Art As Medicine: Book Notes

Creating a Therapy of the Imagination

Author: Shaun McNiff

· The word soul is closely related and sometimes used interchangeably with the word psyche

· Both of these terms are quite poetic, abstract and mysterious

· “Virtually every person who uses art in psychotherapy believes in the ability of the image to expand communication and offer insight outside the scope of the reasoning mind” (page 3).

· Art is medicinal because it leads to greater awareness and understanding of the self

· The author believes in loosely interpreting artwork so the critical “ego” mind doesn’t take over the intuitive sense.

· He describes the process as follows: “Rather than labeling pictures from our frames of reference, we meditate on them, tell stories about how we created them, speak to them, listen to what they have to say, dramatize them through our bodily movement, and dream about them” (page 3).

· “Pathology and wounds open us up to the life of the soul” (page 11). Analysis of quote: challenges can weaken us or, they can motivate us to introspect, and deepen our understanding of our own existence.

· Shawn McNiff strongly believes that spontaneity is imperative to art therapy.

· He encourages his clients to approach art forms with a “beginners mind” using simplicity and whole-body dance-like movements

· He also emphasizes the importance of letting go of pre-determined plans, ideas and judgments

· Our analytical “ego” mind gets caught in a single (often judgmental) point of view. Healing begins when we observe that self-doubt without investing energy into it

· We place a great deal of emphasis on suppressing the symptoms that arise from the soul/psyche rather than becoming acquainted with them

· Some examples that the author mentions include: medications, institutions and procedures that are not always necessary

· Art therapy provides a safe container for people to find revelations and understanding with the help of their therapist

· Art therapy allows people to express what their subconscious holds, what they may not be able to formulate through words quite yet

· Prinzhorn, an artist and psychiatrist during the 1970’s believed that it was critical for a suffering soul to have access to art –

· “When the soul is lost, art comes spontaneously to its assistance. When the soul is depressed, isolated, mad, and distraught, artistic images appear… the creative imagination acts spontaneously as its own savior. When the intensity of the emotional unrest subsided, so did the art” (page 16).

· Individuals who suffer from psychosis often have astounding imaginations — art gives them the opportunity to direct their creative energy in a healthy way, instead of suppressing it and becoming overwhelmed

· In Shamanism, psychosis is believed to be caused by the inhabitation of evil spirits

· Tribal societies knew how to make use of those who were possessed by emotional upheavals. We do not. By trying to fix them, improve them, eliminate them, drug them, and cure them, we are showing that we have not grasped how they can help us” (page 25).

· The best remedy a person can have is a sense of purpose — this can be achieved through art

· Creative blocks are caused by expectations that distract us from our current experience

· The artist does not create art, rather, it is a collaboration or interaction between the artist and the art piece

· The greatest freedom comes when we allow ourselves to become whole-heartedly immersed in our work