It is almost impossible to say for sure who was the first person to ever “invent” art therapy

It is almost impossible to say for sure who was the first person to ever “invent” art therapy. Mainly just because art is something that people have been doing for years but it was just a matter of who label it with the title of Art Therapy and explained what that really meant. There are so many pioneers of art therapy who have added so many elements of what art therapy is and what its benefits are. It’s important to identify who the first pioneers were especially because that allows us to see the steps that were took so art could be legitimized as a real helping and healing tool.
It is important to start with one of the first people to refer to the therapeutic applications of art as art therapy; Adrian Hill. While being treated for tuberculosis, Hill suggested to his fellow patients that they should participate in art activities. Hill started using drawing as a way to occupy himself during his treatment in the sanatorium. It did not really began to start seeing the therapeutic effects it could have until it he started using it to help others. Hill ran art groups in 1942 within the sanatorium and this is when he really began to consider the therapeutic aspects of his art. “He was able to promote in each of the patients an appreciation of art and cure them of their prejudices as well as their bodily illnesses.” (Bush, 2017) He eventually proposed creating a program specially dedicated to art therapy where the patients in this sanatorium could go for the soul purpose of self-expression and release. He told the interested patients: “To be happily occupied is at all times a gift from the gods, and in a period of long convalescence, it is a positive saving graceā€¦ The Art germ once it becomes firmly planted in the mind and the heart, is far more difficult to dislodge than another germ with which you are all more familiar. Indeed the former germ can help enormously in banishing the latter bug”. (Bush, 2017) Hill was successful in creating spaces where people could heal in what where unconventional and unknown ways during that time.
Specially, Hill made sure that his art therapy activities were accessible to all abilities. For example, Hill encourage more novice artist to just start with doodling. (Bush, 2017) Hill believed that by starting with small activities that were low pressure would be a great way to build fundamental skills. One of the great things about this low stress environment, is that these small art projects helped patients increase their confidence no matter what their artistic abilities. Hill did a great job at addressing each patient by their own individual needs which is a great example of how therapist now should be going about their own practices.
Hill ended up writing a book title “Art Versus Illness” where he discusses much of his work as an art therapist. Hills work eventually caught an interest in the artist Edward Adamson who took Hill’s ideas and created studios where patients could “freely create art without comment or judgement from others.” (Art Therapy Credentials Board) Both of these artists focused on more unconventional therapy ways and wanted to focus more on art as self-expression rather than a psychological interpretation from a clinical professional.
Adrian Hill lead by example and showed just how beneficial art therapy can be as well as giving the practice an actual name. He started some of the first art therapy programs within institute as well as inspiring other artist to start their own programs. It is important to realize Hill’s work because he was one of the first stepping stones for all of art therapy milestones. Many artists at the time, like Edward Adamson, used Hill’s ideas to help grow their own and this is what every art therapist is doing now; expanding, growing, and finding new ways to add on to Hill’s initial ideas and findings with art as a therapy.
Another really important pioneer of the art therapy field is Margaret Naumburg. Naumburg is a 20th century psychologist who helped establish the discipline of art therapy. She eventually developed her own approach called dynamically oriented art therapy. Naumburg was born in New York City and was an undergraduate student at Barnard college. She mainly focused on speech therapy, child education, and music. She eventually ended up founding her own school known as the Walden school. (GoodTherapy, 2015) At the Walden School, Naumburg stressed the importance of “allowing a child to develop his or her identity by exploring natural abilities, or aptitudes, through creative processes such as performing and visual arts. Naumburg incorporated Freudian psychoanalytics, art, and music into her teaching methods, and she encouraged each staff member to see a psychoanalyst.” (GoodTherapy, 2015) Naumburg began referring to her work as art therapy in the mid-forties. Her work was based on the idea of using art to release the unconscious by encouraging free association. When discussing the topic of who the “founders of art therapy” are, Margaret Naumburg is usually the first to be mentioned. She was someone who really advocated for all the benefits of art therapy including diagnosing and treating many mental health conditions.
Like Hill, Naumburg also ended up writing her own book titled “Dynamically Oriented Art Therapy” in 1966. “Dynamically oriented art therapy uses a psychodynamic approach, influenced by Sigmund Freud. The practice emphasizes the role of the unconscious; Naumburg believed that art could enable unconscious feelings to come to the fore, just as psychoanalysis had been traditionally used to address the unconscious. She frequently used art to help clients both envision and resolve interpersonal conflicts, and argued that the client, rather than the therapist, should interpret the meaning of art.” (GoodTherapy, 2015) She also wrote other books titled “The Child and The World” in 1928, and “Studies of the “Free” Art Expression of Behavior Problem Children and Adolescents as a Means of Diagnosis and Therapy” which was based on her work that she did with children at the New York Psychiatric Institute.
One of the most important ideas from Naumburg that is still widely used by most art therapist is the idea of using art to release the unconscious. “She was recognized for her contributions to her field with the Ernest Kris Prize and was also a fellow of the American Psychological Association.” (GoodTherapy, 2015) Many therapist now lead by Naumburg’s example and make a point to let the patent interpret their own artwork. Naumburg’s theories of symbolic communication as an alternative to other forms of therapy has laid the foundation for so many art therapist today. Naumburg was able to push boundaries and come up with her own new and inventive ways of going about using art as a mirror for her clients emotions.