Editorial: Media Art AS/IN Therapy. (News)

By vanMeenen, Karen | Afterimage, November-December 2001 | Go to article overview

Editorial: Media Art AS/IN Therapy. (News)


vanMeenen, Karen, Afterimage


Art is created and viewed for pleasure, for distraction, to tell stories, to emote, for documentation purposes, as an educational tool, to channel creative energies, for the processing of personal experience and for healing. Artists have always responded to personal and political challenges with their own outpourings of creative practice-documenting their illnesses, celebrating their survival, working through their difficulties, calling for change. Artists and health professionals have long known the beneficial effects of both creating and viewing artwork on both an individual and communal level (e.g., the success of the AIDS Quilt) but the common perception of art therapy in particular is limited to the use of visual arts with finite genres of populations such as hospitalized children or those with terminal illnesses. The broad field of art therapy encompasses not just the two-dimensional visual arts-on-paper but also modalities using photography, video, interactive computer work, psychodrama, writing, story telling, dance, movement and music. This special issue, "Media Art As/In Therapy," focuses on therapeutic practice within the media Afterimage covers, exploring a wealth of practices engaged in by artists, therapists, counselors, clinicians and psychotherapists.

As the tenuous state of the nation's health care system became more prominent in news coverage in the past decade, the arts-in-healthcare movement took the form of consultants placing artwork in hospital rooms or, at best, commissioning pieces from working artists. Both have become acceptable populist panacea. But the question has been posed: is the hanging of pastels of playful puppies in hospital rooms as an allopathic means of healthcare truly therapeutic? In terms of interactive artwork being used as a healing tool, there have also been longstanding questions resounding through both the art world and the health care system. If it is therapy, is it art? What of those who engage in artistic practice, at the behest, and with the assistance of, clinicians or therapeutically trained artists? Is creative work, done by those who have never engaged or trained in artistic practice previously, "art"? And is it all a matter of semantics?

The field of art therapy has garnered more respect and notoriety within the art world in recent years, exemplified by the School of Visual Arts in New York City offering a Master of Professional Studies degree in Art Therapy beginning this fall and within the arts-in-healthcare movement with its cross-disciplinary organizations forging networks of individuals and institutions who believe that art can be beneficial for the mind and the body. The Society for the Arts in Health Care, for instance, founded in 1991, now maintains a membership of 400 individuals and institutions. In addition, recent related exhibitions include "Childhood Revealed: Art Expressing Pain, Discovery & Hope," a touring show created by the New York University Child Study Center that focuses on the artwork of children and teens being treated for various physical and mental illnesses; "Creating a Living Legacy: Photography by Grieving Teens," originating from a program in Raleigh, North Carolina and traveling to the Capital Rotunda in Washi ngton, D.C.; "eMotion Pictures: An Exhibition of Orthopaedics in Art," a traveling exhibition sponsored by the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons that includes the work of both patients and the doctors who treat them; "The Tenth Annual Art With Elders Exhibit" in San Francisco; and "a an exhibition (and book) of multi-media work by more than 80 women with breast cancer that will be traveling to New Orleans, Louisiana and Traverse City, Michigan in 2002.

This issue has of course been in progress for some time, but the recent dramatic turn in world events has brought the importance of art and culture in our lives, whether self-created or enjoyed as a spectator, to the fore. Its publication, at this point in history, is not only poignant, but is supported by what both the media are reporting and individuals are claiming to find cathartic. …

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