Ofira Honiga, Aya Feldman, Shlomit Rinat 11 a Art Therapy ...
The combination of art materials and psychoanalytic processes has obliged generations of theoretical thinkers to expand psychodynamic terms to reflect the uniqueness and depth of the language of art psychotherapy. In this article we seek to explore psychodynamic terms related to processes of doing in the art therapy studio. The link between working with physical materials and psychological processes can be expressed in these terms through the concept of the ‘ethics of doing’ (Erlich, 2015).We shall connect work with materials to both processes of doing (Winnicott, 1971, 1995) in an art therapy studio and to psychoanalytic terms, based on the professional ethics of mental health (Kasher, 2003; Shefler, 2012) and the unique professional ethics of art therapy (Hazut & Siano, 2007). We draw upon data from a study 22 The study consisted ... that examined the transformative teaching model (Honig, 2014), the pentagonal potential space model (Honig, 2014), and processes of curating-therapy (Honig, 2015; Sapir & Honig, 2021) within an art therapy studio and in the open studio at Beit Berl.
The art therapy studio is a safe setting that allows creators, who are the clients, to express human, authentic, and phantasmatic parts of themselves that relate to experiences of destruction and construction in the psyche. By exploring materials and producing products, mental experiences are transformed through a process of creative expression. The field of art therapy combines periods of being within existence and within the internal dimension (being) with aspects related to actions, materials, and connection to the substantive (doing).
The profession of art psychotherapy began with the utilization of art materials in psychotherapy with people for physical and mental illnesses. It was first employed in New York in the 1930s by Margaret Naumburg and in the 1940s by Edward Adamson in England and, by Allen, Landgarten 1950s in the United States with patients who, in the early twentieth century, seemed verbally inaccessible. Landgarten (2013), one of the pioneers of using art materials in psychiatry in the 1950s in New York, dedicated her book to art therapists and their clients using the following words:
To those persons who have
Spoken with their hands,
Listened with their eyes
Seen with their heads,
Touched with their hearts. (p. V)
The use of art materials in psychotherapy was intuitive at first, characterized by trial and error and interactions with art materials that, by virtue of being external to one, require “action in the world”, which Winnicott defined as “doing” (Winnicott, 1995). The action includes evasion of being with internal contents and it posed a challenge for analytical thinking about the new field of art therapy.
Art therapy, a new branch of psychoanalysis, developed an underlying logic and a professional psychotherapeutic theory. The connection between the essence of psychotherapy and the contact with materials, creative processes, and understanding the product was subsequently transformed into the language of art psychotherapy, a language where the quality of the materials offered and the nature of each material are taken into account in the dynamic processes (Moon, 2010). This language expands and upgrades the space available for self-exploration and self-expression for both clients and therapists and is adapted to all individuals who wish to become familiar with their emotional path; to get to know themselves through the experience of exploring art materials, materials of the psyche, and ways of working and communicating with others
The resultant composite, combining the principles of psychotherapy with art materials that envelope the therapist and the client in the studio, is art psychotherapy. A psychotherapy that expands the possibilities of conscious and unconscious exploration using physical materials, images, and actions with materials. A language that is based on the power of art to heal (McNiff, 1992).
Professional ethics, standards, and thresholds
The concept of ethics belongs to the discipline of philosophy and presents rules of conduct for specific fields of knowledge or professions and the standards expected of their practitioners. Professional ethics is an “organized conception of the practical ideal of behavior in a professional setting that is a defined framework of unique human activity” (Kasher, 2003, p. 15). Each word in this definition is meaningful and helps understand the concept of professional ethics (Shefler, 2012). The conception is organized rather than a random collection of laws. The organized conception relates to problems in the professional domain and to a way of solving them professionally, and the identity of the profession derives from these. Professional ethics relates to an ideal and to professional excellence, as manifested in behavior, practical work, and professional practice.
Kasher’s schematic model defines the mutual relations between the law and the rules of ethics through a set of standards and thresholds (Kasher, 2003). The law is the lowest threshold of permitted behavior, and any behavior below this threshold is illegal. The standard is an imaginary boundary above which professionals strive to remain, as beyond this boundary all actions are ethically sound. The intermediate area above the threshold but below the standard contains actions that are legal but not ethical. According to Shefler (2012), actions in this intermediate area between the threshold and the standard are indeed legal but their ethical quality is debatable and he recommends avoiding them due to their criminal nature. Ethics is a code of supreme values and in the mental health professions therapists must conduct themselves in those regions that are above the standard.
In art therapy it is not only the therapist who is active. The very manner in which the physical space is arranged reverberates to clients entering the studio a request or possibility of active exploration that requires action in the real world as part of psychodynamic therapy processes. “When some action is performed in the world, it necessarily contains a potential that is realized not only in the actual execution. In other words, realization of an ethical space is facilitated at the moment the action is realized” (Erlich, 2015, p. 87). The ethical space of the actions allows us to use the concepts of threshold and standard that apply to the therapist also with regard to processes in the studio where the client-creator plays around, explores art materials, performs acts, molds, experiences, and creates. The ethical space in art therapy between the threshold and the standard allows different types of action. It is a creative and instinctual 33 In Hebrew the word ... space where the clients form a connection with themselves through contact with the art materials and through action that resonates the exploration of the psyche. Within the physical space of the studio, actions and destructive fantasies can be performed using the materials, come into being in direct and authentic contact with the materials. Hence, we encourage the clients to challenge the space between threshold and standard.
