David Hockney iPad Art

Those of you who know me know I am a Mac and not a PC. I admire Steve Jobs as much as Gandhi and like so many others, I wonder this week how I could be so sad about the passing of a man I did not know in person. The death of Jobs reminds me about not only the impression his life's work made on me, but also on the evolution of the arts therapies during the digital age.

In previous posts I have talked about the impact of digital technology on the healing arts and in particular, art therapy. Back in the late 1990s I wrote a book about "computer art therapy," the emerging notion that drawing and painting software had potential as media for therapy. At that time there were a handful of accessible art making programs and mostly associated with Apple computers, including MacDraw and MacPaint. Apple products quickly became the hardware and software of choice for those of us in the arts because of their aesthetic and intuitive qualities.

It intrigues me that I still own the iMac that I used to write that book in 1998 [and the iMac still works]; it's in the same office with its younger sibling, an eMac. And in the other office there is an iBook, a MacBook Pro that travels with me to my workshops and lectures, and a 27-inch desktop Mac that I use for writing, researching and making an occasional iMovie. On the breakfast table there's a Powerbook G4 next to the stack of morning newspapers and I just added an iPad2 to the family. Oh, and call me on my iPhone of course. Steve Jobs rewired this art therapist's brain.

Okay, I confess I am a geek and I married a MIT/Stanford geek who bought me my first Mac. My love affair with Apple has been steady [except for one moment when the iMac crashed and my husband found me sitting on the edge of our bed with a bottle of red wine, mumbling about throwing the computer out the window into the backyard]. Some of my first computer art therapy experiences with individuals with HIV/AIDS and homeless adolescents were made possible by early Mac platforms for drawing and image creation. I still have their artworks stored digitally on antiquated floppy disks and backed up on a terabyte hard drive.

Fast forward to the second decade of the 21st century when I now have endless possibilities for introducing digital tech into an expressive arts or art therapy session and infusing into intervention everything from music-making, image creation and even film production. Whether a MacBook, iPhone or iPad, a portable virtual studio is now available for use at the bedside of an oncology patient or at a clinic office desk. Even the Department of Defense is getting in the game, recently proposing the development of a digital graphic narrative program for returning military who are struggling with posttraumatic stress reactions. Jobs' impact on Pixar animation as well as the development of tablet technology and user-friendly, intuitive platforms certainly has had an influence on this first-ever DoD-driven art therapy initiative.

Honestly, many of my art therapy colleagues who consider themselves to be experts on art media have not yet caught up with the interface of digital tech with arts therapies, social media and communication. But what I do hope they will catch on to is the inevitable cultural rewiring that is taking place due to digital devices largely the result of Jobs' vision. Our clients are interacting with the world in ways I could not imagine at the start of my career-- they are now holding screens in the palm of their hands, measuring their worlds via gigabytes and terabytes rather than inches or millimeters, attuning to touch technology as a method for both communication and creativity, and expecting ubiquitous digital connectivity.

The Jobsian Experiment will continue to be played out in how we live our day-to-day lives as well as how we go about helping others through the arts therapies in the decades to come. But when I strip away digital tech from the equation, there is one thing Steve Jobs imprinted on my work that will always be with me in every client encounter. What is therapy but really a moment in time when we have the opportunity to help another individual "think different" and hopefully awaken to experiences of reparation and recovery. It's that profoundly complex, yet simultaneously simple act that makes not only a technological revolution possible, but also frees us to wake up to the creative possibilities that are game-changers in our own lives.

Cathy Malchiodi, PhD, LPAT, LPCC

©2011 Cathy Malchiodi


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