy? Is it ours?
So far, we have looked briefly at the work of artist and art therapist Pascale Godbout within the context of the "Parle-moi d'amour" currently on display at the Wellington community center. At the outset, it was mentioned that Pascale's work encapsulated the content of this art review in a single image. It has been the difficult task of this review to return the favour by interpreting the significance of her piece in a just manner. It should be said that in the absence of the artist's biography or interview, it has not been possible to relay the exact meaning or intention which the artist ascribes to her own work. As a result, my interpretation of the artist's meaning and intent is subjective and I have chosen to situate that interpretation in the context of the exhibit in which the work finds itself. As mentioned earlier, context is of paramount importance when attempting to conceptualize any work of art through the lens of issues-based community art education or art as therapy. In some sense, the original meaning of the piece, that is, the meaning ascribed to it by the artist, has been overlaid by the meaning which I, as a viewer have given it. While this may seem unfair in some regard, it is also natural to give the artist and the viewer equal weight of interpretation in the context of an art exhibit which attempts to raise awareness by facilitating discussion about social issues like mental health. In giving the artist and the viewer equal weight of interpretation, we are truly honouring the virtues of democracy and social justice advanced by the exhibit itself.
At first, Pascale's image evoked notions of masculine and feminine in relationship to each other. As my immersion in the exhibit progressed, I came to see the embroidery as symbolizing the overlapping relationship between art education and art therapy. In the image, I now see that the two entities flow into one another because education is ultimately therapeutic and therapy is educational. This idea is also embodied by the term "psychoeducational". The two fields become one where they touch like a Venn diagram. In the space between those loving siblings is art itself, the parent of all art-related disciplines. Since it was not possible to get further information about or from the artist, the decision was made to shift focus to a review of the exhibit while still referring to her piece as a metaphorical illustration of the issues-based context in which it was seen. Finally, the "Parle-moi d'amour" collection was discussed in terms of its community impact. In so doing, it became necessary to discuss the intersection of studio based art therapy, issues-based community art education and professional art practice itself because these three practices co-exist harmoniously with participants of Les Impatients and within the Wellington center in service of participants facing mental health issues. While some differences between these three practices or approaches were discussed, emphasis was placed on conciliation and common ground. Several of the references used to research the relationship between the three fields were dated at least 20 years though many were contemporary. While it can do a disservice to the advancement of contemporary theory to use such dated sources of information, attempts were made to contextualize them within their particular chronological and socio-cultural landscapes. It is believed that most references discussing the intersection of art education and art therapy are dated roughly 20-30 years because this time frame coincides with a period in which academic art therapy was gaining momentum and interdisciplinary scholars in the field of art education like Peter London (1988) were critiquing art education's failure to address social issues. In 1986, professor of art Robert Bersson went as far as suggesting that art education "lacks social relevance" (p.41). It is interesting to note that it took a professor of Art to point this out. Since the time of the publishing of such critiques throughout the 70's, art education has developed the issues based and community oriented approaches to a point where the line between art as therapy and art education has grown finer and regularly shifts depending on context. Today, the mutual influence between the two fields continues to yield interesting results, and the "Parle-moi d'amour" exhibit has been presented as evidence of that. Let us conclude with a quote from the interdisciplinary professor of art, Patricia St. John: "Art education, therapeutic art, and art therapy have as their common goal the successful fostering of the independent, secure individual who is able to take the risks of transforming his or her ideas, images and perceptions into visual forms. Methods used in art education, therapeutic art, and art therapy are indicated by the needs of student/clients" (1986, p.16). Parle-Moi d'Amour Exhibit Slides