Every profession has a well-organized conception of its relevant ethical problems and how to resolve them. Hazut and Siano (2004) constructed the ethical code of art therapists. They added to the ethical reasoning of psychotherapists clarifications regarding the uniqueness of art therapy, which includes the need to acquire academic knowledge and practical experience regarding art materials. They also added the need to extend the experiencing and extensive command of creative and folkloristic styles in order to expand the perspective of the art therapist and the therapist’s multicultural sensitivity as an integral part of the profession’s processes of learning and experiencing. Another requirement is the need to understand the set of rules pertaining to the triangular exploration space unique to art therapy: that of the therapist – client – artwork /materials. In addition, art therapists are required to regularly perform a fundamental examination of issues such as preserving the artwork, the client’s safety, and the confidentiality required in the relationship, also versus the substantive and material products of the therapeutic processes.
The practical ideal of actions performed in the art therapy studio includes doing as an integral part of the mutual relations and the continuous process that the client maintains with the materials, the creative processes, and the products (if they exist). The “doing” and the “being” connect the practical world of art therapy to the conceptual world of psychotherapy.
Doing and Being in the art therapy studio
The term “doing” as a continuous process and the ethics that derive from it are critical for work processes in the art therapy studio. For us (the researchers), doing that is a substantive external act- is essential for processes of mental growth in art therapy processes, in addition to being a defensive mechanism (Winnicott, 1971/1995). It appears that a certain doing that involves materials has the qualities of being as an existential state.
The uniqueness of art psychotherapy is that, together with being processes that are unique to psychotherapy, it also contains doing processes. In psychotherapy, the concepts of “being” and “doing” separate between the internal connection and the ability to go out and perform an action in the real world.
From a Winnicottian psychoanalytic point of view, the concepts of being and doing distinguish between engagement in one’s existence and internal levels and between aspects related to action. In this study we saw that, in art therapy, processes that involve choosing the material and contact with it, which are allegedly a type of doing, expand one’s experience- of existence, and are in fact a type of unique being that allows one to be with the touch, smell, associations and the chaotic arousal that emerges when coming into contact with the chosen material – before entering the creative processes and engaging with the material.
According to Winnicott, “being” is the capacity to be with experiences and sensations and it emerges in an environment that is ‘good enough’. The ability to act in the world, doing, is possible when the ability to be is developed and well-established. Doing is spontaneous action with the ability to play around, which expresses authentic parts of the self. The capacity to do grows from the capacity to be in a calm and safe environment (Winnicott, 1995) as a holding action.
The language of art psychotherapy, which is based on work with materials in the sense of the client’s activeness as a continuous doing, is usually manifested in the formation of an object or alternately in its absence. During the time spent in an art therapy studio, the materials are an object that offers indirect and noninvasive introspection. Movement between the states of being and doing generates and releases energies of inner mental action and substantive action that involve play and creativity, sometimes even with no interpretation or reflection, under the “good eyes” (Winnicott, 1947/2009) of the therapist or group facilitator.
The clients and the therapist engage in art, and art as a creative act is likened to a continuous explorative interaction of the self through the materials. The creative process begins in a shapeless form, with no idea or meaning; at this stage the clients are a state of being with themselves and with the materials. Then, in a type of alchemical process that involves doing that changes and transforms, the materials are shaped to form a structured idea.
The unique doing in art therapy is a type of being, a type of continuous process of contact with materials that allows connection between internal and external elements. This type of doing expands states of being from dream to reality, from distinctiveness to indistinctiveness, and from sinking to growing. A new unique state is formed in the art therapy studio: “doing as being”.
The “ethics of doing” and art therapy
The “ethics of doing” defines the moral expanse of action and involvement relations, since “tools, objects, and materials capture meaning by their very presence” (Erlich, 2015: 95). Erlich’s attitude allowed us a fresh observation of the work spaces and products of art psychotherapy. The doing creates a connection between the client/creator and the material with which he comes into contact and the materials of his inner psyche. The “doing is both an act in the world and an inner act of exploration, both a practice and an ethics.
Meir Wieseltier writes, in his poem “Take”:
Take poems, and do not read
Be violent with this book:
Spit on it, crush it
Kick it, pinch it.
Throw this book into the sea
To see if it can swim.
Put it on the stovetop
To see if it is fireproof.
Nail it, saw it
To see if it is resistant:
This book is
A paper rag
And letters like flies,
While you are
A rag of flesh,
Who eats dirt and drips blood
Staring at it unseeing
(Wieseltier, 1973, p. 5)
Wieseltier, an artist of words, published his poems in a book. The space between the creator and the reader is an intermediate space of uncertainty and of longing for an unrealized connection. The harsh experience of the artist-poet was transformed into a new work full of passion and sarcasm – “Take”, which took the liberty of giving presence to acts perceived as unethical. Wieseltier dared to explore his feelings with absolute abandon that expressed destruction and violence, and these were transformed into a work that communicates pain.
We act in the world and perceive that which is done in it based on what has been assimilated within us, culturally and socially, as ethical or unethical. In the art therapy studio we wish to grant complete freedom regarding the exploration form of an artistic product and of the person himself, in the wish that the space will facilitate a therapeutic process that manages to contain self-exploration by exploring art materials; ethical exploration that is not intimidated but is also not abusive and that bravely and passionately examines the art materials and the materials of the psyche..
Erlich deals with the ethics of doing in the context of arts and crafts and says that the craft is “a field that allows us theoretical and ethical treatment of the value incorporated in the act itself” (Erlich, 2015: p. 85). He writes in Hebrew but uses the English term “Doing” to distinguish between the act itself and the products and to focus on the ethical potential embodied by the act. We use this same term since the processivity it embodies reflects the very processes of contact with material, its exploration, and creating with it, in the dynamic processes within the art therapy studio.
