Friday, November 16, 2012


 Into The Symphony Oil on linen 120 x 160 2008

Art therapy, facilitated by a trained art therapist, has a role in counselling and psychotherapy with potential to help reveal psychological wounds, as well help heal them. This link will provide you with more information. Art therapy, as a professional practice is worthwhile

I am not an art therapist and this post is not about art therapy, as a professional practice.

However, in many quarters, the arts are perceived, and are often described as, being 'therapeutic'.

BUT, as an artist I am cautious of this word 'therapeutic'. Why? Because it is a loose word...a word that, for me at least, hinges on an illusion of worth. It's a word that, if partnered with the arts, I believe, can transfer, stir and even augment collective pathologies. It is a word that sounds important, but is it? Maybe it is, in fact, dangerous?

I have thought about this issue over many years. But, last night I attended a fascinating presentation at the Qld Jung Society by Dr. Jennifer Leigh Selig. The title of her presentation was The Content of their Complexes:  The Archetype of the Wounded Leader as Explored Through Martin Luther King, Jr. and Barack Obama.  She spoke about the relationship between a leader and his/her society/culture and the projections from both onto the other ie: a leader's core complex [in the Jungian sense] will essentially be the one permeating society at the time and vice versa. In the transference state, in the centre of the ralationship, are two possibilities. One is a kind of transcendence, over time, beyond the prevailing issue for both the leader and the society, where the symphony of life can be heard clearly. The other possibility is sinking into the complex's pathology leading to cynism, depression, violence...a place where the symphony's music is muffled. The latter is perhaps where many societies find themselves today? Alas.

Collective Memory Oil on linen 80 x 120 cm 2008

Dr. Selig's presentation got me thinking about how the arts can be either reflective or affective...or both... of prevailing societal complexes. But, I asked myself, is simply being reflective even affective...and affective of what? We all know what happened to the reflection loving Narcissus! I also asked myself, if the arts has a catalytic agency that is not tethered to any prevailing complexities, is this where the light of transendence lies? If so, the term 'therapeutic' is inappropiate, limiting and pedestrian. I have previously written that I prefer the idea of  'catalytic agency' rather than 'role' because the latter alludes to preconceptions of all kinds and heirarchies, whereas 'catalytic agency' heralds the unknown, invites the unforeseen, bypasses restriction going forth with a compassionate impulse. 'Catalytic agency' stirs and ignites imagination, and I would argue, goes beyond the therapeutic where roles, agendas and heirarchies [eg: therapist/patient] are implied.

I write this thinking about current global economic turmoils and their ricocheting outcomes locally with the loss of jobs, political cynicism, consumer malaise, spirtual emptiness. It is also against a backgound of conflict in the Middle East and outsider interventions, judgements etc. It is against a background of media idolatry and the reliquishment of thinking to the panacea of technology. It is against a background of general fear...a fear of economic and financial loss, to technological  failure, to literal physical death.

With all this in mind I the fate of art that reflects simply pathological mimicry... constantly reminding us of humankind's weaknesses, ultimately stirring the pot of despondency and maintaining a status quo? Maybe? Or does it help us feel better by somehow soothing emotions, such as guilt, as we appropriate imagery that is essentially derived from suffering and fear...thus we 'suffer' too? Maybe? Do we feel better about our spiritual emptiness with a purchase of an artwork created by an indigenous artist, because in the act of purchasing we feel [subconsciusly] we've gained some spirit, that ellusive 'sense' perceived to be the arena of the idigene? Spirit as commodity surely aids and abets emptiness!

Is the suggestion that the arts are therapeutic a symptom of a societal complex rather than a promise?

I do believe that amongst the debris of disintegration we will find the light to guide us to the first possibility posed by Dr. Selig; that place of transcendence beyond the prevailing issue for both the leader and the society where the symphony of life can be heard clearly. The 'light' and the 'music' will need to be sought and uncovered. Reflection, for me, does no digging.

Compassion Oil on linen 100 x 100 cm 2011


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