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New Legacy in Canadian Art Community through Art Therapy

By Evelyn Greenhalgh, AIC Writer, Montreal January 25, 2014

Art Therapy

Canada’s long-lasting legacy in the arts has stemmed from a diversity of tradition ranging from First Nations cultures to the distinctive Group of Seven followed by their contemporaries and modern descendants, and enhanced by a rich infrastructure that makes up the core characteristic of cities and small communities across the country. More than ever, art isn’t simply a monumental piece of work to be revelled at in a museum, but an integrative and interactive experience which is taking many forms throughout the nation, from the indie-themed festivals of Montreal to the local programs and workshops that highlight special times of the year in rural areas such as the Maritimes, a hotspot of treasured traditions. Canadian recognition of visual arts in particular is reflected through an extensive catalogue of working painters, sculptors, printers, photographers, and craftspeople that are situated from coast to coast, as well as the celebration of art itself.

A Healing Hand

Art is evolving, as well as drawing on its past lives in becoming a vital element to the essence of a community. Art therapy in particular is a profession as well as an art in itself which is involved in outreach programs on both a collective and individual level; at  , a group of rehabilitation and treatment specialists, they believe that therapy is key to helping individuals overcome their challenges and take steps towards a comprehensive healing and empowerment process, and art therapy – just like its counterparts dance and music therapy – is integral to this process. The Canadian Art Therapy Association takes this theory into practice, working with “individuals, couples, families or groups in settings such as counselling agencies, schools, treatment centres, rehabilitation facilities, hospitals, correctional institutes and elder care locations.” Not only is it an effective treatment for those facing particular challenges, but it also realigns a sense of personhood by helping the individual to focus on themselves and use a very natural form of expression.

How Does Art Therapy Work?

For the same reason that many artists pursue this eclectic and liberal medium of expression, art therapy works on the premise that a person can express their thoughts and feelings through “imagery, colour and shape” which would otherwise be difficult to communicate by spoken word. Because art is unbounded, an individual is free to explore the possibilities and use the canvas as a sounding board, experiencing a kind of catharsis as well as a “translation” of their anguish which leads the individual – as well as their therapist – to reach a better understanding of what is going on in their mind. It is a way to enhance a deep connectivity of the self, and can be also be used as a technique for escapism and removing oneself from their turmoil as well as become a safe venue for exploring it. Some clients may go beyond using art therapy as a healing treatment, and use their art to make a statement about their journey – this is particularly effective for spreading awareness about mental illness, or conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder.

With art’s multisensual and synaesthesic capacity, cultural symbolism and scope for individuality, as a therapy it has been hailed as one of the most fulfilling and intuitive approaches to healing. As a study, leading institutions across the country are beginning to offer programs with the most extensive one held at Concordia University in Montreal. Not only is this beginning to place visual arts back on the table for more successful career opportunities, but it is redefining the visual arts’ place within the Canadian community as both a medium and effective intervention, healing, and empowering tool.

In the summer of 2014, the Art Gallery of Ontario will feature “Art as Therapy” masterminded by British pop-psychologist Alain de Botton, who argues that museums no longer provide the connection with their public which is so essential to art. “In Art as Therapy, we argue that art is a tool that can variously help to inspire, console, redeem, guide, comfort, expand and reawaken us,” de Botton argues. And that in itself tells the story of art therapy, as well as disclosing the core of art itself.

Evelyn Greenhalgh                                                                                                                                                                                                                     AIC Art Writer, Montreal

Also thanks to Donika Wimalaratne for her visual inspiration for this article. To see more of her computer generated work please see her website also FineArtAmerica.