ReferencesBersson, R. (1986). Why Art Lacks Social Relevance: A contextual Analysis. In Art Education. 39(4). 41-45. Ching-Chiu, L & Bertram, C.B. (2013). Engaging Youth in Underserved Communities Through Digital- Mediated Arts Learning Experiences for Community Inquiry. Studies In Art Education, 54(4), 335- 348. Dalke, C. (1984). There are no Cows Here: Art and Special Education Together at Last. Art Education, 37(6), 6-9. D'Amico, V. (1943). Art Therapy in Education. The Bulletin of the Museum of Modern Art, 10(3). 9-12. DERBY, J. (2013). Nothing About Us Without Us: Art Education's Disservice to Disabled People. Studies In Art Education, 54(4), 376-380. Dunn-Snow, P., & D'amelio, G. (2000). How Art Teachers Can Enhance Artmaking as a Therapeutic Experience: Art Therapy and Art Education. Art Education, 53(3), 46-53. Edwards, M. (1976). Art Therapy and Art Education: Towards a Reconciliation. Studies in Art Education. 17(2), 63-66. Fiber Art (n.d). In Wikipedia. Retrieved February 18, 2014 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fiber_art#Notable_fiber_artists Gaudelius, Y., Speirs, P. (2002). Introduction. In Gaudelius, Y., Speirs, P. (Eds), Contemporary Issues in Art Education. (pp.1-18). Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall. Harlow, C. W. (2003). Education and correctional populations. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics. HICKS, L. E. (2013). Art Education: Thing or Device. Studies In Art Education, 54(2), 99-102. John, P.S. (1986). Art Education, Therapeutic Art and Art Therapy: Some Relationships. Art Education. 39(1). 14-16. Juster, F. T., & Beaton, A. E. (1974). on the relation between education and crime. Education, income, and human behavior (pp. 313-338). New York: McGraw-Hill. Kraehe, A., & Acuff, J. (2013). Theoretical Considerations for Art Education Research With and About "Underserved Populations".Studies In Art Education, 54(4), 294-309. Kramer, E. (1980). Art Therapy and Art Education: Overlapping Functions. Art Education, 33 (4) 16-17. Kramer, E. (2002). On quality in art and art therapy. American Journal Of Art Therapy, 40(4), 218-222. LAWTON, P., & LA PORTE, A. (2013). Beyond Traditional Art Education: Transformative Lifelong Learning in Community-Based Settings With Older Adults. Studies In Art Education, 54(4), 310-320. Lee, N. (2012). Culturally Responsive Teaching for 21st-Century Art Education: Examining Race in a Studio Art Experience. Art Education, 65(5), 48-53. Lochner, L. (2011), The Impacts of Education on Crime, Health and Mortality, and Civic Participation. (Policy brief 3). Retrieved from: http://economics.uwo.ca/cibc/cibc_docs/policybrief3.pdf. London, P. (1988). Art Therapy's Contribution to Art Education: Towards Meaning, Not Decoration. Art Education, 41(6), 44-48. Magsamen., S. H., & Battro, A. M. (2011). Understanding How the Arts Can Enhance Learning. Mind, Brain, and Education, 5(1), 1-2. Naumburg, M. (2001). Spontaneous art in education and psychotherapy. American Journal Of Art Therapy, 40(1), 46-64. Rosenfield, S., Phillips, J., & White, H. (2006). Gender, Race, and The Self In Mental Health and Crime. Social Problems, 53(2), 161-185. Tehrani, J. A., Brennan, P. A., Hodgins, S. S., & Mednick, S. A. (1998). Mental illness and criminal violence. Social Psychiatry And Psychiatric Epidemiology, 33(Suppl 1), S81-S85. doi:10.1007/s001270050214 Victor Hugo. (n.d.). BrainyQuote.com. Retrieved February 18, 2014, from BrainyQuote.com Web site: http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/v/victorhugo104893.html
 Read more about the mental health organization "Les Impatients" here: www.impatients.com and here: http://impatients.ca/qui-sommes-nous/historique/
 The work I painted can be seen here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/tomartist/5242827406/in/photostream/. The viewer will notice how the metal clip holding the soldier's rucksack is similar to the clasp in Pascale's knit piece.
 Read more about fiber art on the Wikipedia page here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fiber_art#Notable_fiber_artists
 Read my post about art as therapy entitled: "Is Art Therapy?" here: https://www.tomartist.com/2013/06/23/is-art-therapy/
 Studio based art therapy and community based art therapy are used interchangeably throughout this text.