How can we develop a therapeutic relationship with art and museums during the pandemic?

You are born an artist, as Pablo Picasso once said. As you get older you probably become an art appreciator, not as a critic but as a person who appreciates art and maybe visits some museums while as a tourist. Then, you may become an art enthusiast. You visit museums, galleries, and exhibitions more often, you follow their accounts on Instagram, and you buy merchandise, clothes, and bags that have artworks printed on them.

Gradually, as your relationship with art grows you may become an art lover. You want to learn more about art history, you read about art, you continue to visit museums, galleries and exhibitions, and you may also be a member of the local museums. You are creating your own taste, not sure if you should trust it or not. You listen to the audio guides from the beginning to the end. You are in love with art!

In this love story there is no happily ever after. This is a relationship that is constantly evolving. My personal art story began right in this point. It was by investing a lot of my personal time in museums that I was transformed to an art person. Museums became a place to be, to reflect, to appreciate, to trust my own taste, to think, to dream, to deal with my everyday life’s problems, to introvert. I have seen this transition in a lot of people. It’s at this point that you are searching for a deeper relationship with art and museum.

As an art lover, you want to wear your most wonderful clothes to visit a museum, as an art person you just want to go there wearing your pyjamas. You just want to be there. Just to enjoy the being instead of the doing that overruns our lives.

As you go through these different phases of your relationship with art, you may become more and more demanding on your expectations of the museum experience, and you are welcome to do so. You’ve always enjoyed a nice guided tour but now you also need activities, workshops, classes, sessions that invite you to experience art differently. This is where my work as a museum art therapist comes in, along with others offering slow art sessions, art and mindfulness, art meditation, and even yoga in museums. Experiences that aren’t just about art, but are about you.

Museum art therapists do not show the art, they are not a guide, but instead they accompany the person on one’s own path inside the museum or gallery. They create the right conditions, to let a person gradually discover a personal and therapeutic look at art, which is a look within oneself.

A museum art therapist works individually or in groups, frequently collaborating with the other museum professionals to create museum programmes to suit different visitors. As an example, at the first episode of the second season of the For Art’s Sake podcast we can hear Claire Madge talking about autism-friendly museum programmes. For programmes such as these, a museum art therapist can play a pivotal role from inception to delivery.

Museum art therapy can suit individuals of any age or ability, and can be tailored to suit their needs. No previous artistic activity or specific knowledge is required. In these sessions we do not care about the artist’s story or what they wanted to say through their work. On the contrary, we are concerned with the personal connection of the viewer with the artwork and the stories that this relationship will whisper to the individual.

Art, in all of its forms, has a really important role in people’s lives and the lockdown periods have shown to the world that life without art can be incredibly difficult. This is why lots of museums are trying to stay in contact with their audiences through live guided tours, competitions, online sessions, and videos.

In my opinion we should not simply close museums during the pandemic but should reconsider their role in our societies. Museums can contribute to the psychological and mental healthcare of citizens. They are safe, public places which can help marginalised groups feel welcome and included. The openness of the spaces inspires the person to be open to oneself and to the outer world.

If we think of museums just as places that preserve, conserve, and exhibit works of art, then of course museums should be closed. But if we focus our attention on the visitors and the benefits that art and museums can offer to them, then museums should be open in a new way.

You may say that I am a dreamer, but I am not the only one!

Since I have started my own path on art therapy and museum education, I have realized the existence of amazing people working around the world that contribute to personal museum experiences. I recently undertook training on Slow Looking at Art, by Claire Bown from Thinking Museum, where I’ve learned about Limina Collective and their amazing work. And then I heard one of its members, Karly Allen talking about art and mindfulness in the second season of the For Art’s Sake podcast. I am so grateful to everyone working inside the museums and contributing to this new approach to museums.

Before I finish this blog I would like to give you a little key that could help you experience art in a more personal way. Firstly, I would like to ask you to act as an art person, regardless of which of the above categories you fall into. I am asking you that for reason alone. I want you to trust yourself, your eyes, your feelings, your emotions when you are in front of an artwork.

Take your time. Follow your eyes as they observe the artwork. Notice the thoughts and feelings that this piece of art provokes to you. Don’t rush; there is nothing more important than those moments that you’ve decided to spend with this object. And then you can ask yourself:

“What am I seeing?”

“What am I thinking about it?”

“What am I feeling?”

“What am I wondering?”

These four simple questions can guide you to a more personal experience of art. Don’t push yourself to feel something; this will only disconnect you from your feelings. Just notice what is there for you. Even nothing is already something.

And again, please trust yourself and act as an art person. You are already an art person, if you choose it to be. Yes, most museums in the world are closed now, but art persons don’t just stay still and wait, leaving art outside of their lives. You can always find your way to enjoy art. You can even create your personal “museum” in your house, a corner with the things that inspire you. It can be everything. A place just for you. And museums will soon be open again, let’s prepare ourselves for the best return ever.

Stefania Tsakiraki

Stefania Tsakiraki is Museum Art Therapist. As she says, Museum Art Therapy is a part of who she is and what she shares with the world, through Museum Art Therapy (online or onsite) sessions, Slow Art Appreciation and Art Meditation sessions, but also through writing. She writes articles for several sites. Since 2019 she has been travelling around Europe and creating her own book, which is a combination of text, talking about self-acceptance, love and forgiveness, with photos from special moments of visitors of 22 different museums in seven European Countries. You can learn more about Stefania and her work on her site, her Instagram account, or Facebook page.

For more topics and ideas around museum education, have a listen to our podcast here.

Photo Credits:

1: The Water Lilies — Clear Morning with Willows (1915/1926), Claude Monet, Musée de l’Orangerie, Paris © Stefania Tsakiraki_What I See in Art

2: The Big Port (1928), Herbert von Reyl-Hanisch, The Albertina Museum, Vienna © Stefania Tsakiraki_What I See in Art

3: From left to right, top to bottom: Self-Portrait (1926), Carel Willink; Self-Portrait with Hat and Veil (1938), Charley Toorop; Self-Portrait (1935), Edgar Fernhout; On the Terrace (1930), Nola Hatterman, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam © Stefania Tsakiraki_What I See in Art

4: The Water Lilies — The Two Willows (1915/1926), Claude Monet, Musée de l’Orangerie, Paris © Stefania Tsakiraki_What I See in Art

5: Acropolis Museum, Athens © Stefania Tsakiraki_What I See in Art

6: Left: The Enchanted Spot (1953), René Magritte, Right: Two Profiles (1928), Fernand Léger, The Albertina Museum, Vienna. The Batliner Collection © Stefania Tsakiraki_What I See in Art

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