Anthroposophical Art Therapy

By: Phoebe Alexander

Anthroposophical art therapy, or artistic therapy, as it is commonly called, is deeply embedded in medical work. But it is also strongly rooted in the arts and in the broad area of curative and remedial education.

The medical root of artistic therapy draws from the early collaborative work of Rudolf Steiner and Ita Wegman, from the artistic-therapeutic work of Margarethe Hauschka and, more recently, from the spiritual research of Liane Collot D'Herbois and others. An understanding of the language of color and its relationship to light and darkness stems from the observations and research of both Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Steiner (who had the task of reviewing and editing all of Goethe's scientific writings).

Artistic therapy works with the principle that illness has its roots in the soul and that artistic work is an expression of the soul. Artistic therapy works to strengthen and bring harmony and balance to the whole human being, helping to resolve illness.

Traditional or mainstream art therapy is considered non-verbal psychotherapy arising predominantly out of the work of Freud and Jung. It makes use of free expression as its main diagnostic/healing tool. However, for the ill person free expression could be seen as the expression of the illness. Repeated expression of that illness—although it may provide momentary relief to the soul—may even have the unwanted effect of entrenching the illness more deeply.

Although free expression may be used to assess progress, it is not used therapeutically. Instead, a path of healing exercises is prescribed to lead the patient toward health, educating or re-educating certain faculties where learning difficulties are experienced. We can also help isolated individuals build communication skills and strengthen their awareness of the other through social exercises in painting and clay modeling.

Artistic therapy makes use of three main modalities: drawing, painting and sculpture. These work correspondingly in the realms of thinking, feeling and willing, strengthening faculty and function. Because all artistic work is done with attention and intention, penetration of the ego into these realms is facilitated.

Drawing is essentially black and white work—studies of line and form, and of the dynamic interplay of light and darkness.

Pencil drawing, in particular, with its fine, clear line "sharpens" the intellect—our faculty of objective (emotion-free) thinking. Drawings using continuous, unbroken lines, work with the fluid, formative qualities of the etheric realm (form drawing). When using broken lines we call upon the will and intellect. Studies in light, darkness and shadow speak more to our feelings. The use of color in drawing brings subjectivity into an otherwise objective area.

Shaded Drawing
One technique that Steiner used extensively in his own drawings and illustrations, and especially recommended for its artistic-therapeutic value, is shaded drawing where light-infused forms are created by applying parallel, oblique pencil strokes—bringing darkness into the light with pencil on white paper. This technique is highly meditative and ego strengthening.

The activity of color between light and darkness is the language of the soul (we are moved inwardly, we experience emotion). Colors speak a language more universal and archetypal than any spoken word. Knowing how to speak and hear color, we can communicate non-verbally with our patients and with their illnesses. The color medium that is the closest to pure, colored light, is transparent watercolor. Watercolor painting is therefore the medium of choice for painting, or "color" therapy.

We use either the wet-on-wet or veil painting methods. Wet-on-wet is used mostly for children, the elderly and the infirm, since it has a loosening and strengthening effect on the etheric (or life body) while healing and strengthening the soul forces. Veil painting was introduced and used extensively by Rudolf Steiner in his own work, and he recommended the use of veil painting as an ego-strengthening, therapeutic modality as well.

In the wet-on-wet method of painting, liquid color is applied to moistened paper. Water, the bearer of life, facilitates the movement and intermingling of the colors as they create new colors among themselves. Form flows into being, and can dissolve out of it again. The process remains fluid until we choose to stop and let it dry. As with all art therapy, the process is most important. That the end product is also lovely to look at attests to a healthy process, but it is not our objective.

Veil Painting
Veil painting is a kind of Eurythmy on paper. Here, thin washes of transparent color are brought onto a dry (previously stretched) paper surface. Each veil of color must dry thoroughly before the next is applied over it. Painting in this way, we can experience transparent, light-filled forms emerging from the colors, weaving through luminous space. The non­material quality of this realm has a healing effect on the soul, while the conscious work of applying the veils strengthens the ego forces.

Lazure Painting
Lazure painting is a veiling technique brought to the walls to create beautiful, healing environments for classrooms, homes, therapy centers, etc. It may be considered environmental art therapy. When lazuring is done with a group of individuals who will be using that space, it is often done as a social art therapy as well.

Sculpting / Clay Modeling
Forming and transforming substance is the central activity of clay modeling. The transformation of a set mass, as well as the processes of adding on and carving away, have their inner reflection in our metabolic processes of anabolism and catabolism, and outwardly in our ability to impact the world through our will, to be able to bring form to our thoughts, to our physical bodies, to our relationships, to our work, etc.

Clay is earth and water, physical and etheric substance. It is also foreign substance, cold to the touch, formless and resistant. To make it ours, we must transform it and imbue it with our own ego. The more we "work" the clay with our hands, the more plastic it becomes, warm and yielding to our touch.

Finding the particular balance of substance, water and warmth is will- and ego-strengthening.

Using various beeswax-based modeling compounds, and carving in wood, stone or plaster, add to the therapist's repertoire.

Remedial Pedagogy and Curative Education
Extra lesson work, colored light (and shadow) therapy, therapeutic storytelling, drama, spatial dynamics, puppetry, Eurythmy, music and singing, as well as crafts and handwork, have also added immeasurably to the artistic therapist's repertoire.

For information contact Phoebe Alexander, Association for Anthroposophical Art Therapy in North America (AAATNA) 212-744-0257, index.html