IIn the language of art psychotherapy, the value of the act itself is in how it manages to release and shape unconscious materials through conventional and unconventional contact with the art materials. Similar to alchemy in Jung’s terms, the processes of contact and work with materials in art therapy are a “constant and persistent” (Netzer, 2004: 32) journey in search of the whole psyche. Through contact with the art materials, materials from the unconscious that encounter physical materials generate products, and in a spiral process the products reverberate mental materials and produce processes of transformation and conversion. The art therapy profession is in essence a type of doing and it includes formation and action by the clients in the space of the art therapy studio and with the materials. The therapists can respond by means of a type of active interpretation that is unique to the profession of art psychotherapy – the act of offering materials.
In art therapy the phantasmal psychological material is channeled into the physical materials as a realistic expression. Even when there is no product, the fantasy is reflected in the search for a concrete or symbolic route. A system of ethical rules provides a platform for understanding the permitted and the forbidden so that it will be possible to feel safe in the therapy room and give oneself over to this internal and external exploration. In this way, the fantasy world can be present in a safe, wide, and deep manner through the art materials. As stressed by Laplanche and Pontalis (2011), “From the beginning, psychoanalysis discusses the material of fantasies”.
The model used to train art therapists, in a “transformative teaching mode through dynamic artwork-based experiential” (Honig, 2014) in the space of the studio, emphasizes the significance of the ethics of mental health professionals and of doing as a process of deep inner presence, being, and exploration. In every profession, Shefler (2012) claims, the instilling of professional ethics begins at the stage of professional training. The formal values of the psychotherapy profession are applied in studies of dynamic psychotherapy as a well-organized doctrine and through modeling by the lecturers and supervisors. The learning mode in these fields is active and based on continuous thinking concerning the resolution of issues that arise.
The training process of psychotherapy students focuses on the expertise of solving problems and issues encountered by the supervised therapists. The studies and the subsequent professional development occur in a process of internal and theoretical exploration beside the supervisor in the supervision processes. This issue is further clarified when training individual and group art psychotherapists (Dudley et al., 2000; Honig, 2014). Teaching therapy in the language of the therapy itself is extremely important for assimilating nuances that cannot be reviewed or taught. This meaningful process occurs in art psychotherapy through the recurring experiencing of artwork and work with materials. The artwork is in fact a way of life, it is a manifestation of faith, a means of assimilating the meaning, rules, forces (laws), and manners of work with any material to mold a personal and professional ethics. The supervised therapists are committed to further expressing themselves, their thoughts, the processes of growth and transference in their therapy, by means of contact with the materials and with the creative processes, continuously and by themselves. The practice of producing art in the supervision sessions and in between the formal sessions is in fact regular ‘internal supervision’ (Fish, 2016; Casement, 1988, 1995, 2010).
A supervisor (one of the research participants) who had been an art therapist for twenty years related in the art supervision course that was part of the study:
I discovered anew, here in the supervision, the power of working on the materials, with the materials, and in them. I noticed that over the years I had become immersed in the words and here I once again felt the significance of the knowledge that we therapists have of the experience with the art materials and the significance of this knowledge for processing the messages in the therapeutic processes. Subsequently, I managed to convey this to the supervisee, who used the supervision to address the issue of a client with social difficulties who works obsessively with hot glue. ‘Glues and glues with hot glue anything that comes her way. Even things that were ruined by attaching them with the boiling hot glue’, the therapist told me in the supervision. Once we understood that the client has a longing for connection, thanks to the supervision course in the studio – by means of materials, I understood the significance of the discussion on the essence of the materials that she could be offered as interpretation, and what each material brings with it”.
The supervisee felt the client’s pain, as reflected in attempts to use an adhesive connecting-material that was at times too aggressive for the objects. The supervisee chose a unique doing as her interpretation: to prepare different connecting materials for the patient prior to the session. This preparation allowed the client to explore adhesive/connecting materials and subsequently to refine her manners of social communication.
In this quotation it is possible to discern a theme that arose among many of the participants in the current study, who are supervisors or who teach the profession: the understanding that the effectiveness of the language of art therapy for the clients increases when the therapist uses art to decipher the transference processes in therapy. Similarly, Honig (2014), Waller (1991), Malchiodi (2011), McNeilly (2005), Kimhi & Lubin (2017), and others stress the significance of teaching art therapy in the language of art therapy.
As stated, in the field of art therapy the doing is an integral part of the psychotherapy processes. Therefore, it is important to assimilate the language of doing and to assimilate the relevant ethics among both therapists and clients/artists who create in the therapeutic process. Expression through art, engaging with art materials for purposes of supervision, or self-supervision when there is no supervisor or group support available, is an important basic skill for art therapists. For the art therapist, creative processes during the supervision enable a type of client dreaming, namely contact with inner parts of the client and contact with deep layers of transference and countertransference that are not always accessible in the open set of transferences.
For art therapists and students of psychotherapy, the purpose of spending time with art materials in the art therapy studio is also to develop the ability to hold the actions performed using the art materials from both extremes: on one extreme as actions in the world, which can be interpreted as aggressive, and on the other as actions that express sublimation and the power to grow. In this space it is possible to expand the understanding of the different facets of doing as a symbolic act that stimulates growth. The ethics of doing, from the intervention prism of the art therapist who interprets by providing materials, is manifested in the responsibility for the routes taken by the client who approaches the materials offered.
The pentagonal model – expanding the analytical exploration space in art therapy
From the researchers’ journal:
Spring. the last rays of sunlight sparkle among the jacaranda trees on the campus, its purple flowers blooming like a magical phosphorescent crown around the shadow of the water tower. We are in an art therapy studio with a group of art therapy students. Pieces of artwork and materials can be seen on the shelves. At times we gather in a nearby room on mattresses in a circle, other times on tall chairs around the table, surrounded by the odor of glue, clay, mold, and sawn wood.
