On Friday the 28th, I was at SVA (NY School of Visual Arts) campus for their annual conference “29th Annual Art Therapy Conference, Trauma, Art & Social Constructs”. A post could be written about the conference and the speakers, but this one is about the student show. I went over to the exhibition in another campus building to see the annual art therapy show, a group show of student and client artwork, entitled, “Let Grow”. The department describes their annual exhibitions in the context of the graduate art therapy program curriculum as “Exhibition: Internship coursework includes participation in a client/student art exhibition held each spring at an SVA gallery in the Chelsea neighborhood of NYC. Applying social action theory within an art therapy framework, students consider therapeutic goals and the role of art and the artist in a community context. Students and clients develop their identity as artists and examine the limitations of socially constructed labels and the impact of institutional policies.” This exhibition luckily did not tackle the last part about socially constructed labels etc., and was more personal and focused on the relationship with art therapist, student, client and art making process.
The title of the show was an obvious play on words, “Let Go”, which I think meant to engender exploration of the idea that you “let go” in the art making art therapy process, you also thus “grow”, and the student or art therapist facilitates the client’s process of letting go and growing. This concept also brings up the idea of “letting” grow, allowing oneself to grow with, I think, the question of, do you let yourself grow or do you sometimes get in the way of growth by not letting go? which is an interesting concept or question for the therapy and art therapy process. Also, in looking at the show, I wondered whether art therapy has the power sometimes or even often to allow the client to “let go” and “let grow” more easily with less resistance, due to the art making art therapy process itself of allowing the materials to engender movement beyond rigidity and opening up to the messy and not fully controlled creative process with the art therapist present as a safe container for the chaos of letting go and growth in the individual or group…
I enjoyed the wide range of materials at the exhibition especially. I wasn’t there long enough to really take in each piece and make sure I took photos of all the work, but I am providing my photos of a majority of the work it seemed to be a mixture individual or group client artwork, and student art work in response. The pieces could have been arranged in a better way so the big 3D ones did not get in the way of the smaller 2D ones, but it was easy to walk around the room and get a look at each piece anyway. Also, I am pretty sure the department did not include direct description of what the setting was for each client(s) piece and what more about the clients, even whether they were children or adults, which might have been good to see and connect more with the artwork. Client’s names with last initial were supplied, so you could pretty accurately guess the gender, but I did not include names of clients or students in this post. I took photos of a lot of the work, which I am sharing on this post. This lovely exhibition serves as an example of how art therapy inspires such a range of images and media and topics. I photographed some of the descriptions of the process but not in such a way that I am sure of all of them what goes with which image, so I can copy the quotes to inspire and engender further exploration.
This student’s quote below in particular one addresses the theme of the show, “Let Grow”: It goes with the photo of the multi media piece with cups and paint dripping down to a flat kind of board container that has crayons in it. The image seems to address the theme, with the containers maybe representing group members and the paint splattering down onto a tray with crayons expressing the “messy feelings” that get contained in the safe space she describes.
Student: “Structures take time to build, but once established they can provide safe, containing spaces for letting go. With the right support, we can allow ourselves to melt, mix, explore messy feelings and ultimately grow.” This pretty much sums up what I was pondering above and states it in a succinct way that addresses the art making, the art materials and the idea of structure.
There is another description that goes with the balloon piece and the silver oxygen tank on the floor which was placed next to the balloon pieces on the wall, of which I have shown a few photos. This quote is from the client:
These balloons represent
They keep me down, but I’m ready to rise.
The student art therapist writes in response about her piece, the oxygen tank looking piece painted silver:
The pieces signify listening, empathizing, guiding and encouraging.
Together they become the air tank that supplies growth.
This was a very interesting juxtaposition of the student art therapist representing her relationship with the client through a very direct response to the client’s artwork, and brings up an interesting image of the “air tank” supplying growth. Actually I am confused as to whether the entire piece is some kind of symbol of growth, or perhaps the student made the air tank piece with the client which would give more clarity to the artist statements…
The following is a student quote which goes with the white container piece, whose materials I am not sure about:
“When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.” –Lao Tzu
After multiple attempts and setbacks, through the frustration, we can find what works. This place offers flexibility, durability, and support. Through the process, we can grow and leave this place feeling more resilient.
These quotes below accompany the box with the eye and the piece with the string and words in the case underneath the box. The client art work is entitled “Visual Clarity”:
Besides visually seeing more clearly, there is a mental clarity seen also. I’m trying to represent stages from one place to another (bad place to good place). This piece was done in a short period of time, which made it more spontaneous. I surprised myself with how well I was able to express myself.
The art work below the box is the student work, with the threads and words spelled out in the piece with the thread that looks a little like dental floss, is entitled “Common Threads”. Some of the words in the piece are support, limits, structure, communication. Here is the student’s statement:
The unfurling reveals opportunity and support, not only within, but also around us. You find new joys and surprises by embracing the unknown and exploring your creativity. From vulnerability comes strength. From honesty comes clarity. We realize this and can take the next step.
The student work, the piece that looks like a fish tank with multi media, entitled “Swim” seems to be expressing the client’s feelings and perhaps the way the client can feel safe in the supportive relationship with the art therapy student through the symbol of the tank holding the fish inside:
He can stare at a fish tank for hours.
The fish don’t bother each other. They don’t fight. They are not afraid.
They don’t hold onto the past.
They don’t worry about the future.
They remain present
And swim, and swim
An Untitled Student work, probably the piece that looks like a paper woven container, very beautifully put together:
With patience and love comes progress
Piece by piece, layer by layer
The observer becomes the teacher
With the skills to reflect on life’s patterns
And what it means to build from the scraps.
Quote that goes with the title “Stand Back, Universal Swirl of Worlds!” made by an art therapy group; I think it is the picture with blue and yellow in it and the frame is wrapped in yarn. Even if it goes with a different piece, it is a nice and clear statement of community and the healing power of group art therapy, as well as the idea of the whole exhibition representing “What we leave behind” which connects the students, internships, clients, professors, and art therapy program together:
Working together we each bring our own color into group. Wrapping yards of yarn offer containment and safety. What we leave behind ties us together as a community.