Magazine photo collage is Cool Art Therapy Intervention #10 and is really based on a medium more than a particular method. In art lingo, collage simply means "to glue," and is the assembling of different images or materials to create a new whole. It emerged as an artform in the early 20th century in the work of Picasso, Braque, and other artists, continuing through the present. One of the most famous photo collages and Pop Art classic, Just What Is It that Makes Today's Homes So Different, So Appealing, is a quintessential example from the art world of how found images from a variety of sources are used to generate something completely different from their original intent.
Art therapists have capitalized on collage as a medium of choice for interventions and with almost infinite variation depending on the directive given and materials used. I loosely use the term "magazine photo collage" in my work because magazines are the most popular material used, although books, junk mail, and photographs are sources for collage, too. And there are, of course, millions of digital images now available today on a Google image search. Because there are so many pictures to choose from, magazine photo collage could just as well be called "found image collage," a phrase that covers all the possibilities for picture-selecting.
Magazine photo collage is widely used by art therapists largely because it's a forgiving medium, especially for individuals who are intimidated by pencils, paint, or clay. In making a collage, you don't have to go through the agony of drawing something realistic and are spared the feeling of embarrassment that your pictures look like a 10-year-old drew them; this is welcome relief to most of my adult clients who bring this worry to initial sessions. It also doesn't demand an immediate commitment like a brushstroke across a canvas. In fact, until you glue the images to a surface, you can change your mind, experiment with composition, and add and subtract pictures until you get it right.
Therapists often use magazine photo images as a projective technique—that is, as a means to simply get an individual to tell a story in response to visual stimuli [note: I am not talking about projective tests used in evaluation of personality]. Helen Landgarten, a well-known member of the US art therapy community, developed a method she calls "magazine photo collage" using, for the most part, images of people found in magazines as the stimuli for storytelling. The field of phototherapy actually provides a much more detailed basis for the projective use photographs, including what can be learned from an individual's reactions to print and digital images. Judy Weiser, diva of the phototherapy field, refers to these as photo-projectives, a person's own unique responses to what is seen in a magazine or photo image [more on phototherapy in a future post].
I like to think of the process of magazine photo collage as using images to create a visual narrative that enhances the dialogue between client and therapist. It's what makes magazine photo or found images a "cool" way for clients to express themselves and for a therapist to prompt client communication via pictures. It can involve asking my clients to do something as simple as collecting pictures that catch their attention and arranging them on paper or creating a found image collage about a particular theme, such as "what would your life look like if you were in recovery" [or any of a thousand other themes, depending upon the goals of therapy]. In the 21st century, working with photo images also means inviting clients to find images on the Internet and introducing them to software or websites that provide ways to modify photos or found images and create compositions of pictures. Digital art therapy is, in part, the contemporary descendant of magazine photo collage, offering another way to "cut, move, and paste" without the sharps or Elmer's glue. It has made available a virtually limitless gallery of images that can be used to create that "picture that's worth a thousand words" in therapy.
While this series is not designed to be "self-help," I do invite you to visit two sites where you can learn more about collage—as a hands-on medium and digital art form—and try your hand at making your own collages. Art can't hurt you, but a good therapist can help you deepen your exploration of your self-expression and the images you create.
Polyvore [digital collage program with thousands of images from fashion and contemporary culture]
*If you missed the introduction to this series, I recommend that you read it to get the background for this post and learn more about the criteria for why this intervention is "cool."
@ 2010 Cathy Malchiodi, PhD, LPAT, LPCC
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