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Patterns Across Cultures: Incorporating Art History into Pattern Making in Art Therapy

by Lauren Fallat, LPC LPAT ATR-BC


One of the many techniques used in art therapy is pattern making, which can be a powerful tool for promoting self-awareness and personal growth. Patterns are visual representations of repeated shapes or forms, and they can evoke feelings of harmony, balance, and order. When used in art therapy, patterns can be used to help individuals explore their emotions and find new ways to express themselves. Incorporating art history of pattern making into art therapy can provide a deeper and more meaningful context for individuals to explore their creative expression.


By exploring the history and significance of patterns in different cultures and artistic traditions, art therapists can help clients connect with their own personal and cultural histories, and deepen their understanding of the creative process. In this blog post, we will explore the benefits of incorporating art history of pattern making into art therapy, and provide practical tips for using this approach in your own art practice.


The use of patterns in art and design is a practice that dates back thousands of years and can be found in cultures around the world. From intricate geometric patterns in Islamic art to colorful textiles in South American cultures, patterns have played an important role in the visual traditions of many societies.


Ancient civilizations, such as the Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans used geometric patterns to decorate pottery, textiles, and architectural elements. In the Middle Ages, Islamic art became known for its intricate geometric patterns, which were often used to decorate mosques and other religious buildings. During the Renaissance, artists like Leonardo da Vinci and Albrecht Dürer began to incorporate patterns into their works, using mathematical principles to create geometric designs.


Here are some examples of the art history of pattern making from different regions around the world:


  1. Islamic art: Islamic art is known for its intricate geometric patterns, which are often found in tilework, textiles, and architecture. Islamic artists believed that the use of repeating patterns and shapes reflected the order and unity of the universe.

  2. African textiles: African textiles are known for their bold, colorful patterns, which are often inspired by nature and traditional symbols. Many African cultures use textiles as a form of communication, with certain patterns representing specific meanings or messages.

  3. Native American pottery: Native American pottery is often decorated with intricate patterns, such as spirals, triangles, and zigzags. These patterns often reflect the natural world and are used to tell stories or convey important cultural symbols.

  4. Japanese textiles: Japanese textiles are known for their delicate and intricate patterns, which are often inspired by nature and traditional Japanese art. Patterns in Japanese textiles are often symbolic, with certain designs representing specific plants, animals, or seasonal changes.

  5. South American textiles: South American textiles are known for their vibrant colors and bold geometric patterns, which are often inspired by the natural environment and traditional cultural symbols. Textiles are an important form of artistic expression in many South American cultures, with many designs representing important cultural beliefs or stories.


There are many different ways that patterns can be incorporated into art therapy. For example, an art therapist might ask a client to create a series of repetitive patterns using different materials, such as paint, markers, or collage materials. Or, an art therapist might guide a client through a mindfulness exercise that involves creating a pattern while focusing on their breath or other bodily sensations. Incorporating art history of pattern making into art therapy can provide a rich and meaningful context for clients to explore their creative expression in an alternative way. Here are a few ideas for incorporating art history into pattern making in art therapy:


  1. Explore different cultural patterns: Art therapists can introduce clients to the history and significance of patterns in different cultures, such as Islamic art, African textiles, or Native American pottery. This can help clients connect with their own cultural heritage or explore new artistic traditions.

  2. Study the work of artists who use patterns: Art therapists can introduce clients to artists who use patterns in their work, such as Henri Matisse, Gustav Klimt, or Yayoi Kusama. This can help clients see how patterns can be used to convey emotion, tell a story, or create a sense of movement or depth.

  3. Use historical patterns as inspiration: Art therapists can provide clients with historical patterns or designs as inspiration for their own artwork. For example, clients could create their own version of a medieval tapestry or a traditional quilt pattern, or they could explore the use of geometric patterns in Islamic tilework.

  4. Connect patterns to personal history: Art therapists can help clients explore their own personal history through the use of patterns. For example, clients could create a quilt or other textile that incorporates patterns inspired by their family heritage or personal experiences.



One of the benefits of using pattern making in art therapy is that it can be a meditative and calming activity. Creating repetitive patterns can help individuals relax and focus their attention, which can be especially helpful for those who struggle with anxiety or stress. In addition, pattern making can be a nonverbal way for individuals to express themselves and communicate their feelings. Sometimes, it can be difficult to put our emotions into words, but creating a visual representation of those feelings can be a powerful tool for self-expression and self-reflection.


Another benefit of using pattern making in art therapy is that it can help individuals develop a sense of control and mastery. Creating patterns requires focus and attention to detail, and the act of creating something beautiful and intentional can be empowering for individuals who may feel helpless or out of control in other areas of their lives.


Overall, pattern making is a versatile and effective technique for promoting self-awareness and personal growth in art therapy. Whether used as a meditative practice, a tool for self-expression, or a way to develop a sense of control and mastery, patterns can be a valuable addition to any art therapy practice.


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