Recap: Art Therapy and the Psyche

In our Creativity and Neuroscience Workshop: Art Therapy and the Psyche, we explored as a group the budding field of art therapy as a perspective on art and psychiatry.

Dr. Michelle Ann Meredyth Stewart held a talk on the topic, which launched a lively discussion, and was followed by exercises exploring different techniques currently used and their effects on our cognition.

Watercolour painting explored as a therapeutic tool 

Our experiment on the differences between making art in two different formats (arranging a collage and watercolour painting) and playing chess involved two datasets: self-measured heart rate (no conclusive effect) and self-reported relaxation level (art had a significant effect on increasing relaxation, while chess either decreased relaxation or had no effect)*

* please note that ‘significant’ is used here as a subjective term – we didn’t do any statistical analysis and just spoke about our feelings


Dr. Meredyth Stewart’s presentation provided an informative overview of the history and current state of art therapy, and sparked interesting perspectives on the field, and the implications it involves for our understanding of art.

Dr. Michelle Ann Meredyth Stewart presenting an overview of art therapy

For instance, in recent years, the use of art therapy for stroke rehabilitiation has been increasingly explored in the context of painting and the involved motor control of upper limbs. (For an early example, see Morris et al. Trials 2014, 15:380,


While this seems not unique to art, and could be an effect of any motor activity, Dr. Meredyth Stewart pointed out an important aspect:


Art, particularly in our contemporary setting in which anyone can create an image with new techniques and little training


Suprisingly, even arranging images into a collage has a therapeutic effect. By inference, does this make an assortment of postcards on a table art?


What is it about making art that is essential to the process, and the psychological effect that it has?



Perhaps the modernist perspective, that anything can be art, has a neurobiological basis. It is not the physical act that defines art, but the conceptual act, as evidenced by the therapeutic effect of barely-physical art making, such as writing your own name and thinking about it.

Dr. Meredyth was “thrilled with how well the discussion took off with lively participation by all the people who attended. There was great enthusiasm for the fusion of art and science, and everyone contributed to the group activities. As well there was lively interaction between individuals and a determination to continue the discussion process. Having an interactive setup and informal location really helped to break the ice.”

Thank you all who came, and we look forward to seeing you soon at:

23/10/2019 @ Top Project Space, Schillerpalais 4:
Creativity and Neuroscience: Film Screening Why Are We Creative?

References/ further reading:

von Spreti, Martius & Steger KunstTherapie: Wirkung – Handwerk – Praxis
Eva Madelung: Kunsttherapien: Neue Wege zur Lebensgestaltung
Marianne Markert: Der Regenstab verzaubert…
Karl Heinz Menzen: Grundlagen der Kunsttherapie
Jörg Rinnisland: Bilder aus der Zwischenzeit
Triup & Kersten: Praxis der Kunsttherapie
Eva-Mees Christeller: Kunsttherapie in der Praxis

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