Public and Private Spaces in Art Therapy


This paper explores the public/private binary in art therapy. The public space is often associated with art being taken out of the art therapeutic space to be exhibited in galleries and sometimes sold, one of the aims being to promote art therapy practice and the plight of those who participate in it. Here it sits uncomfortably with the idea of art as commodity. The private space is associated with art therapeutic practice that is confidential and in which the art stays within the boundary of the therapy until therapy is finished. The emphasis is more commonly on process than product. However, art therapy sessions themselves have now also become commodities to be bought and sold. The paper argues that the public/private binary is operational in all art therapy practice whether or not the art leaves the therapeutic space. Art is a language that, by definition, can communicate without artist/patient to explain it or identifiable audience to view it. It exists between ‘self’ and ‘other’, but ‘self’ is infused with the public and social world and ‘other’ contains the projections of the self. The paper explores how these private/public dynamics can be harnessed, in an ethical way, to best serve our clients. Art therapy work from a group for victims of torture is used to illustrate the points. Keywords: Groups, Ethics, Refugees, Exhibition, Charities, Boundaries

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