University of Derby, 2017

Exploring Unspoken narratives: Using Reflexive Art Practice as an Investigative Tool

Association of Medical Humanities

Exploring Unspoken narratives: Using Reflexive Art Practice as an Investigative Tool

In many ways, despite working in the human services, the services themselves expect automaton-type function, for they are concerned with […] creating systemised human machinery models to achieve targets […] Reflection, conversely, is hard work. It involves confrontation of ourselves and our situations, and the problems we encounter when we do this.(1)

In both my art practice and capacity as an art psychotherapist the use of art-making as a place for expressing, holding and reflecting on subjective feeling states has been fundamental. This offers a creative space for containing uncertainty and ‘not-knowing’ and for connecting me to aspects of experience where words fail to give form and meaning – for myself and those with whom I work. The materials, processes and products of art-making occupy ‘as if’ and ‘what if’ spaces that operate between self and other, artist and viewer, objective and subjective experience, simultaneously holding complex layers of meaning. This offers scope for imagination, wondering and speculation which, in turn, may provide surprising insights into unspoken aspects of experience that lie beneath the surface of conscious awareness.

As a form of documentation which captures sensory, subjective experience, the material and aesthetic qualities of an artwork may continue to ‘affect’ and ‘reflect’ for many years after its making. Art-making processes and products have a reflexive dimension – they make you think about your situation – offering multiple perspectives and ongoing opportunities for re-examining our relational selves, broader aspects of the human condition, and the socio-political, economic and cultural contexts in which we live and work. Drawing on examples from art psychotherapy and my own art-based research I explore the use of reflexive art-making processes as a means of examining and understanding experience through an investigation both by and of myself.


1    McIntosh, Paul, Action Research and Reflective Practice: Creative and Visual Methods to Facilitate Reflection and Learning, Abingdon: Routledge, 2010, p. 28.