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Art Therapy: Found Objects and Nontraditional Materials

by Lauren Fallat, MA LPC ATR-BC

The beauty of art is that it is limitless in possibility and inclusive of such varying materials and processes, ways of constructing, deconstructing, adhering, revealing, concealing, containing, unearthing and becoming. In art therapy, we have the innate ability to incorporate personal items, such as objects and images that inspire us or affect us on some deeper level, or seemingly insignificant items into our artworks to produce a meaning all of our own.

For example, one might incorporate an older book and alter its pages to create a visual narrative or thematic expression of one’s choosing. One might incorporate collected items, such as stamps, buttons, rocks, sea shells, fabric pieces and or glass pieces into an artwork to add layers, textures, meaning, or to evoke a sensation or emotion. A non-traditional material might include an item that has a certain functional use, such as a paper bag for holding food items, that is then utilized to function in a different way, such as being transformed into a hand puppet. Sponges may typically be used for cleaning, and yet they can function just as easily as a tool for creating textured markings with paint. For younger children, it may be interesting to explore the use of sandpaper and chalk, food coloring and whipped cream and nature objects as unique sensory experiences within the art room.

Oftentimes, we can combine mindful exploration and discovery with our creativity to inspire a unique creation in the art room. One might be inclined to intentionally search for and discover household items or nature objects that may be interesting or uncanny to work with in an artistic way. At times we might challenge ourselves to use forks to paint with or cooking spices as fabric dyes. To intentionally challenge the traditional functions of everyday objects and items, we are simultaneously challenging the limits and restrictions that we place on our own potential for transformation and growth. Often, we can limit ourselves based on our ‘productivity’ or ‘achievements’ and struggle with seeing ourselves from a different perspective. To see a fork as a paintbrush rather than just an eating utensil, for example, allows us the opportunity to explore more than one aspect of our identity.

The act of discovery seems to enhance our sense of joy by reminding us that there is much to uncover, to learn and unlearn, and to seek in the world around us. To discover this joy in what we already have is a truly profound experience. To come across an item that we may have overlooked and to bring it to life in a new way, to see it with fresh eyes- this is the power we hold within us- to find inspiration that motivates and encourages us to experience what life has to offer.

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