William Tuke was an influential character in the 1700s, who developed more humane methods in the care of people with mental disorders, an advance which came to be known by the end of this century as ‘moral treatment.’ In 1796, with the help of funding from friends, Quakers and physicians, he opened ‘The York Retreat’, a massive step in the humane treatment of the mentally unwell. Many people deserted him in his efforts, unable to contemplate these new concepts. Beginning to break free from the unsympathetic and brutalising conceptions of insanity, William Tuke was a significant influence in the moral treatment of patients with mental disorders. By the end of the eighteenth century many people still believed that religious therapies could cure madness, but an increasing popularity in the compassionate views towards this subject became apparent, ‘the mad were no longer seen as totally unreasonable but as having some reason that could be appealed to’ (Susan Hogan, 2001:36), the first step in neutralising territory between the sane and mentally unwell.
William Morris, an artist best known for his textile design and romantic literary works during the mid-nineteenth century acted as a further impetus to the use of arts in hospitals in the 1800s, leading the ‘English Arts and Crafts Movement’ of this time, intending the engagement of craft to serve as a means of personal satisfaction and enriching the quality of life. His influence on the portrayal of work bringing happiness to the worker and the importance of this, and the concern with the relationship between producing arts and crafts, and life itself, held another spark to the ideas surrounding the making of art in hospitals. ‘A man at work, making something which he feels will exist because he is working at it and wills it, is exercising the energies of his mind and soul as well as of his body. Memory and imagination help him as he works.’ (William Morris, 1999:129)
Romanticism surfaced adjacently to the Arts and Crafts movement; William Morris was likewise a contributing artist to this period, especially through his expressive prose and poetry. The visual arts became considerably less concerned with the portrayal of reality, and more inspired by abstraction and self-expression, there being a ‘deepened appreciation of nature, the privileging of emotion over reason, a turning in upon the self and a heightened examination of human personality.’ (David Edwards, 2004:19)
Theodore Gericault was a perfect example of a romanticist painter; one of his most famous scenes The Raft of the Medusa, produced in 1818, depicts a moment from the after-effects of a ship-wreckage, survivors enduring starvation, dehydration, cannibalism and madness. Having personally seen this piece of work at the Louvre in Paris a couple of years ago, the colossal scale and gothic tone gained a reaction of particular disturbance, and heightened emotions of shock at the graphic content of this painting. Extensive literary coverage of this tragic event and through researching and interviewing the wreckage survivors, Gericault produced the final outcome. This inventive, imaginary recreation of the event through the mind of the artist summarises Romanticism. In relation to art therapy, this self- expressionist attitude could arguably be the initial foreboding for the therapeutic communication of personal feelings through art made my patients today.
Similar principles underpin Expressionism, which developed between the beginning and middle of the twentieth century; an emphasis again on originality and self- expression. It was described as ‘the representation of emotion in its most immediate and compelling form. To achieve these ends, the subject is frequently exaggerated, distorted, or otherwise altered in order to stress the artist’s emotional relationship with both the subject matter and medium.’ (David Edwards, 2004:20) Expressing meaning and emotional experience to evoke a mood or idea, rather than an actuality is also the representation of Romanticism, so what makes these two art movements different? Aspects of Romanticism were pulled into the twentieth century towards the succeeding movement of Impressionism, so there is a connection in terms of the expression of the inner life and feelings of the artist. The medium and use of the medium is the recognisable alteration, the choice of colours and brush-strokes became a continuation of the mental state of the artist rather than content and composition alone.
