What is Art in Art Therapy?

What is Art in Art Therapy?

Written by Samantha Davis

“Sorry I am more of a words person”, a group participant recently divulged as she shared her picture (of words) with the group.

It is strange that we feel that we need to apologize when our creativity - which is so natural and organic - flows through us. We somehow feel that it differs from the ‘norm’.

This led me to explore and reflect on how the ‘Art’ in Art Therapy can be used to normalize and contextualize that which appears different or outside the box.

People often associate Art Therapy with needing to be ‘good’ at art. In other words, being able to create, draw or paint something that is realistic and recognizable.

This is certainly not what Art Therapy entails…

Let’s begin with a definition of ‘Art’

The Oxford dictionary defines art as “the various branches of creative activity, such as painting, music, literature, and dance.”

Wikipedia defines art as “a diverse range of human activities involving creative imagination to express technical proficiency, beauty, emotional power, or conceptual ideas. There is no generally agreed definition of what constitutes art, and ideas have changed over time.”

Personally, I like the ending of this latter definition in that there is consensus that there is no consensus around what art is. That thinking out the box can actually be the norm.

Types of art that have emerged in my Art Therapy practice within both individuals and groups over the past two decades has included drawing, painting, sculpting, crafting, music, literature, wordplay, collage, burning, playing, role-playing, dancing, movement, singing, construction, destruction, knitting, sewing, prayer, ritual, creative thinking, brainstorming, topography, graffiti, photography and the list goes on…

Some examples of thinking outside of the box

Objects – a middle aged man once told me that he ‘couldn’t draw to save his life.’ But behold, after some initial foundational group work, he (self-directed) created a windmill out of recycled materials that… wait for it… rotated independently on its axis. He created this in just 45 minutes!

A group of educators were experiencing some internal conflict and were initially reluctant to participate in any formal art or creative group activities. I invited them to each stand and sing in their mother tongue – there was instant energy, aliveness and relief. The room suddenly transformed into a magical environment of connection through song, dance and movement. The sharing of creative energy can be used to develop and enhance communication and relationships.

Art is Discovery

Art is often a means of discovering, connecting, and communicating the parts of the self that have been lost, repressed, forgotten or ignored. A means of building bridges between the inside and the outside. Art serves as a mediator in communicating between the unconscious and the conscious through spontaneity and the senses.

Each person and group culture has various preferred mediums or avenues to express and access art and creative expression. It is important to really listen carefully and intuitively, to hear and understand what the individual or group needs and use what is innately available to them.

What we know

What we now understand is that Art Therapy is about a process of being creative; of creating something out of nothing. Individuals and groups can use their inherent imagination, self-expression and communication skills, without any specific art skill or technique.

Art and creativity can be accessed through spontaneous exploration and play – that is being present in the moment or “going with the flow”.

Sigmund Freud called this ‘free associating’ - saying or doing that which organically flows to the surface without censoring, thinking, restricting, planning or controlling.

Application in Art Therapy

I qualified as an Art Therapist in the UK more than 20 years ago. I completed a 2 year Masters training founded in a psychodynamic theoretical approach, which entails establishing a working relationship between the therapist and the individual or group by creating a frame or contract consisting of specific boundaries to create a safe space to access the art.

Within this frame, the magic is in the unknown - consisting of both the process and the product or end-result. Art and play, with its infinite forms of creativity that can be explored and worked with in a therapeutic manner.

Art in Art Therapy often includes words, story, fantasy, imagination, objects and ritual. Creativity transcends what is known, logical and linear. It includes abstract thinking and spontaneity. Art and creative expression are felt and accessed through the senses and the body, through vision, sound, or touch both on the inside and the outside.

The art in Art Therapy is any spontaneous creative expression, communication and/or release that is held and contained in a safe and solid therapeutic frame so that healing and transformation can occur.

Curious about Art Therapy?

✨ Get a taste of Art Therapy in the upcoming 2.5 Hour Taster Workshop.

✨ Join one of the upcoming Art Therapy 3-Day Seminars:

✨ Completed Part 1? Join the next Advanced 3-Day Seminar:

Art Therapy Courses / Workshops in South Africa

Art Therapy 3-Day Seminar (Cape Town)

2-4 or 9-11 Sept 2024  |  6 SPACES LEFT!

An introduction to the process of Art Therapy including theory, case studies, experiential art making, exploration, sharing daily plus journaling. Less intense, lighter, shorter and cheaper than the 5-Day Intensive Course.

Full Fee: R5950 (Early Bird ends 30 Jun 2024)

Learn More

Art Therapy 3-Day Seminar (Johannesburg)

23-25 Oct 2024  |  5 SPACES LEFT!

An introduction to the process of Art Therapy including theory, case studies, experiential art making, exploration, sharing daily plus journaling.

Full Fee: R6560 (Early Bird ends 15 Jun 2024)

Learn More

Art Therapy 3-Day Seminar (Online)

3-5 June 2024  |  1 SPACE LEFT!

CPD points for HPCSA registered professionals.

