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The Power Of The Art: The Importance Of Images In Art Therapy Literature

17 November 2019

Editors-in-Chief of the International Journal of Art Therapy: Inscape (IJAT), Alex McDonald & Dr Susan Carr reflect on the power of art and the importance of images in art therapy literature...


As we reflect on the inspiring Inaugural International Art Therapy Practice/Research Conference this summer (London, July 2019), one of the lasting memories is of the images created by clients included in the many fascinating papers presented by art therapists from around the world. As art therapists we know that images are powerful … as Elkins says, ‘some pictures affect me for a few minutes, and others make permanent alterations in what I am’ (Elkins, 1996, p. 41).

In art therapy, the focus is not only on the way individuals interact ‘with’ images but also on the ‘interactions which individuals form with each other through images’ [original emphasis] (Canals, 2011, p. 228). Visual art can often utilise a specific kind of symbolism and metaphor, which can work in a different way to narrative, with images having a more direct and immediate impact on our consciousness (Freeland, 2010, p. 189; Kramer, 1986).

As artists and art therapists we recognise the power of art to challenge, communicate and create meaning and have witnessed the way in which images can convey pain and suffering which may be inexpressible in any other form (Franks & Whitaker, 2007; Padfield, 2003; Thorne, 2011; Toombs, 1990, p. 235).

The exhibition at the Inaugural Conference in July presented the first reproductions of some of the artworks from Edward Adamson's (1911–1996) collection of drawings and paintings, created by in-patients at the long-stay mental hospital – Netherne (1946–1981). Looking back at this collection reminds us that Adamson’s (1970) focus was almost entirely on the ‘art’ in therapy. Adamson claimed that … ‘The important thing is the art! […] that's the thing that is getting them better’ (Adamson, quoted in Seftel, 1987). This was said in the context of the 1980s, when art therapy was being drawn into an increasing reliance on psychoanalytical thinking and psychology, something that Adamson was uncomfortable about (Byrne, 1996; Hogan, 2001), fearing the focus was being drawn away from ‘art’ as the fundamental healing aspect of art therapy.

We have since seen the development of research on a wide range of approaches to art therapy which keep art making and viewing as central, such as Carr and Hancock (2017), Coles, Harrison, and Todd (2019), Huet (2017), Kalmanowitz (2016) and Walker, Stamper, Nathan, and Riedy (2018), to name but a few. In order to reflect the centrality of the art in contemporary art therapy, our editorial board recently appointed the journal's first photo editor. The photo editor's sole responsibility is to ensure that the images we publish are of the highest quality and meet rigorous ethical standards, underlining our view that the images which appear in the International Journal of Art Therapy (IJAT) are as important as the words.

The images which our service users create within art therapy practice and research are a keyway that they can have a voice within a paper, therefore it follows that extreme care should be taken when reproducing artworks in photographic form. Bearing in mind that the photographs we publish are permanent lasting records which represent our service users, it is important to ensure we take the highest quality photographs to represent them within publications. Thus it is important to take the time to make such considerations as: how the images are lit; how they are framed within the photograph and the clarity of the resulting image. With this in mind, we have updated the IJAT instructions for authors and included a link to the Taylor & Francis guidelines on the submission of electronic artworks. For authors writing about sculpture within art therapy, it is also worth noting that recent technological advancements have now made it possible for 3D objects to be submitted and published online in a 3D format.

It is the art that makes our discipline unique and ultimately a powerful healing force. Thus it is important that we as art therapists reproduce the images made in art therapy practice and research in a way which reflects our recognition of their immense value.

Lex Bágust's role as Photo Editor for The International Journal of Art Therapy: Inscape (IJAT) is collaborating with the Editors-in-Chief and authors to identify any photography needs. This role is tasked with reviewing manuscript photos, approving images and making any necessary changes. This is to ensure all photographs are of a professional standard and are good enough quality for publication and print. For further information and guidelines on submitting electronic artwork please see the Instructions for Authors Page here 

Written by Alex McDonald & Dr Susan Carr

You can see this editorial published by Taylor & Francis online here



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