In the center of the room, the hands of two students are deeply immersed in clay and they are talking about their day at the college. Another student is trying to find containers suitable for an experiment that will involve filling with Polyethylene, while others are already waiting for us with alginate, to try to birth together that which was buried in last week’s pouring. 44 Alginate is a ... Another student is sitting on the floor with a pile of toy figures, disassembling them. Yet another is standing facing a giant canvas spread on the wall, trying to locate dots and lines as if contemplating a secret code, and next to the secretary a student is shredding vignette documents from supervision sessions prior to weaving the shredded strips to form a picture.
Rina (pseudonym) enters the studio space together with several curious members of the group and two teaching assistants who are bearing her childhood bed (see picture 1). The bed is of a heavy wood in dark brown hues, bulky and heavy, carrying with it the odor of an intimate room mixed with old wood seeking renewed design, surgery, and revitalization. Rina seems determined to unburden herself. She has enlisted an entourage, like a defensive ring validating the experience of heaviness and bearing together with her the heavy weight of the journey with which she is about to play. “It was easier to recruit the group than I had imagined”, says Rina. “I felt that it would help me if I knew that there are those who can help me bear the heavy weight that is pinning me down and that will bear for and with me also the dream of disassembling in order to build, play, enjoy”.
The etymology of the word studio is associated with the Latin word “stadium”, studying. The studio was originally a study space. Later, the word “study” or “étude” was used, among others, to denote a draft of a text or a study room or studio. The root of all these linguistic usages refers to the passion to create, inspired by studying. At first, the studio was part office and part a room for seclusion, sometimes a type of alchemical laboratory. But it very rapidly became a room where the owner collected exotic and artistic treasures, called “cabina de la curiosidad” in Italian. Obviously, this magical studio gave the world of art two important institutions, different but related: the museum and the studio (Ofrat, 2020).
The space in the art therapy studio is cluttered with chalk dust, wood, and metal scraps that announce: “Working here! Creating here! Exploring materials here!” The work environment arouses a desire to experience, the fragrance of materials such as carpenters’ glue, fresh sawdust, the special tang of white-hot iron – all these operate on the senses and create a link with forgotten regions of the psyche. The commitment to the creative process resembles the commitment to delving into the hidden recesses of the soul.
Individual verbal psychotherapy provides a space for clients to explore themselves and also the therapist as an object. Chrostopher Bollas (1982) says that the more one serves as a target for urges the more he is characterized as an object, which does not eliminate his status as a subject with separate needs and experiences. In this system of object relations, the client recreates his or her growth processes as an infant who explores himself, the physical world around him, and his mental world, according to his stage of development and versus the object observing him. Individual art therapy adds to this potential space other objects that serve as a target for urges: the art materials, the products, and the evidence of no products, and the client’s potential exploration space (Winnicott, 1971/1995) expands to form a triangular space – that of the therapist~client~artwork (Dalley, 2013; Rinat & Feldman, 2020; Schaverien, 1995; Honig et al., 2019; Honig, 2014; Wood, 2013). In group art therapy another vertex is added to the exploration space – the group, expanding it into a square potential space (McNeilly, 2006; Dalley, 2013).
By relating to the space of the art therapy studio as another object, the exploration space becomes a pentagonal space (Honig, 2014) and allows further expansion of the exploration. The potential space for growth, which is recreated in the group art psychotherapy, allows safe exploration and has five vertexes: the therapist~the client~the artwork~the group, and~the studio space (see Figure 1).
The innovation of the pentagonal model is that the physical space where the group and its individual members exist, conduct themselves, live, and create, is perceived as another vertex-object, in the potential space, for exploration.
The exploration space (potential space) expands, the joint creative work and process are flexible variables that receive the form of the acts that the group performs with them as individuals and as a group, and the product or non-product reflect the group to themselves. This can be seen in Rina’s case, where the studio awaits her with its suitable tables, varied tools for exploration, an enveloping and holding group, and a facilitator who observes the process and accompanies the dynamic process of exploring the art materials.
The pentagonal model (Honig, 2014) generates a five-sided space with clear rules of conduct (the setting), which are the foundation for exploring ideas that create a connection between the inner world of the creator and the outside reality, as well as for visual and internal ‘resonating’ (Foulkes, 1964/2002) of contents in the group space. “In this potential pentagonal space, through the materials and by group reverberation, the students explore their professional-therapeutic self with regard to the topic of the lesson. The exploration takes the therapy student on a deep spiral process of growing towards becoming an art therapist” (Honig, 2014, p. 292).
In individual or group therapy the therapist gives clear presence to the setting, which is the set of rules utilized in the therapeutic space – time, place, purpose of the session, and monetary compensation. Analytical observation of how the setting is maintained or violated is a central part of the psychotherapy relationship. In visual art therapy there is another series of issues that must enter the setting prior to beginning the sessions, since observing or violating the setting is relevant for us in order to understand mental processes and the client’s state. These issues concern rigidity and flexibility, features of contact with the material, the manner of working with the tools, and issues involving consideration, preservation, and exposure. The emphasis is on the setting as basic rules, a boundary line, environmental conditions that grant safety to the experienced therapist or the novice therapist who is building himself, the client, and the group. When working in the studio, the rules and the definition of the setting receive presence in the form of the safety workshop, which is mandatory, and in an instructions manual for maintaining safety when working in the studio, and they define the available space for possible operations and the threshold for using the materials.
