Art Heals: How Creativity Cures the Soul

Art Heals: How Creativity Cures the Soul

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by Shaun McNiff

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The field of art therapy is discovering that artistic expression can be a powerful means of personal transformation and emotional and spiritual healing. In this book, Shaun McNiff, a leader in expressive arts therapy for more than three decades, reflects on a wide spectrum of activities aimed at reviving art's traditional healing function. In chapters ranging

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The field of art therapy is discovering that artistic expression can be a powerful means of personal transformation and emotional and spiritual healing. In this book, Shaun McNiff, a leader in expressive arts therapy for more than three decades, reflects on a wide spectrum of activities aimed at reviving art's traditional healing function. In chapters ranging from "Liberating Creativity" and "The Practice of Creativity in the Workplace"
to "From Shamanism to Art Therapy," he illuminates some of the most progressive views in the rapidly expanding field of art therapy:

  • The
    "practice of imagination" as a powerful force for transformation
  • A
    challenge to literal-minded psychological interpretations of artworks
    ("black colors indicate depression") and the principle that even disturbing images have inherent healing properties
  • The role of the therapist in promoting an environment conducive to free expression and therapeutic energies
  • The healing effects of group work, with people creating alongside one another and interacting in the studio
  • "Total expression," combining arts such as movement, storytelling, and drumming with painting and drawing

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Shaun McNiff remains first and foremost an ally of the soul. Here he offers us a stunning array of entry points into the creative process. We learn how to transform the most mundane aspects of life through artistic encounters and to engage with our most painful challenges creatively."—Pat B. Allen, Ph.D., ATR, instructor at the school of the Art Institute of Chicago and author of Art Is a Way of Knowing

"Art Heals restores the therapeutic imagination to its central place in human life. The creative energy of this book will be recognized by all those who have been touched by the healing power of the arts. It is a masterly work by a master in the field of creative and expressive arts therapies."—Stephen K. Levine, Dean of the Doctoral Program in Expressive Arts: Therapy, Education, Consulting, at The European Graduate School

"Shaun McNiff challenges us through these remarkable essays not only to take on the role of artist and dare to create our most compelling images, but also to dialogue with them and by doing so, to engage in a process of healing the inevitable wounds of being human. In a moment in history when the images most available to us are the most horrifying and numbing, McNiff offers a stunning antidote."—Robert Landy, Ph.D., RDT/BCT, Professor of Educational Theatre and Drama Therapy, New York University

"Reading Art Heals is like attending a retrospective exhibition of a master artist, with its careful selection, critique, and contemplation of McNiff's original ideas and guiding images. In refining and reimagining these ideas in the context of today, McNiff brings a fresh vision to his work and offers a valuable answer to the increasingly incoherent fragmentation of mental health care."—Lynn Kapitan, Ph.D., ATR-BC, Associate Professor of Graduate Art Therapy of Mount Mary College and author of Re-enchanting Art Therapy

Product Details

Shambhala Publications, Inc.
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Barnes & Noble
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Read an Excerpt

Chapter 2


Often the places where we work generate very unattractive auras and disturbing environmental forces. I have constructed many hundreds of nomadic studios throughout my years of practice. I feel like a Bedouin traveler who keeps putting up and taking down his tent. In my travels I don't think I have ever worked in an ideal studio. There is always something that could be better organized in the space. I have contemplated constructing an ideal place, but maybe I should not. The perfect studio could establish an unrealizable standard for others. It may be better for me to keep working with whatever materials I
find in the different places I visit. In this way I demonstrate to others how the studio can be set up anywhere.

Groups repeatedly teach me how to maintain a spiritual presence amidst the din of a work area. If the keeper of the process relaxes, this helps everyone else do the same. The reverse is also painfully true. Everything depends upon our concentration and faith in the process.

I prefer to work in the best space possible, I have repeatedly discovered that the vitality of a studio has more to do with the creative presence generated than the physical features of rooms. I do not mean to discourage architects and interior designers from becoming involved in the art and healing movement, and especially the important work of "universal design" striving to create environments and technologies of communication that accommodate all people irrespective of their physical abilities. We want to have the best spaces possible, yet we must also work with whatever we have, especially when bringing the arts to places with limited financial resources.

Distractions and imperfections may even perversely feed the creative spirit because they are not unlike our often-disheveled lives. There may be a wondrous medicine released when a group fills an unattractive space with imaginative expressions.
When we creatively transform unappealing places, the change of attitude has a corresponding effect on how we perceive ourselves and the world.

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Meet the Author

Shaun McNiff is internationally recognized as a founder and leading figure in the arts and healing field. University Professor at Lesley University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, he is past president of the American Art Therapy Association and the author of several other books including Art As Medicine, Trust the Process, and Creating with Others .

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Art Heals: How Creativity Cures the Soul 3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Richard_Szponder More than 1 year ago
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.
SusanDayH More than 1 year ago
If you are in the field of counseling and want to try and alternative way to reach your clients/students and don't want to follow the classic art therapy route, but instinctively know the arts can be and is an instrumental tool for opening the door to communication, then this is a book for you. I have always felt that The Arts in all of its forms can be used to aid in healing by releasing trapped emotions out of the head and onto paper. I feel this way with writing, music and any other art form as well. I love how Shaun McNiff reminds us not to critically interpret and look for traditional symbolism, but to rather sit back and observe the work, reflect on it, and engage in a dialogue about it. It opens the door. It is wonderful to hear how art is medicine when a patient who has not spoken, verbalizes for the first time after drawing and painting with Mr. McNiff...again, the art expression formed a release and opened a door to healing. It's truly wonderful. I'd love an opportunity to learn more from Mr. McNiff and plan to order more of his books.