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Art and Pride: Affirmative Art Therapy During Pride Month

Affirmative art therapy provides an outlet for self-expression during Pride.

Key points

  • Affirmative art therapy can be a beneficial way to express the broad array of emotions people feel during Pride Month.
  • Solo art projects can help cultivate individual expression and build a validating rapport between the client and their art therapist.
  • Group art projects can help foster positive LGBTQ+ community experiences, cultivating deep emotional connections.

Integrating affirmative therapy practices that empower LGBTQ+ people with art therapy that encourages self-expression is perfect for Pride Month. As a celebration of diversity and a call for social equality, Pride carries a lot of emotions. It can be a time of joyous revelry, advocacy, community connection, or a reminder that there’s still a long way to go.

It can be a shock to go from being an “invisible minority” to being thrust into the spotlight of public awareness, only to have the support vanish on July 1st. Some may be excited by Pride events, overwhelmed, or both simultaneously. Parties can test impulse control or challenge people who are still recovering from addiction. LGBTQ+ youth can feel lost or ignored by events catering only to adults. Older generations can feel lost or ignored in the new, up-and-coming scene. Indeed, a majority of the LGBTQ+ range of diversity may feel under-represented in events geared towards white gay men. And even if we set all this aside, a person may be very happy at Pride, yet still feel pangs of sadness if the love and acceptance of the present remind them of the intolerance and rejection of the past.

Yes, Pride events can be their own kind of emotional rollercoaster, and sometimes you just need to laugh, shout, or express yourself any way you can—and that’s what makes art therapy so powerful. There are many approaches to art therapy as there are many art forms, and countless ways to create, yet Pride Month is a great time to combine both solo and group projects to explore individual expression and community connection.

Individual Expression

Solo art projects can be self-reflective activities, a form of emotive catharsis, or both. They can really help to re-recenter you and your focus. What thoughts, feelings, hopes, fears, expectations, and disappointments are present in you? And how can you show them?

Art therapy doesn’t psychoanalyze your creation, and the only inferred meaning is that which you decipher. This makes art therapy accessible to everyone. To circumvent the tendency to judge one’s creation, art therapists will often introduce creative self-expression through forgiving mediums like crayons, finger painting, or modeling clay. This not only reconnects you to your playful inner child, but it also highlights the point of art therapy since it’s not about making pretty pictures or the next Mona Lisa. It’s about emotive exploration and allowing your imagination to explore, reconceptualize, and integrate your life experience.

Art therapy’s compassion-oriented approach aligns with the affirmative process, which is why it has shown to be very beneficial for LGBTQ+ people who are self-actualizing their identity.1,2

For those who have not disclosed their sexuality or gender because they’re not ready to, or because they’re living in an intolerant environment, Pride can have a lot of charge. It can be intimidating, alienating, or bittersweet should one vicariously appreciate it from afar.

This is where affirmative art therapy can provide an outlet for all the pent-up feelings one may have. Collage, in particular, is a useful way to cut out and piece together how one conceptualizes the self. A very simple exercise, for example, is to collage a box, gluing images on the outside that portray how you present yourself to the world, and gluing images on the inside that portray how you view your authentic self.

Yet even if you’re out and open, the crackling energy Pride brings every year may also need an outlet. Calming activities like drawing, painting, and coloring mandalas can help provide a moment of peace while energizing activities like splatter painting and dance can help provide catharsis. Once again, affirmative art therapy not only allows you to express your feelings as they are, but it also allows you to be seen and validated by a compassionate art therapist.

Community Connection

Group art projects like community murals, collaborative sculptures, and even group dance performances, can help further personal self-exploration via a positive LGBTQ+ social experience.1,3,4 This creative collaboration can help embolden your expressive voice, while also finding relatable parallels in other people, potentially reducing any felt sense of alienation and isolation. This is huge during Pride month, as those who experience a complex mix of emotions often feel out of place amongst the festivities. The truth is, Pride can bring out a very raw facet of authenticity, with all its aspirations and personal regrets. But since no one wants to be a downer, they don’t always like to talk about it.

Alex Stitt
Mural in Hilo, Hawaii.
Source: Alex Stitt

At its heart, Pride is a community event that emerged from a need for social justice. It began as a literal riot at Stonewall, and the gravity of that is not lost or forgotten. Yet people in the LGBTQ+ community, in particular LGBTQ+ youth, don’t always know what to do when they feel that underlying energy. Amidst all the exuberant Pride parties there are also vigils for the Orlando Nightclub Shooting; memorial quilts in remembrance of the AIDS pandemic; and free hugs to anyone disowned by their family of origin.

Group art projects take all this energy in the community, the hurt and the healing, and give it life and form. They reinforce the idea that your emotions, whatever, they may be, don’t actually set you apart from the community, but they connect you on a much deeper level.

Group art projects of this kind often require art therapists to step up in their role, since there are often deep themes of community grief, trauma, and sociopolitical oppression, giving rise to a deep need for social justice and equality.4,5,6 In this way, art therapists are encouraged to be active in their social change efforts, which makes sense on many levels.5,6 Art shifts how people think about themselves and the world around them since art has, and will always be, the great equalizer giving voice and representation when it’s needed most.

To find a therapist, please visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.

References

1. Pelton-Sweet, L. M., & Sherry, A. (2008). Coming out through art: A review of art therapy with LGBT clients. Art Therapy: Journal of the American Art Therapy Association, 25(4), 170-176.

2. Beaumont, S. L. (2012). Art therapy for gender-variant individuals: A compassion-oriented approach. Canadian Art Therapy Association Journal, 25(2), 1-6.

3. Wittig, J., & Davis, J. (2012). Circles outside the circle: Expanding the group frame through dance/movement therapy and art therapy. The Arts in Psychotherapy, 39(3), 168-172.

4. Addison, D. (1996). Message of acceptance: “Gay-friendly” Art therapy for homosexual clients. Art Therapy: Journal of the American Art Therapy Association, 13(1), 54-56.

5. Karcher, O.P. (2017) Sociopolitical Oppression, Trauma, and Healing: Moving Toward a Social Justice Art Therapy Framework, Art Therapy, 34(3), 123-128.

6. Hocoy, D. (2005). Art therapy and social action: A transpersonal framework. Art Therapy, 22(1), 7-16.

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