In art therapy there are more vertexes in the exploration space than in verbal therapy, and the art therapy studio and materials are also objects that enable initial contact of the client or group with uncertainty. It is very important to arrange the space and to arrange the materials and tools within it, which are also supposed to contain the theoretical, emotional, and sensory chaos of those working there.
In the art therapy studio, unlike the artist’s studio, the therapist, facilitator, and other members of the group are present, and they witness the processes and their revelation. They support, strengthen, and illuminate the path of the creator, so that he can further touch upon the dark materials as well – illuminate them and reuse them through his strength, which is also renewed in this significant process. The client-creator as an individual, as a group, or in processes of training to become an art therapist, experiences the role of creator, one who puts the materials of his psyche in order, and the artwork is a reflection of his world.
Art materials and materials of the psyche
As the days pass, Rina gazes at the bed in the studio. She passes by it, touches its spine, circling it, and asks from time to time: “How shall I approach it? Where should I start?” Rina’s childhood bed, which served her until not long ago, is material that is charged with memories. The bed was brought to the studio and it lies as a heavy, burdening rock, until Rina’s inner struggle assumes a form. Rina begins to try and understand how to create/ form it. “What I see in my mind’s eye seeks movement and action and is very far from this bed standing here, out of context, on the not so sterile operating table of the studio”
In the studio Rina was able to perform an operation with the bed using actions that require strength and planning, precision and assembly: She managed to disassemble the bed into its parts using saws, hammers, and electric screwdrivers (see pictures 2-3). Then she marked, cut, sawed, attached, glued, polished, and painted.
“I finally learned to draw what I imagined”, she says. “Under the good eyes of the facilitators and of the group I discovered that I could form drawings that became gradually more precise. Everyone here witnessed my process; I had no idea that the group’s accompaniment would be so significant for me”.
It was hard for Rina to disassemble an object that she had been taught to preserve, it took her time to understand the boundaries of the moral in this space of the studio and to what degree she could perform disassembling acts with the bed. This doing, considered ethical in the studio, generated a product that embodied mental spheres on many levels, some conscious and some not.
In art therapy we work with the materials using our hands, instruments, and various means. Sometimes we disassemble products for a renewed creative process (see picture 4), sometimes the disassembling involves excessive force, is an act that echoes inner impulsive experiences and allows safe exploration of elements that are hard to examine in reality through contact with the materials. The studio serves as a safe place for exploring these boundaries too.
The research findings stress the uniqueness of the transformative teaching model in the art therapy studio (Honig, 2014) as a model that emphasizes processes carried out with the materials and the meaning that underlies operations undertaken in connection with the mental materials. The model is appropriate for teaching psychotherapy students for advanced degrees: clinical psychology, clinical social workers, and art therapists. It is constructed as a dynamic experiential spiral teaching that combines theoretical knowledge, experiencing through art materials, and personal and group dynamic contents and creative processes (Honig, pp. 205, 240-246), and based on treatment of the individual as a whole (Netzer & Row, 2010). The student who performs actions with the art materials also uses them to touch upon the materials of his psyche, and at the same time shapes himself as a future therapist. The learning process requires theoretical and practical dedication to the concepts of destruction and construction using materials. The metaphorical connection between art materials and mental materials resembles a joining between the physical and the essence and allows the student to carry out internal work processes.
Observing work and creative processes in the space- between avoidance and destruction, for destruction’s sake or destruction for purposes of construction and processing, are a twilight zone that is above the threshold and below the standard. The processes of experiencing, assimilating, internalizing, and so on in a recurring cycle (Piaget, 1969), as well as the courage to play (Winnicott, 1995) with art materials and mental materials, are acts of internal and realistic exploration that merge as a new concept: “doing as being”, to form the ethics of doing (Erlich, 2015) and to facilitate it.
The therapist sees impulses as living forces: in order for the representations of the actions to remain not only as actions occasioned by the urge of life and of death, the therapist contains and provides a platform for material and verbal processing. The product, even when not a defined image or product, is a work of art, and the material is a crucial factor in the process of connecting parts of the psyche and understanding the therapeutic process. The material can be processed on additional levels, such as working with other materials or writing a text. The raw art materials have inestimable value when coming into contact with the interior and raising the creator’s awareness of meaning.
Materials hold within them an essence that also reflects an emotional essence. If the client processes the right material at precise moments, generating a parallel between art materials and mental materials, a new composite is formed that is a significant insight. The action taken with the material encompasses the realistic principle as well, and the encounter produces a new emotional expression. A supervisee participating in the study related:
“I was working with a nine-year-old at the mental health [clinic]. His parents had abandoned him and only when he was 8 was he adopted. While working he seemed to show reluctance to express his rage for fear that the family that had recently adopted him would reject him, based on bodily memories of the loneliness and difficulty of waiting within the system. The team I was working with discussed how to allow him something that would be more powerful and substantive than throwing clay. We examined the option of breaking bottles. Intuitively, we found a safe place, a garbage dump near the clinic. We collected bottles and smashed them together on the rocks of the dump. Later he asked to collect the glass pieces. We used protective gloves and we followed the rule of examining each piece before collecting it. In the art therapy room we continued to work with gloves. There was an experience of unwieldiness and frustration but we did not give up. Eventually, he poured gallons of plastic glue into the lid of a cardboard box and formed from the pieces a house and a tree with a swing. The process was exciting, without speaking about the artwork and with no interpretation, with lots of concern for his well-being and maintaining safety precautions. The experience was constitutive, both for him and for me as a young therapist”.
