Spacing it: Expanding perception of spatial relationships through art therapy

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Orit Dudai


This article explores, in the context of art therapy, the perception of space as represented through maps. It focuses particularly on the way spatial perception is embodied, and worked through by the use of images which map and stand in for a physical space, such as the therapy room or a geographical location. Spatial perception is reviewed through the lens of brain research (Tolman 1973; O'Keefe and Nadel 1978; Maguire et. al. 2000, 2006), and approaches in psychoanalysis (Bick 1968; Meltzer 1975; Weddell 1975) and art therapy (Schaverien 1991; Meyerowitz-Katz & Reddick 2017). This investigation into spatial perception is then developed by comparing two individuals' uses of what I call ‘geographical images’, based on Meltzer's (1975) concept of personality organization as a geographic space. The first account is of maps representing the art therapy room created by an autistic child. These images seemed to embody a bizarre perception of space and transference relationships. The second is of an adolescent girl who created maps of her neighbourhood, which helped her to expand her ability to explore her environment as well as her object relations. Through comparing the two cases, the article aims to discuss the formation of mental space perception and to highlight the importance of making maps in art therapy as it expands—cognitively, conceptually and interpersonally—the quality and range of a distorted or limited perception of space.

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