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art therapy
 

John Ruskan's
Emotional Clearing

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from Emotion and Art

There’s a branch of psychotherapy called art therapy. It begins with the central assumption, as with most psychotherapeutic approaches, that what is required is the release of suppressed feelings. The participant is urged to express from within through any art form, but often painting, drawing, music, sculpture, or movement are chosen. It has been found that certain persons adapt well to this approach, finding themselves able to express feelings in the art that they could not verbally. Moreover, the actual working in the art process tends to uncover the subconscious, bringing forward suppressed material. This approach has been found to be particularly useful with children, who often lack verbal skills.

Art therapy has become a bona fide type of therapy. Possibly as a result of the influence of art therapy, we now see a general emphasis in consciousness circles that “art heals.” The same principles apply – uncover subconscious feelings through working in the art, become more in touch with the hidden self, increase sensitivity, and above all express yourself. It is assumed that expression of feeling is the antidote to suppression.

All this sounds good, and to a certain extent, is good. People have been helped by this approach. However, something appears to be missing. When we look at artists as a whole, especially artists who have a dedicated, ongoing relationship with their work, who are “expressing” their feelings all the time, who are not just casually experimenting with first efforts, we are presented with a startling picture. We would expect serious artists to be the most psychologically healthy group around. Instead, we find just the opposite. Artists as a group are notoriously emotionally unstable if not dysfunctional. There has always been the allowance for the eccentric artist, but what has not been so apparent is that the eccentricity is often only the reflection of deep pain within. If art heals, what has gone wrong?

What happened to some of the greatest artists of our time – van Gogh, Poe, Schumann among others from the classical periods; William Styron, Sylvia Plath and others less well-known from contemporary times? They all experienced extreme emotional distress, some to the point of literal self-destruction. While not all artists, well-known or not, experience severe emotional imbalance, studies have shown that the number who do is disproportionately higher than the rest of the population. There is undeniably a link between the artist and potentiality for emotional woundedness

 
 

© 2004 John Ruskan / The Institute for Integrative Processing