The relationship between figure and background: Towards a new theory of a social prism for analyzing the mechanisms of art in therapy

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Professor Ephrat Huss


‘Art helps take down barriers, in that the use of the imagination is the ability to put oneself in another’s this sense, art is moral, because empathy is the ultimate morality’ (Dewey, 1934. p.10).

Social theories are different from the psychological dynamic and humanistic theories much used in art therapy: Compared to psychological theories that assume that the problem is within the individual psyche, social theories assume that the problem is situated within the social systems that surround the individual, such as the ecological circles of family, community and state, or global systems of power. On a broader social level, then marginalized roles or positions create a lack of physical, symbolic, social, or other types of resources for solving problems (Minuchen, 1975; Gladding, 2002). The solution is to shift the roles within the system and to re-distribute resources. Marginalization stems from social and economic policies that create systematic discrimination and deprivation based on race, ethnicity, religion, or gender; and exacerbated by processes of immigration, war, and political instability, as well as general social disorganization and conflicting values within the social system (Foucault, 2000). The theory of empowerment assumes that all relationships are power infused, and that the ecological layers that comprise the socio-cultural context of the client’s reality can include different types of disempowerment and marginalization such as a racial, gendered, or ethnic lack of power (Patterson et al, 2009; Piercy et al, 1996).

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