This site makes use of cookies to help improve our understanding of how you use the site.

Healing emotional life stories with visual art

09 September 2017

Visual art presents traces of intentional movements, generally ones made by hand... Professor Colwyn Trevarthen at the 2017 Attachment & the Arts conference

Visual art presents traces of intentional movements, generally ones made by hand. Human hands have evolved new functions for both intricate and productive carrying and manipulation of objects, and for gesture - the communication of direction of interest and affective appraisal in a shared world where events and objects are given either special emotional importance, or arbitrary meaning for use.

Infants develop skill in handling objects slowly compared to gestures for communication. Hand movements in early weeks take part in elaborate 'conversations' in conjunction with voice sounds that synchronise infant and adult expressions in collaborative narratives or stories, the forms of which indicate an innate 'poetry' or 'musicality'.

The child does not communicate to express or receive meaning in static and lasting graphical representations until the second year, but in the middle of the first year can enjoy sharing handling of objects as toys in play. About nine months there is increased interest in what a companion is choosing to do with objects and how to use them in special or conventional ways. This lays the foundations for naming actions or articles with words in the second year.

Learning how to share meaning in art is animated by joy of discovery, Piaget's pleasure in mastery of 'schemas' of manipulation and memories of 'object permanence'. More significantly it signals pride in sharing a display of ‘cleverness’. An infant can show joyful pride in imitation or reproduction of the climax of an action game for appreciation by a member of the family, and shame at miscomprehension by a stranger who offers intimacy. These are the 'basic complex' positive and negative emotions that must be systematically responded to in sympathetic, collaborative way in therapies.

I will review how advances in the psychology of aesthetic properties of infant intentions and of the affective or moral regulation of their communications have supported acceptance and development of dynamic, relational, non-verbal therapies for emotional disorders.  

Professor Colwyn Trevarthen will present at the Attachment & the Arts conference on 6th October 2017

COLWYN TREVARTHEN, a New Zealander, is Professor (Emeritus) of Child Psychology and Psychobiology at The University of Edinburgh. He has published on brain development, infant communication, and child learning and emotional health. He studies the inherent motives for active and shared developments of human communication and learning, their emotional regulation, and the effects of disorders, such as autism and depressive illness. 

A book on Communicative Musicality, co-edited with musician and counsellor Stephen Malloch for Oxford University Press, reviews how rhythms and expressions of 'musicality' in movement and the intrinsic sense of time in the mind motivate narratives of interests and emotions from before birth, and give essential support to development and the learning of language and other cultural skills. A book edited with play therapist Stuart Daniel published this year on Rhythms of Relating In Children's Therapies reports developments in infant psychology that support therapy based on encouraging creativity in intimate relations.

Also published in 2017 is an article in volume 1 of the International Journal of Cognitive Analytic Therapy and Relational Mental Health on "The affectionate, intersubjective intelligence of the infant and its innate motives for relational mental health". These publications relate new practices in therapy to creativity of movement in the arts, especially the temporal arts of music and dance.

Trevarthen has Honorary Doctorates in Psychology or Education, from the University of Crete, the University of East London and Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh, and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, a Member of the Norwegian Academy of Sciences and Letters and a Vice-President of the British Association for Early Childhood Education.

For more information and booking please click here
You can see highlights from previous Attachment & the Arts conferences on Facebook
here and on Twitter here

You can also follow the conference live on 6th October 2017 on Twitter using #AttachmentArts


Professor Colwyn Trevarthen on YouTube: Interview with Prof. Colwyn Trevarthen: Stories of Connection