The discourse within the process was about the material, shattered glass, dangerous and hazardous. The child came from an alienated world, with no way of expressing the alienation. The act of breaking the bottles and collecting them under strict safety precautions allowed impulsive expression in an ethical space with protective rules that transformed the doing with the material into something ethical, even after its destruction and shattering. Therapy enables contact with repressed materials without threatening the defensive repressive mechanisms, as there was no conversation about his realistic world. Engaging the client with his inner world, the material, the act performed with the material, and the therapist, and the involvement of the therapist herself not as an object for projecting the urges but rather as a subject in the process of exploration, allows powerful and magical moments of exploration after which both the client and the therapist leave the exploration experience a little different. We witnessed the power of the materials to motivate processes and the power of the products or the non-products to present the creators with pieces of the conscious and unconscious awareness. It is necessary to move between understanding the power of the materials and of the artwork and the intensity of the psychotherapeutic understandings.
Movement between metaphorical material and realistic material
In art therapy, the process and the products embody processes that do not separate between the physical and the mental act. Observing the ethics of doing in the therapeutic language of doing as being enables processing as well, and it appears that the contact with the materials is in fact the “sensing function” mentioned by Jung. The interaction with the art materials encompasses urges, passions, and instincts. The process contains attempts at connection, introspection, relating to the material, to the self, and to the therapist who is present in the room, and passion and desire that are translated into power, into an urge to act and to realize oneself. These attempts illuminate the qualities of processes involving contact with the materials: time to be with the material; time to dream; time to act with the material, and processes of consolidating the product or its destruction.
The knowledge comes in ways that we do not always understand; “trust the process”, said McNiff (1992). An ethics of doing allows understanding processes by means of the body, breaching the boundaries of the material, producing by means of destroying.
Sometimes it is possible to explore the self in the studio through material that needs precise courses of action aimed at a specific outcome, such as slime, alginate, welding, three-dimensional printing, engraving, etching on zinc plates, and others. The doing processes reverberate inner experiences of another type. Deep emotional work can occur with material such as alginate, which requires precise action and a well-organized processing protocol.
Alginate is a powder that is mixed with a measured quantity of water to become a liquid. The liquid solidifies into a rubbery material and is used to form a mold. An impression of body parts and objects is produced from this material and once the object impressed is withdrawn a mold for casting is formed. Alginate is used for dental purposes as a substance for rehabilitation of the mouth and it comes in a range of colors, each with a different odor and flavor. Working with this specific material has clear rules: it must be mixed uniformly and since it dries quickly this must done in the time specified, leaving no air bubbles, quickly placing the selected object for forming the mold and covering it. A group that experiencing this process has to wait for the material to dry, i.e., the “Coagulation” stage, and experiences a sense of curiosity and expectation for the product to be formed. Physically and sensorily, the experience is pleasant and a nice fragrance pervades the studio. Side by side with the pleasant sensory experience, there is also the impatience involved in waiting for approval to start the process of exposing the mold. In the second stage, after exposing the mold, a liquid material is formed, hardening like plaster, concrete, and so on. The final object is revealed by cutting the soft material, peeling it off, and cleaning the resultant object.
On a basic level, the process provides practice with experiencing the material, building a mold, and stages in the formation of cast sculptures, and gives an idea of the consolidation of materials from liquid to solid. On the exegetical and interpretive level, we understand that transformative situations that reconstruct the forming of impressions, sinking, shaping, and the birth of an object in and from material, give the student an experience of birthing, as they do the group too, with its excitement and anticipation. The creative process and exposure of the object is a type of consciousness threshold, water surface, a moment of sinking- in preparation for surfacing and revelation. The process provides a clear movement between being and doing.
Elements of birth and revelation, pain and growth, are embodied by the doing that reverberates an emotional course of action accompanied by clear ethical rules of the permitted and the forbidden, in order to attain a product. If the person experiencing the material does not follow these rules – this is ethical, possible, and will lead to chaotic or surprising results. The ethics of doing is also manifested in the decision to extract contents from the therapy or from the supervisory processes and in the process of curatorship and exhibition of the works.
Curating-therapy – doing as a conclusive ethical course of action
Curating-therapy is a therapeutic concept that is unique to art psychotherapy- a term coined as part of open studio processes at Beit Berl’s Department of Art Therapy (Honig, 2015) 55 Curating-therapy is ... and within the training of art therapists (Honig et al., 2017; Rinat et al., 2019; Feldman et al., 2020; Katan et al., 2021). Processes of therapy, teaching, and supervision in art therapy studios conclude with observation of stages involving materials and images. The term is based on the premise that curatorship is a political act performed in the public space and that by collecting an artist’s art products for presentation in an exhibition the curator performs an act of interpretation. Gatenio (2019) emphasizes that the type of interpretation in the curatorship process is itself a work of art. Curating-therapy deals with personal interpretation through an external and internal, material and conceptual process of organizing and collecting. The method includes observing the collection of products and observing signs of artwork that did not mature into a form or image, which are parts that were collected and preserved as a representation of experiencing, passing thoughts, and incomplete materials. Gideon Ofrat (2010) says: “Since the work of curatorship is artwork,i.e., art, it is operative art”.
The material that Rina deposited in the studio – her childhood bed – was for her a focus for gazing, dreaming, as being (see pictures 5-6). Being in the presence of and within the material allowed expansion of the being while disassembling the object-bed into parts. While in the regions of being, a state of existence and dreaming, it became clear to her what object she wishes to form from this new material:
“It will be a rocking horse”, she said suddenly, astounded at herself, as though not understanding how this image had emerged from her childhood bed. “I never had a rocking horse, certainly not one made especially for me, a toy of my own. I want to rock myself crazy”, and she proceeded to the stage of planning and execution. At the end of the process she sat on the horse, rocking with a wide smile and confidence. Through the concrete work that was also mental, she created and played with her wooden horse and grew from there.
