The Jakarta Post
It is in the history of fine art that the most celebrated artists of all time were troubled in social interaction as a result of their different perceptions of the world.
Vincent van Gogh and Salvador Dali, to name just two, were known much later to be suffering from mental illnesses but art became their channel to reach out to society.
This therapeutic method was first used to expedite the recovery of trauma victims after World War II in hospitals in Britain, a method that was later adopted by the Americans because of its success.
On American soil, this therapy was expanded by two art educators, Edith Kramer and Margareth Naumburg, to be integrated with medical treatment in the Veteran Affairs New York Harbor Healthcare System.
Scientific studies on expressive therapy were soon embarked upon to examine the psychological nature of art.
'There have been questions on how art could cut the time for healing. It was later found out that being in hospital added stress to the patient as a result of being away from family, work and the thought of paying the hospital bills afterward. Art helped in relieving the tension,' said Monty P. Satiadarma, the first certified Indonesian art therapist in clinical psychology, whose mentor was Robert E. Ault, who held a Master of Fine Arts degree and co-founded the American Art Therapy Association.
Monty was educated in the leading specialty psychiatric hospital of the Menninger Foundation in Topeka, Kansas, which developed inventive therapeutic methods.
The foundation has since moved to Dallas. Monty said that neuroscience found evidence of a relationship between art and the human limbic system, the brain.
'When we draw or visualize something, we actually recollect memories and re-experience emotions that connect to the hypothalamus,' he explained.
The hypothalamus is an important area of the brain that links the endocrines and the nervous system, helping to control the pituitary gland particularly in response to stress.
According to Monty, art, especially the visual arts, trigger the association process between memories and emotions and the values the person believes in.
As a result art helps to release pleasant, calming serotonin and oxytocin hormones.
Even if the artistic results appear horrifying for others to look at, according to Monty they create the same metabolism effect on the painter as they relieve the tension as the person shares memories and emotions.
But, as the results rely on the kind of association coming out, can art always be therapeutic?
'Not always without clinical psychology intervention,' Monty said.
This is where art therapists step in to diagnose mental conditions and to alternate the way the person channels their emotions.
'If a patient tends to paint flames, an art therapist could suggest the patient paint candlelight instead,' said Monty, explaining that different painting techniques also have different psychological effects.
'You cannot allow someone with an anxiety disorder to color an object repetitively because it may increase stress.'
The professor of Tarumanegara University in Jakarta leads the teaching of art therapy at the postgraduate program of psychology studies, in which students were required to master arts and to take on clinical patients.
The Tarumanegara Art Therapy Community is currently holding a series of exhibitions and seminars on different topics through to April at the Oasis Heritage Restaurant on Jl. Raden Saleh, Central Jakarta.
Themed Anganku ke Sana (Places to Go), the art therapists exhibited their works in January side-by-side with the works of their patients and of the community of Bipolar Care Indonesia.
Two paintings in particular on display, done by a patient in the early period of treatment, depicted the patient's imagination of hell.
The painter was a Balinese who had adult schizoid personality disorder and was living at Panti Sosial in Kedoya, West Jakarta, the Jakarta administration's official rehabilitation home for the homeless and other less fortunate people.
'I took him on as a patient and he currently lives as a painter back home in Bali,' said Annisa Prameswari, who was completing her postgraduate degree.
Unlike other patients who hide their identity in their works, Anindhita Lakshmi Ardhanarishvara, 27, enjoyed seeing her works included in the exhibition although she would only start her therapy in February.
While making the abstract series of paintings, titled Cotton Candy and Flower Bursts, she said she let go of the baggage she had carried.
'I didn't plan the paintings to be like these. I splashed paints on the canvas and I felt calm afterward,' said the student of interior design and who has been diagnosed as bipolar.
For most clinical cases, according to Monty, the patients are required to take regular medication.
'Art therapy is not a curative method but it promotes the improvement of well-being and personal development.'
' Photos by JP/Tertiani ZB Simanjuntak
Tarumanegara Art Therapy workshop and exhibition
Venue: Oasis Heritage Restaurant, Jl. Raden Saleh, Central Jakarta
Romantic Garden exhibition
The Art of Love workshop
Reflecting by Mandala exhibition
Art for Balancing workshop
The Next Artist exhibition
Mirroring Art Creation workshop
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