RCASA’s Art Therapy Thursday: Art as Activism

In Art therapy, Outreach on April 8, 2010 at 8:00 am

What is it that mesmerizes us by watching people make things? Through window panes, street corners, on the sidewalk, or across the table, there is something fascinating about watching others create.  From what science has learned about the brain’s mirror neurons, looking on as people create is akin to looking into their eyes.  Witnessing creativity stirs up a sense of connection, because of the structure of our brains. 

What we also know of the brain is that it’s built for symbolism, constructing representations in order to understand life.  Symbolic images and sensations comprise much of our memory base, some of it in symbols known as words, most of them not.  This is not to say that words are not a powerful tool in themselves, but that the source of their power lies in the sensations and meanings they evoke.

This comes into play with activism where people are drawn to connect to images, and even more than that, drawn towards creative action.  Therefore, as we strive for social change on small and large levels, here is a powerful and nonviolent way to be understood.  We can create in the presence of others or leave them with the images of the change we long for.  In the process of doing so and in spite of our differences, we connect.  For a moment in time, the sense of community we long for happens.

In the words of Gandhi, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”  Create.


Book recommendations on this topic include:

Art Therapy and Social Action by Frances F. Kaplan (Referencing the therapeutic use of art with activism)

The Art of Rebellion 2: World of Urban Art Activism by Christian Hundertmark (Illustrating examples of street art created for activism)

Websites featuring efforts of art-based activism:



  1. Be the change..create, transform! Yes, art can and is an amazing form of transformation. This past Tuesday, S.A.V.E, the student anti-violence educators came together to create a Mandala to honor the White Ribbon Campaign: Men working to end Men’s Violence Against Women. With the guidance of Kelly Hartland, art therapist intern from RCASA, the students participating felt empowered! We hung up the finished project in the middle of campus walk so that students and groups on tour could see the image and be inspired to create societal and cultural change.

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