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Wednesday, 27 August 2003

Art Therapy

Art therapy - a technical formalisation in language for something that I dabbled with at the start of my career. Back in the 1980s I worked within a team of artists of a wide range of disciplines. I was the poet who mucked about with photography and did the latter very badly (noble ideas without the technical skills). We had fine artists, ceramicists, photographers, dramatists etc. It was great fun. We worked with a wide range of people, leading workshops that were either uni- or multi-disciplinary.

It wasn't really art therapy as such, because the therapeutic intent was not controlled, although the work we did had a clear impact on many of the people with whom we came into contact.

I mention all of this because I am in the middle of reading a book by Anthony Stevens called 'Withymead: a Jungian community for the healing arts'. It's an interesting book, even if the style is a little dry and stuffy. The fascinating thing about it is the fact that this early attempt to establish a therapeutic community which used the arts was not formalised and rigorous. It had a clear emphasis on family, and focused very much on the Jungian ideas about active imagination and use of artistic expression as a way of externalising symbolism.

"The aim of Withymead was to encourage people to live the 'symbolical life', for once the conscious personality is open to the meaning of symbols it is forever opened to a source perpetual renewal and replenishment."

Jung describes the act of 'active imagination' as the art of letting things happen.

An interesting aside was the extent to which luck and certain apparently random incidents led to the setting up of Withymead. It was the bombing of WW2 that led to people taking refuge at the house that became Withymead. Acts of synchronicity - it is always worth looking for the purpose in seemingly random incidents!

Reading this takes me back to those days of expression and self-expression. At their best, the team were using the time to express themselves as well as encouraging others to find their voice and express themselves. It was a splendid vision, naïve and full of innocence. But it was the fresh youthfulness of it that made it work. We steered close to the edge at times, but the energy of the whole thing made it work.

I still have material that I was working on from that time. It was during that time that I produced 'sharp / blue breath' which was the first collection of my poetry which I would claim to be in my own voice (earlier poems were searching for the voice, working from juvenilia in form). I also worked on a small painted cardboard box which was filled with scrolls and tiny booklets representing my life and inner world. It's an idea that I never finished, but it still sits in my box of secrets and memories under my desk.

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