How traditional societies understood the therapeutic role of art, and what educators and therapists today can achieve with it.
“Art for art’s sake” is the famous translation of a French slogan that saw art as being an autonomous thing that has no other purpose or aim but to be for itself. Philosopher Alain de Botton argues, in the book “Art as Therapy”, that this slogan has in fact held art in the Western civilization back from expressing its full potential. However, the use of art for therapeutic purposes has arguably always existed in Indian society. It has existed in the form of the many hundred festivals that Indians celebrate, restoring to ordinary life a rhythm and celebration. Historian Mircea Eliade had written that festivals revert us to the mythic time of origin, and that “it is sacred time that makes possible the other time, ordinary time, the profane duration in which every human life takes its course.” And so it is with art therapy – as it seeks to create a space where happiness can fill us for a while, making possible the more difficult times. In H.G. Wells’ phrase, it serves as a Door in the Wall.
A growing number of individuals today are exploring the potential of art, particularly to enable children with autism to find an anchor. In this article on Creative Yatra, I speak with one such facilitator, who begins by saying that the use of art for therapy has actually always existed in traditional societies.