How Art Activity Shapes Identity

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How Art Activity Shapes Identity

How Art Activity Shapes Identity

Art making has provided individuals in creating a new identity through engaging their creativity.  There is an abundance of research on both the change in identity among the chronically ill and the effectiveness of therapeutic art, but so far little to connect the two. There is no question in literature that the self-identity of an individual is brought into question when faced with illness, but how can art help? Therapeutic art is a newer phenomenon that is strengthening as mental health is becoming more respected. Art enhances quality of life, brings communities together, and benefits one’s overall psyche.

Webster defines identity as “the fact of being who or what a person or thing is,” or the defining characteristic (Webster). A mother and daughter, Kaethe Weingarten and Miranda Worthen, have been active in literature about their illnesses. Weingarten has had breast cancer twice, and Worthen was born with a rare genetic disorder, Beckwith-Wiedeman Syndrome, that has impact on many organs. When discussing identity Worthen points out that when faced with chronic illness, one must include that illness into the understanding of one’s self. She says, “she experiences two identity positions and must ‘decide’ which one is active, or which one to activate, depending on the circumstance” (Weingarten). Often, people with illness can feel like a healthy person with an illness or a disabled individual.

In general, people often find themselves searching for their identity in early adolescence or middle adulthood. But those facing the end of life often find themselves searching for who they are and what their legacy could be. This process is seen as both confronting and rewarding. The effects of illness can be deliberating and often requires one to assume some sort of ownership for the illness, depending heavily on culture. In his article, Identity and Psychological Ownership in Chronic Illness and Disease State, Wally Karnilowicz states “health care professionals need to further embrace the psychological effects of illness and to be away of and create the psychosocial cultural environment best suited for enabling the development o a patient’s positive self-identity within psychological ownership” (Karnilowicz). Karnilowicz believes that the process for identity shaping needs to be collaborative, empowering, and motivating, all characteristics that art can provide.

Art therapy and therapeutic art are guided meditations facilitated by a therapist in order to improve the functioning or wellbeing of a client. The process makes use of art media, creative processes, and results to explore feelings, emotional conflicts, improve self-awareness, manage addictions and behavior, improve social skills and reality orientation, reduce anxiety, and increase self esteem in clients (ArtTherapy).  Art activity is used in a variety of settings and both in groups and private sessions. Art therapy has proven affective with diverse populations experiencing “developmental, medical, educational, and social or psychological impairment” and “trauma resulting from combat, abuse, and natural disaster; persons with adverse physical health conditions such as cancer, traumatic brain injury, and other health disability; and persons with autism, dementia, depression, and other disorders” (ArtTherapy). Art has been used to resolve conflicts, reduce negative stress, achieve personal insight, and provides an opportunity to enjoy art making.