RCASA’s Art Therapy Thursday: Making Meaning with Art

In Advocacy, Art therapy, Sexual Assault Awareness on December 10, 2009 at 9:37 am

What is art? In last week’s blog we talked about using art as communication.  In the true sense of the word, art can be a language of its own.  Simply put, art is the process and product of meaningful self-expression.  For thousands of years, this symbolism has produced the framework of human culture. 

Ellen Dissanayake examines art as a form of “making special,” like the embellishment we use to honor rituals and transitions in life.  This is not simply a desire, but seems necessary for our survival, as she points out in her two books What is Art For? (1988)  and Homo Aestheticus: Where Art Comes From and Why (1992a) as well as her article Art for Life’s Sake in the Journal of the American Art Therapy Association (1992b).  She proposes we create in order to differentiate [the] image from the ordinary,” (Steinhardt, 1995).

The holiday season often reminds us of the language or “making special” we share.  The attention to trees, stars, or light provide one way we may commonly make things special this time of year. By participating in these creative experiences, we illuminate the significance of the present.  However you experience this time of year, I encourage you to embrace it by “making your mark” (Steinhardt, 1995).

Interesting reading referenced in this article includes:

Dissanayake, E. (1988).  What is art for? Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press.

Dissanayake E.  (1992a).  Homo aestheticus: Where art comes from and why. New York: Basic Books.

Dissanayake, E. (1992b).  Art for life’s sake.  Art Therapy: Journal of the American Art Therapy Association, 9 (4), 169-175.

Steinhardt, L.  (1995).  The base and the mark: A primary dialogue in artmaking behavior.  Art Therapy: Journal of the American Art Therapy Association,  12(3), 191-192.


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