Written by Kate Siner Francis Ph.D.
EXPERIENTIAL PSYCHOLOGIES AND ARTS RESEARCH
By the 1940’s there was an evident split between the emerging humanists and the experimentalists. Humanistic, existential, and gestalt psychologists offered additional perspectives to the study of art within psychology. Their perspectives were derived from their highly experiential approaches, which were born as a critique of the increasingly positivistic and reductionistic science and the increasingly dogmatic view of the psychoanalysts (Overview of Humanistic Psychology, 2001). Humanistic psychologists became one of the most audible voices on art at a time were the experimentalists barely acknowledged it existed. Philosophically and methodologically this third force in psychology, as it was then named, was naturally suited to inquiry in the arts because it could draw on the psychodynamic writings of the analytical psychologist, and so access the language of the unconscious, as well as its experiential foundations, which made it similar to art-based processes.
Rollo May believed that creativity was the step-child of psychology (May, 1975). His most influential text in art studies is the Courage to Create (1975), in which he discusses his thoughts on creativity. May believed that creativity requires physical, social and moral courage the ability to be fully committed but also aware that one might be wrong (May, p. 12-35, 1975). Creative courage results in the discovery of new forms, symbols, and patterns on which one can build. He also believed that creativity sometimes involves conflict; it shifts our identity or our worldview. Creativity demands limits to maximize its potential (May, p. 114-120, 1975).
May believe when an art piece was viewed it elicited a creative response within the viewer. When we view a piece of art a new way of seeing is created because of our contact with it (May, p. 77, 1975). In his book Existence (1994) May discusses the influence that literature has had on the development of Existential Psychology. He demonstrates the point that the creations of artists help us recognize aspects of the human experience.
Abraham Maslow developed a theory of self-actualization. In this theory, a person progresses through levels of need satisfaction to arrive at continually higher functioning states of being (Maslow, p. 19-25, 1962). One of the characteristics of a self-actualizing person is creativity (Maslow, p. 24, 1962). Maslow believed creativity was an important area of study that had not been well addressed by psychologists. The impact of overly scientific mindset on the arts he describes through the following:
This makes it impossible in principle the study, for instance, of certain aspects of the abstract: psychotherapy, naturalistic religious experience, creativity, symbolism, play, the theory of love, mystical and peak experiences, not to mention poetry, art and a lot more (since these all involve an integration of the realm of Being with the realm of the concrete. (Malsow, p. 16, 1976)
Maslow’s theories have been used to support creativity studies from an organizational perspective as well as the role of creativity in the highly functioning adult (Maslow, 1959). Maslow also chaired Natalie Rogers masters thesis (Fuchs, 1956). Natalie became a prime mover of the Expressive Arts. This demonstrates his potential influence on, and support of, the Expressive Arts. Maslow’s work is used often in current arts research Fritz Perls did not pursue art-related studies directly; however, creativity is an essential part of the practice of Gestalt therapy. (Bry, 2004). It is likely his wife and co-founder of Gestalt therapy, Laura Perls, was more intellectually involved in the theoretical discussion of art in psychology as can be seen by her dissertation (Shane, 1989) Gestalt therapy entails a phenomenological and subjective approach that emphasizes moving people into the whole of themselves through synthesis not analysis (Perls, 1951). Gestalt practices emphasize fantasy and role playing and bear a resemblance to both ritual practices and the techniques of the Expressive Arts (N. Rogers, 1993).
Rogers believed that creativity was the hallmark of a highly functioning individual. This creativity would be exhibited through an open trusting involvement in life, a non-conformist attitude, and ability to live in harmony with one’s environment (Rogers, p. 319-320, 1989) He also believed that creativity is nurtured by a caring environment (Rogers, p. 127, 1980). Rogers work focused more on education and the group dynamic than the in depth study of creativity, which he discussed in relation to other topics of interest. Later in life, likely influenced by his daughter Natalie (Rogers, 2004), he began to believe that we had neglected both our interior and our creativity in psychological study (Rogers, 1989). Rogers work has been used to support non-pathological investigations of the arts.
The Expressive Arts use the creative processes as a therapeutic modality. Experientially based, the expressive art is a logical application of humanistic principles to the arts. The Expressive Arts were primarily developed by Natalie Rogers, Carl Rogers daughter. She began her work in the 1960’s with her Masters Thesis chaired by Maslow. N. Rogers, who spent her whole life immersed in the Humanistic movement due to her upbringing (Fuch, 1960), saw two deficits in Humanistic theory. One was the lack of feminist perspective and the other was the lack of use of creative processes in therapy.
She was later joined in the Expressive Arts movement by others such as Sean McNiff and Michael Samuels (McNiff, 1986, 1989, 1992). Their work appeared approximately 20 years after Rogers began her inquiry (Fuchs, 1956). Sean McNiff, associated with both Expressive Arts and art therapy, also made a valuable contribution with his book Art-based research. This book discusses alternative approaches to creating meaningful research through use of the arts but failed to justify its design outside of the Expressive Arts field. Other pioneers in this area include Halprin , Levine, Whitehouse, Adler, and Chodorow (Halperin, 1988a; Halperin, 1988b; Pallaro, 1999; Silverstone, 1997).