An ONLINE introduction to the process of Art Therapy including theory, case studies, experiential art making, exploration, sharing daily plus journaling. Less intense, lighter, shorter and cheaper than the 5-Day Intensive Course.

Full Fee: R5350

Learn More

Art Therapy 3-Day Seminar: Part 2 (Cape Town)

Sept 2024 TBC

*NEW* Advanced Online Art Therapy 3-Day Seminar – after completion of the Art Therapy 3-Day Seminar or the Art Therapy 5-Day Intensive course – this ADVANCED or TOP-UP Seminar is built on previously explored concepts and group experiences.

Full Fee: R5950 (Early Bird ends 30 Jun 2024)

Learn More

Art Therapy 3-Day Seminar: Part 2 (Johannesburg)

28-30 Oct 2024  |  5 SPACES LEFT!

*NEW* Advanced Art Therapy 3-Day Seminar in Johannesburg – after completion of the Art Therapy 3-Day Seminar or the Art Therapy 5-Day Intensive course – this ADVANCED or TOP-UP Seminar is built on previously explored concepts and group experiences.

Full Fee: R6460 (Early Bird ends 30 Jun 2024)

Learn More

Art Therapy 3-Day Seminar: Part 2 (Online)

June or Sept 2024  |  6 SPACES LEFT!

*NEW* Advanced Online Art Therapy 3-Day Seminar – after completion of the Art Therapy 3-Day Seminar or the Art Therapy 5-Day Intensive course – this ADVANCED or TOP-UP Seminar is built on previously explored concepts and group experiences.

Full Fee: R5350

Learn More

Art Therapy Taster Workshop

Tuesday 14 May 2024

Short 2.5 hour online taster session where you can find out about Art Therapy in South Africa as well as have a short hands-on experience of both exploring Art Therapy and gaining awareness of the theories that underlie the practice.

Full Fee: R595

Learn More

Art Therapy Vision Board Workshop (via Zoom)

Run for existing groups upon request  |  10 SPACES LEFT!

A combination of colour, pictures, words and Art Therapy techniques to identify, explore and creatively set goals for 2023. Lay the foundations for the New Year! No art experience required.

Full Fee: R760

Learn More

Art Therapy & Mindfulness Workshop (via Zoom)

2023 TBC

Join the 1-Day Art Therapy & Mindfulness Workshop (via Zoom) to explore and experience the art of being present! Tap into your innate creativity, with a focus on being in the moment, accessing joy, insight, wellness, gratitude, playfulness and having fun through art. No art experience required.

Full Fee: R1695

Learn More

Mandala Workshop (Cape Town)

2024 TBC   |  8 SPACES LEFT!

A Mandala is a Sanskrit word for a ‘sacred’ or ‘magic circle’. Mandalas have been used for centuries in meditative and creative practices. This half day workshop is designed to help you relax and unwind and get into a space of being in the present moment through art, visualization, letting go in order to access a spontaneous, innate creative place within yourself. A real treat!

Full Fee: R980

Learn More

Create - Connect - Reflect Workshop (via Zoom)

Run on request for existing groups  |  6 SPACES LEFT!

We are all trying to manage personal and professional challenges. Each one of us may have experienced significant life changes and or loss – whether it is of a physical, emotional, financial or social nature. We have all been affected by Covid -19 and struggling to get into balance and wellness again. Many of us […]

Full Fee: R580

Learn More

Art as Communication (via Zoom)

2022/2023

(This course runs online for 8 consecutive weeks)

An online experiential art making workshop and exploring of images within a group format, whilst introducing basic Art Therapy theoretical ''concepts''. Various art materials are used as a means of self-expression and communication.

Full Fee: R4650

Learn More

Art Therapy 1-Day Intro Course (via Zoom)

Run for existing groups upon request

This one-day course is aimed at introducing you to the dynamic and exciting process of Art Therapy and how it can be applied to adults and children of all ages. An exciting combination of learning, experiential art-making and questions and answers in a group environment. No art experience required!

Full Fee: R1250

Learn More
Art Therapy for Corporates

Creative Workshops for Corporates

Run on request for existing groups

Tailor-made for organisations and corporate settings! Various creative interventions available, which encompass a uniquely developed and researched methodology utilizing practical, creative and experiential learning rather than the traditional 'learning from lecture and notes' approach.

Learn More
Art Therapy in Education

Art Therapy Workshops for Educators

Run on request for existing groups

Tailor-made Art Therapy workshops for groups of educators, art teachers and councillors working in school settings. Choose from a 2 hour mini-workshop or a 1-Day Art Therapy workshop...

Learn More

Art Therapy Courses / Workshops in South Africa

Art Therapy 3-Day Seminar (Cape Town)

2-4 or 9-11 Sept 2024  |  6 SPACES LEFT!

An introduction to the process of Art Therapy including theory, case studies, experiential art making, exploration, sharing daily plus journaling. Less intense, lighter, shorter and cheaper than the 5-Day Intensive Course.

Full Fee: R5950 (Early Bird ends 30 Jun 2024)

Learn More

Art Therapy 3-Day Seminar (Johannesburg)

23-25 Oct 2024  |  5 SPACES LEFT!