A stereotypical Expressionist was Edvard Munch, his works recently exhibited at Tate Modern. ‘The Scream’ was by far Munch’s most well-known scene, which was recreated in a series of four separate versions using oil, pastel, tempera and translated into a lithograph. Mirrored emotion becomes apparent between Munch and the agonised figure portrayed; emphasised also by the repetition of four adaptations. Munch describes his inspiration: ‘One evening I was walking along a path, the city was on one side and the fjord below. I felt tired and ill. I stopped and looked out over the fjord—the sun was setting, and the clouds turning blood red. I sensed a scream passing through nature; it seemed to me that I heard the scream. I painted this picture, painted the clouds as actual blood. The color shrieked. This became The Scream.’ (The Art Institute of Chicago, 2011) Reflections of emotional pain and instability remained key in the majority of his works. A developing awareness in the art of the insane became tolerable in society only through the courageous leap of artists such as Gericault and Munch to become expressive and emotionally involved in what they paint, and ignoring the stigma attached to madness and an unstable mental state. Romanticism and Expressionism were of particular importance in ‘re-evaluating the aesthetic and creative significance of the art of the mentally ill… and initiated an interest in art forms existing outside familiar or accepted cultural norms.’ (David Edwards, 2004:20)
A patient called Adam Christie was admitted to the Royal Montrose Mental Hospital in Scotland in 1901, where he was one of the first to be provided with his own studio in hospital grounds. Using glass from bottles to scrape stone in sculptures, carving wood with nails, and producing paintings using matchsticks, this primitive and spontaneous approach to art making was soon known to be ‘Art Brut’, otherwise known as ‘Raw Art’. This is ‘evidence of a power of originality that all people possess but which in most has been stifled by educational training and social constraints.’ (Ian Chilvers and John Glaves-Smith, 1998:35) Spending the remaining years of his life at Montrose, he created over two hundred sculptures using found objects, and gaining his reputation as an ‘Outsider’ artist, a term used to describe ‘untrained artists…uncooked by culture and representing art in its rawest and purest state.’ (David Edwards, 2004:22) Singled out from the rest in gaining his own studio, Adam Christie and other Outsider artists alike have played an important role in the development of art therapy, and predominantly through its influence on many early art therapists. Seeking the artistic productions of modest individuals with the quality of secluded creation, and drawing the public’s attention towards this kind of work, encouraged it to flourish and continues to this day.
Surrealism crept into the 1920s, where themes of dreams, fantasy, illusion, and the distortion of reality became the main interpretations. Surrealist artists were primitive and intuitive in their art making, producing work that came from the deepest depths of their unconscious mind. ‘The artistic and literary movement celebrated the unconscious as a liberating force and regarded it as a source of an art devoid of the degenerating effects of rationality’, (David Edwards, 2004:22) in other words, the subconscious was encouraged to overpower all feeling, and separate from the surrounding world, outside all aesthetic or moral fixations. Surrealists ‘favoured automatism in which conscious control is suppressed and the subconscious is allowed to take over…exploring the imaginative and creative powers of the mind.’ (Michael Clarke, 2010:240) Deriving principles of spontaneity and self-expression from Romanticism and Expressionism, the unconscious decisions and free association within surrealism reflects majorly in the foundations of an art therapy session.
‘Free Association’ is a term used to illustrate the process of visual expression of inner emotions and experiences, through spontaneous imagery released from the unconscious. An Art Therapist’s client can draw, paint, etc. anything and everything that comes to mind, however trivial or unrelated to the diagnosed stress or traumatic event of the client, which triggers ‘unconscious chains of associations, to the unconscious determinants of communication...an outer sense is made of the inner, often uncontrolled sensation and experience.’ (Caroline Case and Tessa Dalley, 1992:52) Psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud was one of the first people to talk about the ‘unconscious’, with beliefs that much of our personalities and ideas stem back from our childhood, and these ideas can be brought to light through the transference of unconscious inner feeling into artistic form; through repressed drives and desires. Dreams were also theorised by Freud as being ‘the royal road to knowledge of the unconscious activities of the mind.’ (Sigmund Freud, 1971:608) Reflecting on dreams and finding patterns or recurrent themes within a patient’s dreams can unlock deeper meanings through free associations. ‘The Reckless Sleeper’, a painting produced by Surrealist painter Rene Magritte in 1928 illustrates the irregular and unconnected objects in the mind of a sleeping dreamer, the inanimate articles relate directly to Freud’s theory, purposely expressed by Magritte at the time. Unconscious chains of thought clarify that making art in a therapy session has a different purpose from that of painting primarily for exhibiting in a gallery space and being aesthetically pleasing. Picking up a pencil, paintbrush, etc. and letting the unconscious mind take over underpins certain ideas in art therapy, the ability to decode these unconscious decisions becomes a joint effort between the client and therapist.