In the creative process a conversation took place between the members of the group about the image that was gradually being formed from the pieces. Everyone helped when necessary and raised memories related to childhood beds, disassembling, childhood toys, and fun rides. During the months of work on the rocking horse formed from the pieces of the bed, the conversation also touched upon the group members – memories of being lost at an amusement park and experiences of shared enjoyment on fun rides. By doing that involved planning and drawing, the student could examine the optimal utilization of the material’s features and its transformation from a utilitarian object into a playful three-dimensional mobile object suitable for her.
We see in this example, in practice, both the ‘hall of mirrors’ images manifested in the art therapy group and an example of a creative state that is between being and doing. What appears to be a regressive process or childish behavior or the emergence of old and rehabilitative needs of the ego, is transformed in this case into a regressive process in the service of the ego. The ethics of doing in this space allows the complete disassembly of the whole (the bed) that was brought, with no predetermined purpose, into the inner space of the studio and into the space of the group.
The unique doing in this process is based on choice and organization, which create a narrative with an interpretive essence and transform the action into personal curatorship presented in the gallery as an exhibition. In the exhibition the works of the other group members are also displayed, side by side, as a type of womb for the creative processes now transformed into a hall of mirrors for the group members (Honig, 2014; Sapir & Honig, 2021).
In their study “Curating-therapy in processes of leave taking in therapy”, Sapir and Honig (2021) relate to the exhibition held at the conclusion of the curatorship process (when this occurs) also as an act of connecting. As in any dynamic encounter, processes of dynamic connecting are charged with the duality of both concealment and exhibition. In individual therapy this act of curatorship represents the rituals performed by the client at the conclusion of therapy: opening the portfolio in the presence of the therapist, viewing the impressions of the client’s psyche as reflected in the works and in partial processes collected for her, choosing and connecting the process to a “sufficiently packaged” narrative by choosing significant work/s that can be exhibited and arranged in a type of gathered and organizing catalogue as a leave taking process (Sapir & Honig, 2019).
In supervision through art the therapist-supervisee processes the set of transferences through the art materials and in the presence of the supervisor. “The act of artistic creation”, says Erlich, is not only a process of production but rather an endeavor that “captures an essence” (2015) that is concealed in products of arts and crafts. In art therapy the conception is that, from a dynamic perspective, the product reflects the essence of the process captured in it and the curating-therapy as part of the doing makes it possible to keep a distance and in the first stage to formulate an interpretive narrative by choosing images for positioning. In the second stage it allows extraction of a verbal narrative from the inner idiosyncratic discourse. This narrative is a phenomenological layer that reflects that which is reflected in the images and is displayed together with the images displayed in the exhibition and catalogue, creating a dialogue with the environment.
Curating-therapy seeks to maintain four endeavors as types of inward and outward developmental spirals. One is a process of being with the products and memories. The second is a process of doing involving gathering and choosing whether, and if so how and what, I will place in the outside that is part of me. The third is being with that chosen for exhibition and how the artwork is positioned. The fourth – from the process of being, understanding the processes embodied in the display, where in the act of doing a verbal interpretive narrative concerning the materials is extracted, which accompanies the display and is connected to the catalogue (Honig, 2021).
Hanging an exhibition is a deep and cohesive experience for a group. The research participants reported that hanging the works was an experience of significant visual resonating. Later, the arrival of the visitors aroused in the group and in the individuals a sense of supreme excitement. At the same time, they were also saddened at the nearing death of the group that had operated together for a significant period. This is a transition from being a subject who feels safe in the exploration space and is devoted to the self-processes to being an independent object who takes responsibility. A type of leave taking and transition ceremony, a delicate unraveling of a tapestry woven in individual or group therapy and in therapist training.
The act of positioning the works at the end of the curating-therapy process incorporates the request to communicate a mental depth externally by participating in the exhibition. This process may arouse anxiety, resistance, or duality with regard to the idea of confidentiality that underlies the professional code of ethics, where the art therapist commits to confidentiality also regarding the products of the therapy. Avia, who was intimidated by the process of exposure, said sarcastically: “I will not put myself on display in the exhibition – at the most I shall place a note behind the entrance door to the gallery”. By the end of the process she managed to work through the fear of visibility that she had been carrying around with her.
Alma, a supervisee who was ambivalent about positioning the products of the art supervision process in the exhibition, chose free embroidery, which constituted for her a process of exploring the set of transferences by exploring the medium of embroidery: “On fabric, with a needle and thread, I seek a path for myself and my clients”. At the positioning she decided to exhibit the embroidery on a special easel that makes it possible to see the work from both sides. In this way, it was also possible to see the process, where the knots, the unraveled ends of the thread, the relations between the different stiches, as well as the product all become visible, showing an entire image that was part of the insights in the exploration process. When writing for the catalogue this issue arose more clearly, showing the decision to position the work in this way as a process that transitioned from a deliberation to an endeavor to present all parts of the process.
Freud claimed that a person becomes a psychoanalyst by analyzing his own dreams. The creative processes in art therapy are similar to dreaming processes; being processes that become doing and artwork as a new object that allows the creator to view himself. In fact the artwork, which reflects processes that are transformed for the spectators, is presented in a new context and expands the client’s ability to form new interpretations and to expand themselves with regard to them-selves. The exhibition and the catalogue form an inner integration between the different parts of the self that are presented as a whole in the exhibition. At the end of the process Rina presented in the exhibition a wooden rocking horse that was once her childhood bed (see picture 7). The interpretive narrative she wrote reflected an integrative insight about the parts of the self that had taken part in the process-
“[…] As raw material in my creating hands / You burst into the world from the bed of my youth / From a shaking and unsettling process / Full of entertainment and vitality […]”.