An introduction to the process of Art Therapy including theory, case studies, experiential art making, exploration, sharing daily plus journaling.

Full Fee: R6560 (Early Bird ends 15 Jun 2024)

Learn More

Art Therapy 3-Day Seminar (Online)

3-5 June 2024  |  1 SPACE LEFT!

CPD points for HPCSA registered professionals.

An ONLINE introduction to the process of Art Therapy including theory, case studies, experiential art making, exploration, sharing daily plus journaling. Less intense, lighter, shorter and cheaper than the 5-Day Intensive Course.

Full Fee: R5350

Learn More

Art Therapy 3-Day Seminar: Part 2 (Cape Town)

Sept 2024 TBC

*NEW* Advanced Online Art Therapy 3-Day Seminar – after completion of the Art Therapy 3-Day Seminar or the Art Therapy 5-Day Intensive course – this ADVANCED or TOP-UP Seminar is built on previously explored concepts and group experiences.

Full Fee: R5950 (Early Bird ends 30 Jun 2024)

Learn More

Art Therapy 3-Day Seminar: Part 2 (Johannesburg)

28-30 Oct 2024  |  5 SPACES LEFT!

*NEW* Advanced Art Therapy 3-Day Seminar in Johannesburg – after completion of the Art Therapy 3-Day Seminar or the Art Therapy 5-Day Intensive course – this ADVANCED or TOP-UP Seminar is built on previously explored concepts and group experiences.

Full Fee: R6460 (Early Bird ends 30 Jun 2024)

Learn More

Art Therapy 3-Day Seminar: Part 2 (Online)

June or Sept 2024  |  6 SPACES LEFT!

*NEW* Advanced Online Art Therapy 3-Day Seminar – after completion of the Art Therapy 3-Day Seminar or the Art Therapy 5-Day Intensive course – this ADVANCED or TOP-UP Seminar is built on previously explored concepts and group experiences.

Full Fee: R5350

Learn More

Art Therapy Taster Workshop

Tuesday 14 May 2024

Short 2.5 hour online taster session where you can find out about Art Therapy in South Africa as well as have a short hands-on experience of both exploring Art Therapy and gaining awareness of the theories that underlie the practice.

Full Fee: R595

Learn More

Art Therapy Vision Board Workshop (via Zoom)

Run for existing groups upon request  |  10 SPACES LEFT!

A combination of colour, pictures, words and Art Therapy techniques to identify, explore and creatively set goals for 2023. Lay the foundations for the New Year! No art experience required.

Full Fee: R760

Learn More

Art Therapy & Mindfulness Workshop (via Zoom)

2023 TBC

Join the 1-Day Art Therapy & Mindfulness Workshop (via Zoom) to explore and experience the art of being present! Tap into your innate creativity, with a focus on being in the moment, accessing joy, insight, wellness, gratitude, playfulness and having fun through art. No art experience required.

Full Fee: R1695

Learn More

Mandala Workshop (Cape Town)

2024 TBC   |  8 SPACES LEFT!

A Mandala is a Sanskrit word for a ‘sacred’ or ‘magic circle’. Mandalas have been used for centuries in meditative and creative practices. This half day workshop is designed to help you relax and unwind and get into a space of being in the present moment through art, visualization, letting go in order to access a spontaneous, innate creative place within yourself. A real treat!

Full Fee: R980

Learn More

Create - Connect - Reflect Workshop (via Zoom)

Run on request for existing groups  |  6 SPACES LEFT!

We are all trying to manage personal and professional challenges. Each one of us may have experienced significant life changes and or loss – whether it is of a physical, emotional, financial or social nature. We have all been affected by Covid -19 and struggling to get into balance and wellness again. Many of us […]

Full Fee: R580

Learn More

Art as Communication (via Zoom)

2022/2023

(This course runs online for 8 consecutive weeks)

An online experiential art making workshop and exploring of images within a group format, whilst introducing basic Art Therapy theoretical ''concepts''. Various art materials are used as a means of self-expression and communication.

Full Fee: R4650

Learn More

Art Therapy 1-Day Intro Course (via Zoom)

Run for existing groups upon request

This one-day course is aimed at introducing you to the dynamic and exciting process of Art Therapy and how it can be applied to adults and children of all ages. An exciting combination of learning, experiential art-making and questions and answers in a group environment. No art experience required!

Full Fee: R1250

Learn More
Art Therapy for Corporates

Creative Workshops for Corporates

Run on request for existing groups

Tailor-made for organisations and corporate settings! Various creative interventions available, which encompass a uniquely developed and researched methodology utilizing practical, creative and experiential learning rather than the traditional 'learning from lecture and notes' approach.

Learn More
Art Therapy in Education

Art Therapy Workshops for Educators

Run on request for existing groups

Tailor-made Art Therapy workshops for groups of educators, art teachers and councillors working in school settings. Choose from a 2 hour mini-workshop or a 1-Day Art Therapy workshop...

Learn More