These spontaneous emerging thoughts were drawn from the Surrealists and influenced Abstract Expressionism during the mid-twentieth century. The importance of the unconscious was furthermore recognised, stressing the automatism and intuition within the freedom of expression. Comparing Abstract Expressionism to Expressionism in the earlier 1900s, the focus on emotional exposition was present in both; the abstraction in the later variation of the movement differs them, and an emphasis on the creative process took hold. ‘The preference of working on a huge scale, the emphasis placed on surface qualities…the glorification of the act of painting itself’ (Ian Chilvers and John Glaves-Smith, 1998:6) summarises the significance of the creative process rather than the finished product.
Jackson Pollock practiced this type of ‘Action Painting’; explosive energies of dribbling and splashing paint in dynamic gestural movements, with no preconceived idea of what the picture will look like, linking again to Freud’s theory of free association and the unconscious mind. ‘What was to go on the canvas was not a picture but an event.’ (Ian Chilvers and John Glaves-Smith, 1998:10) The awareness of art making as a therapeutic process was reinforced by Abstract Expressionism, and created another stepping stone for the formation of an art therapist’s studio, encouraging freedom of expression in whatever means a client is comfortable with.
Bringing art therapy into the present, contemporary artist Yayoi Kusama represents an individual in the modern age with an unstable mental state living in a safe, therapeutic world. After researching the history of art therapy, it is hard to imagine how different this artist’s life would have been living in the brutal asylums of the 1700s, or in earlier centuries when mental instability was viewed as a disgusting, untreatable disease. The chance to become an artist may not have even arisen, barely surviving in the harsh, repressing environments patients were often subjected to. ‘I am very lonely being an artist, and in my own life. When I go up to the roof top of a high-rise building, I feel an urge to die by jumping from it. My passion for art is what has prevented me from doing that.’ (Jalkut, 2000:137) Producing paintings, installations, sculptures and architectural pieces, Kusama has invited the viewer into the obsessively marked, ‘dots and nets’ world, in an attempt to share her experiences and escape from psychological trauma.
Composing these thoughts, the establishment of art therapy as a recognised practice, draws principles and concepts from all art movements; theories and ideas have been taken from each period, each a stepping stone leading to a final outcome. Goya publicised the immoral treatment of people housed in mental asylums, which initiated the breaking down of stigma in society attached to the mentally disabled. William Tuke and W.A.F Browne both opened their own mental hospitals, introducing a kinder, non-abusive treatment of patients in agreement that the humiliation of patients should be abolished. W.A.F Browne recognised that the use of art in hospitals was a useful means in calming and engaging the brain in creative activity, William Morris furthered this idea. Romanticism, Expressionism, Impressionism, Art Brut, Surrealism, Abstract Expressionism; the experimentation of painting and the natural evolvement over time from documentative art in the 1700s to self- expressive, emotional art becomes apparent when time-lining specific influences. Each proceeding has pushed art therapy forward, each a milestone that has been passed, and extended into the present. The study of art therapy still remains active, and who knows, further discoveries may be made in the centuries to come.
Fig 4:- The Raft of Medusa, Theodore Gericault, 1818
Caroline Case and Tessa Dalley (1992). The Handbook of Art Therapy. London: Routledge. p52.
Ian Chilvers and John Glaves-Smith (1998). Oxford Dictionary of Modern and Contemporary Art. 2nd ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p35.
Michael Clarke (2010). Oxford Concise Dictionary of Art Terms. 2nd ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p240.
David Edwards (2004). Art Therapy. London: Sage Publication Ltd.
Sigmund Freud (1971). The Interpretation of Dreams. Great Britain: Lowe and Brydone. p608.
Jalkut, J. (2000) Yayoi Kusama. London: Phaidon.
Emil Kren and Daniel Marx. (2012). GOYA Y LUCIENTES, Francisco de: Biography. Available: http://www.wga.hu/frames-e.html?/html/g/goya/7/711goya.html. Last accessed 19/11/2012.