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Posted January 2, 2011
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Not For The Layperson, Art Heals Could Have Been So Much More
The creative process, inherent in every one of us, has the potential to do so much more than produce visually stimulating paintings, beautiful music, exciting film, or any of the other expressive products lumped into the category of art. The creative process itself calls upon the innermost human emotions and draws from the infinite well of natural and spiritual healing capabilities. With Art Heals: How Creativity Cures the Soul, Shaun McNiff, a pioneer in the profession and research of art therapy, has combined several decades' worth of essays and contemplations regarding his experiences in the clinical world of art therapy.
Art Heals is not for the layperson, and this is immensely disappointing. Although at times McNiff appears headed toward non-professional explanations of the powerful impact of art's healing aspects, he too often drifts back to speaking directly to those involved in professional art therapy, citing clinical examples of patient recovery and explaining in great detail the aspects of establishing a safe studio conducive to therapeutic discovery. McNiff could have done so much more had he spoken directly to artists and non-artists alike regarding art's capabilities of healing not only one's self but also others.
Intriguing are McNiff's comparisons of art and the creative process to topics of new age and mystical interest. Although he clearly distinguishes his comparisons as metaphors only, it is hard to ignore such direct notations as "images as angels," "aesthetic meditation," "artistic auras," and "connections to shamanism," all topics of deep interest to McNiff woven throughout the essays and consistent across the decades of his work. In shamanic culture, it was thought that dis-ease was brought about by the loss of the soul from the body. It was the responsibility of the shaman to journey through consciousness to return the soul to the suffering individual. McNiff sees himself and other art therapists as performing similar tasks and has even instructed those interested in art therapy in terms of shamanistic rituals.
Throughout Art Heals, McNiff discusses the importance of the creative process most beneficially manifesting its healing powers when performed in a group setting. Inclusive in his techniques are as many art mediums as he can consider, from painting and sculpture to video and drumming. McNiff cites the rhythmic elements of drumming as critical to helping his clients remain focused on the creative process.
One strong criticism of this work is the reproduction of now outdated essays, especially those discussing the use of videotaping during art therapy. It would have been well worth McNiff's while to re-write or re-conceptualize these ideas in new essays mentioning more of what modern technology has to offer. His most recent article regarding technology was written in 1999 and cites Photoshop as a revolutionary medium for art therapists.
The last ten pages of the book could serve as an excellent introduction to a more worthwhile book as McNiff discusses the impact of art healing on individuals outside of the clinical environment.
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