Thinking inside the box

Boxes in art therapy are often used as a framework to explore inner and outer realities. With lids they offer the possible exploration of the private inner spaces while the outside becomes more of the public self or what is visible to the world out there.  Clients are invited to paint, draw, collage or add words and pictures depicting these realities.

Deborah Fisher, New Skin with Accessories, 1999, mixed media, 2.5 x 10 x 12.75 inches

But there are also more complex and sophisticated ways of thinking about these. Anna Belle Kaufman (1996) writes: « [A]n exploration of boxes begins with the creation and protection of life itself and proceeds eventually to the tombs, urns and coffins at the end of life » (p.238). She means cradles and special places where we preserve and protect what is special, precious and dear, to the containers that accompany the end of life. She quotes Bachelard (1964) who talks about enclosures as secluded space and symbols of the imagination such as drawers, chests, wardrobes that are veritable organs of the secret psychological life; intimate space that is not just open to anybody. They can be treasure boxes full of wonder as I spoke about before, but also pits of heart wrenching souvenirs.

We all keep boxes in attics, basements, drawers and closets with collections of various things. At times we inherit chests of items from deceased relatives and friends. Sorting through these is always an act of revisiting the relationship, of remembering and imagining what was and at times what could have been. In the process of sorting there is a revisiting, a possible sorting out of feelings.

Kaufman in her paper speaks about the multifarious dimensions of box shapes; the ones she used in courageously creating a commemorative piece to her deceased son who passed away after a long illness. She presents the many sides of preserving, the ephemeral and perishable, traces and trinkets that become precious when circumstances link them to the lost or departed; or the remains of what once was such as ashes in cremation. What we hold onto and what we let go of is also the subject of boxes that can be explored in art therapy.

In the jargon of art therapy we often speak of artworks as containers, that capture what is exteriorized through the imagery, through the mark making, through the shaping. An artwork as a container, that holds and reflects back some part of the psychic and emotional experience. Kaufman touches upon the process of making the piece of art and the choosing of materials. Though parts of this process were horrifically difficult, as many artists will tell you, the making was a working through, and making peace with such a difficult event.

Kaufman, A.B. (1996). Art in Boxes: An Exploration of Meanings. The Arts in Psychotherapy, 23(3), 237-247.

A short paper on boxes in art can also be found here.

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Catégorisé dans Thérapie.

Publié le 29 oct 2009

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