The artistic object as the ethical standard of the therapeutic chaos
While engaged in individual work in the studio, Amit, an aesthetic and neat member of the group, moistened her work and wrapped it in plastic so that she would be able to return to it. But upon her return she saw that the work had grown moldy, with an odorous chemical reaction that spread throughout the studio and aroused in the group a sense of disgust. The sensory experience was a type of assault that invaded people’s senses. The group crowded around the work, their curiosity aroused. Some were tempted to explore the topic of the mold and how it had formed, some exclaimed at its beauty as a blanket of delicate white threads. Amit found it hard to touch the work: “Its disgusting and smelly and looks spoiled”. Amit prepared to throw away the work and, to help her examine the product before getting rid of it, the group facilitator suggested that she explore it through photography. The purpose was to begin the curating process so that the signs captured in the process would not be lost and she could explore and transform them. The photography protected her by forming a distance. “So long as I don’t have to touch it”, she said and began to examine the moldy representation with a camera and a zoom lens. The photographs became transformational work (see picture 8) and the process allowed her to approach the contents, to contain what had happened to the image, and to devote herself to exploring it.
In the transformation process, the work became a flat, shiny, odorless photograph. The student’s ability to take the work to the next stage so that she could touch it while observing the environmental meaning of spoil, aversion, and disgust, raised it beyond the ‘standard’ – to a place that involved talking about its social, cultural, and symbolic contexts. Similar to Jung’s stage of “Coagulation” (Netzer, 2004:192; Edinger, 1993:44), the solidifying of the material into a stable, well-shaped solid with defined boundaries is a consolidation of the chaos into form.
The ethics of doing in art therapy maintains the field of action between threshold and standard, between chaos and order, and allows being and working with chaos. This field of action ties the unconscious elements to the consciousness of the self and to the practical, concrete reality, the commitment to action in the world through acts that are perceived at times as immoral.
In the art therapy studio, in contrast to the verbal psychotherapy room, there are many stimuli. The space allows quiet being and sometimes an encounter with an experience of external assault and overwhelming that can arouse feelings of chaos, confusion, and conflict. The space does not urge one to action, rather it allows action. Chaos, says Itamar Levy (2017), is a productive process. The ability to be in the unknown and in the chaotic is also manifested in contact with materials and with remains, such as a disassembled bed, and in performing actions with the material. Preserved chaos is a foundation for forming something new. In the creative processes in the therapy studio, in distinguishing between one material and another, between process and product, a personal inner process of distinctiveness is also formed and organized for the client. This affords a view of insights and growth. The completed work is a stop. It retains within it traces of action and the creator’s handprint – the strokes of a brush dipped in the soul, the traces of a hammer motivated by feelings stored in the muscles. The artwork is a new order made from the chaos of the process, a new order directed at the next work, where the motivation is to express that which has not yet been expressed, to transform the chaos into a safe framework.
For some, inner chaos may neutralize the force of action, while for others it may arouse free, releasing, expressive expression. The table in the workshop will bear pieces of attempts made by clients or students or members of the group using the materials. Remains that are released are dropped with no further attention or interpretation. Parts of pieces are stored in the portfolio such that they are granted the value of a treasure that has ‘no value’, similar to those parts of the non-self, charged with pain and separated from the creator/client, which are held by the therapist.
Conclusion- Exploring at the art and psyche material’s LAB
Erlich’s paper on the ethics of doing stimulated our imagination, and similar to working in an art therapy studio it too served as material for a new work. Exploring materials through doing contains an experience of growth and development by transformational processes: material is molded into a product and allows one to observe the analytical exploration space in the art therapy studio, the clinical terms related to the art materials and the acts performed with them, and the concluding stage of curating-therapy.
The exploration space within the studio forms human and material environmental conditions and encourages deeper endeavors to find the therapeutic, creative, and desire/instinctual self through materials and through the creative act. An art therapy studio planned for wide and varied exploring of materials is a space for interaction between the individual and the group of participants. As stated, the practical space has an ethical dimension as well and, indeed, the art therapy studio allows a journey of familiarization with tools, with materials, with creative processes, as a way of self-dialogue and of dialogue with the other works and work methods of group members creating in the same space.
Work with art materials in these therapeutic processes allows varied actions. Materials hold an emotional essence; they are both substantive and metaphorical. Taking action through the material allows one to understand processes using one’s body and to breach the limits of the materials. The results can be chaotic or surprising. In addition, doing as being, as a practice of art therapy when forming contact with materials, allows pause, dreaming, and an internal and external continuous movement that exists in the ethical definition of the space between ‘threshold’ and ‘standard’.
Curating-therapy, the process of curating the emotional process on the way to an exhibition and a catalogue, creates internal integration between the parts of the self that are represented by the material, the process, and the product. Choice and organization generate a narrative and transform the action into personal curatorship that is presented as an exhibition, where artwork produced by group members are displayed side by side. The exhibition constitutes the climax of the process and has a dimension of catharsis, while also marking the nearing “demise” of the group that served as a container for significant processes of its members.
Self-curatorship is also the higher ‘standard’ of the ethics of doing in art therapy. Exhibited beside the artistic product is a written monologue by the creator on his relations with the materials, in the work process carried out in the studio as well as with the products and non-products in the process. Writing the monologue as a gathering of the essence is another conversion that transforms the inner idiosyncratic discourse into a substantive and external phenomenological dialogue.
Perceiving the ethical complexity of the doing on the level of action with material in the art therapy studio allows one the freedom to work with the material in any way possible. This means learning not to be afraid of that concealed within our soul, finding the strength to seek it by means of activity with the material.