Academic journal article Tamara Journal of Critical Organisation Inquiry

Picturing Organizations: A Visual Exploration of the Unconscious at Work

Academic journal article Tamara Journal of Critical Organisation Inquiry

Picturing Organizations: A Visual Exploration of the Unconscious at Work

Article excerpt


This article describes and considers the process and outcome of an experiential workshop held in the 'Art & Aesthetics of the Unconscious' stream at the second 'Art of Management & Organization Conference', Paris, 2004. The workshop was designed to introduce participants to an art therapy approach to explore the organizations in which they work. Through this process the intention was to consider and explore the potential of using art therapy in the context of organizational management. With particular focus on considering how it may assist with interventions where surfacing the unconscious material or psychodynamics of the organization may be useful in gaining insight into the organization and shape helpful responses.


This article provides a background for the interface of art therapy and organizational management. The workshop and its rationale are described and observations and reflections are presented on some of the images and the process. This is discussed with reference to surfacing the unconscious and gaining insight into the psychodynamics of the organizational system. In conclusion some comments are made on the potential of using an art therapy approach in organizational management.

Art therapy

Art therapy is a specialized approach that brings together both art and therapy to explore people's experiences, perceptions and relationships. The creative art process and the making of visual images is the central focus. This is integrated with the knowledge and understanding provided by theories of psychotherapy, particularly object relations theory. There are many publications on art therapy that provide a background to this approach, (see for example: Wadeson, 1980; Dalley, 1984; Dalley, case, Schaverien, Weir, Halliday, Nowell-Hall & Waller, 1987; case & Dalley, 1992; Gilroy & Waller, 1992). This literature provides a thorough introduction to the training, theory and practice of art therapy. However, to briefly summarise, art therapy has evolved from a breadth of disciplines; art and aesthetics; psychiatry; psychotherapy; and, child centred art education. It is also largely established from a base in psychotherapeutic principles (Waller, 1991). The theories of Freud (eg. 1900/1986, 1921/1985), Klein (1975a-d), Winnicott (1971), Milner (1971) and Jung (1968) are highly influential to the theory and practice of art therapy (case & Dalley, 1992).

There are several key tenets, primarily the combination of art making and psychotherapy and the central place of art activity in the therapeutic relationship. There is no need to be artistically experienced or skilled to participate and gain from the process. But a capacity no matter how minimal to physically manipulate materials is involved. The individual is encouraged and supported to engage in creative visual productions within a defined therapeutic relationship. To become absorbed in the process of this activity and to allow the imagination to play and where appropriate to reflect on this to find their own meaning in the art making. While the individual engages in the art making they are held within the frame of the therapeutic encounter and the relationship with the art therapist. The art therapist is conscious of this and uses their understanding of psychodynamic processes to support the developing relationship and goals of therapy. Any dialogue, responses or interpretation of the art work the art therapist offers is informed by the experience of the relationship and a developing link with the participants associations and their search for meaning.

Therefore the significance of the relationship and the emotional and psychic containment it provides is an important factor. The form of the relationship might be an individual relationship with an art therapist but it can also be within an art therapy group. In a group as in individual work participants are invited to make visual images, usually spontaneously, to facilitate expression, exploration and discovery of thoughts, feelings and perceptions that may not be fully conscious or understood. …

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