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Art therapy: “I can no longer hear it …!”

The other day I was at a working meeting in preparation for a joint exhibition. I was greeted warmly and asked if I was well again. “Yes,” I was happy to report and then told a little more about my last year of the disaster, in which for six months I was not only unable to paint because of incredible pain, but also hardly could do anything else. And I also told about how much art gives my life a secure hold; how much I played a decisive role on the path to recovery during this long period of illness, in which I struggled with myself and my body. Everyone present was happy with me. But then something irritated me …

One in the group talked about a visit to a group exhibition where he had a conversation with one of the participating artists and then said: “I can no longer hear it! I am constantly getting to know new artists who tell me how they found art through art therapy.”

What is behind this statement?

Is it the tiredness of personal fate stories? Is it an aversion to strangers getting directly personal? Is it the claim that art has to be art and not “just” a therapy result? Is therapy art art at all?

I would like to bring some clarity to the discussion here and also dispel prejudices.

– Is it the tiredness of personal fate stories?

Most of the time, stories are particularly interesting if they are either unique and therefore special. When you experience something that you rarely come into contact with in your own life. When you have the feeling that they are taking place far away from you and then you develop a certain kind of childlike admiration for the protagonist. If there is also very special art involved, the WOW effect is even greater. Perhaps the best example here is Vincent van Gogh. We love his art, we love his story.

Or stories are particularly interesting when, on the contrary, they are very close to you. When you recognize yourself or something of yourself in it. If you can even learn something from them, if at best they give you courage.

Conversely, this means that a story is of no interest if it is not unique but arbitrary. Or if, instead of a role model, I see a chilling example in it.

– Is it an aversion to strangers becoming directly personal?

Yes. You can answer this question very quickly. Because you don’t always want to deal with personal fate when you actually “only” wanted to visit an exhibition. Or maybe it’s the artist himself who at first glance just doesn’t seem likeable enough to get personal right away. Perhaps the intention of visiting the exhibition was also to distract oneself from one’s own problems and not to come across similar life issues that one has to deal with oneself. Anyway, it might just be the wrong story in the wrong place at the wrong time.

– Is it the claim that art has to be art and not “just” a therapy result? Is therapy art art at all?

These questions are the hardest to answer because they are the least trivial. What is art Opinions differ on this. While some argue with “talent” and “proper training”, others speak of “art for everyone” and “art as a way of life”. I think these are two very different approaches. And I think that in most cases both more or less flow together and you don’t always – maybe never? – can separate from each other.

Art as medicine

Many artists describe the beneficial effects of art or the creation of art. Because, in contrast to handicraft, art is not primarily a purely mechanical action aimed at a specific and reproducible result. The creativity and the creative process have a lot to do with the unique nature of the artist. This inner being can be healthy or sick (in the pathological sense!). Art can therefore in principle also be created by a person suffering from (perhaps depression). And those who are sick may also benefit from art therapy. Whether this therapy then serves as the initial spark for a subsequent artistic career should not play a role in the subsequent assessment of the works of art, I believe.

Praise to contemporary psychotherapy

I think it is much more important to positively emphasize how extremely effective therapists are nowadays! Anyone who comes out of therapy as a strengthened person and has found something (in this case about art) that has a lasting positive effect on further life has gained a lot! How nice that there are so many and when so many talk about it that some people find it “annoying”!

Whether in the end “art” arises or just “occupational therapy”, this question is superfluous in my opinion, since it does not depend on art therapy. Art and art therapy are two different concepts that can, but do not have to, complement each other. It depends on the individual case. So I refer back to the original question that humanity has been asking itself for centuries and what it loves to argue about: Is this art or can it be eliminated?

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