By Brittany Basco
“Humans are at the home in the medium called the atmosphere. The relationship between the medium and the body is a process which sustains life.”
This is how Tiffany Brumfield, teacher of materials in art therapy and practicing art therapist began class the first day at LSU. Brumfield’s class is different from the usual lecture, more complex than the usual required art credit. Students get hands-on experience in art therapy, learning firsthand how it can be used in the healing process.
Art therapy is form of psychotherapy that uses art as a tool to encourage healing within one’s self. It was first practiced with mentally ill patients with schizophrenia and dementia, but has became a career of its own that also helps deal with more common issues such as depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and exhaustion.
Techniques can be as simple as the choice of a writing tool. To an art therapist, a pencil’s potential to be manipulated provides their clients a way to express themselves without the pressure of making a permanent mistake, while a pen forces the client to think more carefully about the process of mark making. This was amongst one of the many basics principles being taught on materials in Art Therapy class at LSU.
There are countless mediums that are used in the creative process such as painting, sculpting, drawing, photography, and even trash.
As students learn about art as a healing tool they also learn much about themselves. Pat, Master of Liberal Arts focusing in religious studies, is fascinated by art despite – or because of – his impaired vision. The first day of class, he told his peers that he began practicing art after he became blind, and uses it as a way to keep his mind active.
“It’s been seven years since I became blind,” he said. “Before I became blind, I dreamed in black and white, but now I dream in vivid colors.”
He uses the texture of the wall to feel the marks that he makes on the paper and uses push pins as a way to guide his mark making.
Another student, Randi, uses art therapy as an extension of her graduate thesis, “A Peculiar Paradigm of Perpetual Parallax.” Her thesis, summed up, is a visual and literary narrative of a fairytale involving the theme of duality. Inspired by her right-handed twin sister, the left-handed MFA candidate draws with a mirror next to her easel. Her drawings often include duplications of the same picture in which she draws left-handed as herself, then uses the mirror to draw right-handed as if it were her twin drawing.
Next week, the class will have the opportunity to work on a large-scale canvas to produce a cohesive piece that will later be used to interact with patients at different units Brumfield practices, such as Baton Rouge general and Jefferson Oaks Behavioral Health. The students contribute to the artwork that patients will later contribute to as well. This mode of expression on a group scale represents the power art therapy has to connect individuals and create a sense of community among those involved in the creation process.
Most importantly, this collaborative process marks the potential that we all have as humans to connect, identify, and support one another in our goals for self-improvement and peace of mind.