postscript to expressive arts group

January 12, 2011

community work

thank you to everyone who commented on my ‘expressive arts group’ post, and for your feedback.

initially when i started the group, there was a bit of curiosity and negativity around not being able to take the artworks home. the children were especially negative. it’s such a different model from what they are used to.

one boy drew a picture of himself as a bear eating his mother – how can i send that home? the art can be incredibly complex and layered, or a dot on the page, but it all has meaning and sometimes the child doesn’t want to talk about his art or has not yet uncovered the meaning for himself.

i am constantly surprised at how effective art is. i frequently don’t know what is going on in the children’s lives. a child will do an artwork that i am perplexed about, but i will go with the process. later, i will receive some information about what the child is experiencing in his family life, and that artwork that he did 6 months ago makes total sense. we have to let go of all our adult curiosity, the uncertainty of ‘not knowing’, and trust the process.

it took a bit of retraining for the children not to expect praise from me, and for my assistant not to give it. i always redirect the children with “more importantly, how do you feel about your art? what does your mind say? what does your heart say?

the feedback from parents is that the expressive arts group is helping their children, they don’t know how or why, they just know that it is. all of the children are there because they want to be, and they really enjoy it.


For more posts on expressive arts or art therapy, go to

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About hakea

groupworker, parent educator, therapist, mother of three boys.

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18 Comments on “postscript to expressive arts group”

  1. kloppenmum Says:

    Personally, I think praise is over-rated. I might blog about this myself in a day or two!


  2. asta199 Says:

    ooooh I am quite in awe of the fact that you do this because it is exactly what I plan to do once I have some early childhood experience behind me. Reading this just made me yearn for it all the more. Thankyou for being an inspiration.


    • hakea Says:

      doing the art therapy course was one of the best things i have done personally and professionally.

      i don’t have any art training, which would be an advantage at times. however, some of the artists i did the course with really struggled with their art needing to be aesthetic, when it shouldn’t matter what it looks like.

      new kids to the group also worry about the aesthetic. i knock this out of them by getting them to do lots and lots of scribble drawings. the kids who love control can’t stand doing this!

      art is so powerful.


      • asta199 Says:

        yes, I can completely understand that it would be a struggle. I think before I go and do a course I will have to think about my own art practice because I suffer from what I will call “expression anxiety”. Ironically, doing a Fine Arts degree really beat the ability to freely express myself out of me. I think this is because art is fundementally subjective, but must be assessed in order to complete the degree, resulting in a pretty unpleasent experience. Like I said on my blog…I finished painting at uni 4 years ago and have only now been able to pick up the medium again.
        It breaks my heart when I am teaching very young children and they already have an ingrained ideal of what art should or should not be, as this only serves to discourage them when they find they cannot create art which fits with this ideal.

      • hakea Says:

        my stepfather was an art teacher, and he says the same. he has entered his artworks in the Archibald prize, but he says that his best artwork was done when he was a child, a purple cow with pink spots, done when he was free to express him with innocence and wonder.

  3. kloppenmum Says:

    I’ve finally come to the conclusion that I am naturally choleric…the thought of giving up control, as a child, would have driven me insane. I will have to try some scribble drawings and see if I cope!


    • hakea Says:

      and to drive yourself completely bonkers, only scribble with a pencil or ball point pen.

      there is something called ‘the expressive arts continuum’. at one end of the spectrum are pencils or anything which implies control, and at the other end of the spectrum is clay or anything which is messy (finger painting!). so an art therapist may not give an unruly bunch of kids clay or paint, if she wants them to calm down.

      but kids sometimes need these materials to be able to process their issues. the kids i work with love finger painting and sand play the most, often i think to make up for a childhood which didn’t allow mess. it gets very wild when the kids combine sand and finger painting!!!!!!!


  4. phrogmom Says:

    even now (at 41) i am not sure i would want my mom to see any expressive art i made about my childhood. i think it is great that the kids are able to express themselves freely without worrying about who is going to see it!!


    • hakea Says:

      phrogmom, your comment prompted me to look up some of my old artwork, from five years ago when we were trying to process stepdaughter’s anorexia.

      very powerful pieces, and very private. when stepdaughter moved on i stopped doing art journalling. i’ve ordered that book you recommended, to get back on track.

      containment, emotional safety, and trust are my highest priorities with the group. such vulnerable children.


  5. kloppenmum Says:

    Colouring-in books have a lot to answer for!


  6. kloppenmum Says:

    The cow I drew as a pre-schooler had her udder under her chin…not quite sure what that’s all about!


  7. kloppenmum Says:

    …you’re the therapist, you tell me!


  8. blaxter Says:

    Hi Hakea

    Can you contact me on empatrick AT to discuss writing an article for me? Eleanor



  1. art activity – animals | hakea - January 23, 2011

    […] attempting this art activity in a group, you should read my posts on expressive arts group and its postscript to ensure that you have the requisite amount of emotional safety and containment in the […]

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