In the home of the average American, you may find a stack of abandoned magazines sitting in a lonely pile. These magazines could have been good reading material at one point, but could there still be a use for them? This is an issue I saw first hand in my childhood home, my mother would read magazine after magazine and leave them in a stack in the corner of the room. After a recent visit with my mother, her lonely stack of magazines sparked my interest in looking into the therapeutic aspects of collage.
There are several traditional mediums in the world of art including paint, clay, pencils, etc.; However, one may be intimidated by traditional media, especially if they are new to art. When you’re feeling resistant to the idea of doing traditional art, collage could be an effective alternative.
According to Chilton and Scotti (2014), “collages are visual artworks that are created by selecting magazine images, textured papers, or ephemera; cutting or altering these elements; and arranging and attaching them to a support such as paper or cardboard” (p. 163).
With its ability to be used across different cultures, collage is an effective tool in the art therapy world because it allows the therapist to reach clients who are intimidated by the artistic process, can help with verbal enhancement, and can be easily altered to fit the needs of clients.
Since art therapists are using this tool to break the ice with their clients, wouldn’t that make collage-making a great tool to add to our lives? I invite you to think like an art therapist as I take you through the benefits of collage making and why you should add the practice to your lives.
So, what all will you find in this article? If you’re someone looking for a glimpse of happiness in your life, you will find beneficial reasons to incorporate collage into your life from an art therapist’s perspective. If you’re an art therapist, you will find reasons to incorporate collage into your client work, cultural considerations, and how collage falls under the Expressive Therapies Continuum.
In addition, there are multiple resources including collage activities and a fat reference list for my academic friends.
Brief History of Collage
Collage is an art form that has been used around the globe for centuries. According to Cran (2014), the famous poet Guillaume Apollinaire is responsible for the name “collage,” which derives from the French word coller, meaning to paste (p. 1). According to Gussak and Rosal (2016), paper collage developed as early as the twelfth century in Japan, where it had been utilized as compelling backgrounds for calligraphy (p. 163).
Leland and Williams’ (2001) research shows that in the medieval and renaissance periods, collage took on the form of embellishing religious imagery and adding fabric and paper to the family coat of arms, and flourished into scrapbooking and stamp collections by the nineteenth century (p. 1).
Collage made its way to the fine art scene in the early twentieth century with the works of Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque (Cran, 2014, p. 1) who used collage as an extension of their paintings (Gussak & Rosal, 2016, p. 163).
Collage entered into the art therapy world in the later twentieth century with some of the earliest collage techniques used by James Moriarty (1973) with female schizophrenic patients in 1973, finding that collage offered enough “structure to be supportive and enough freedom to develop autonomy” (p. 1).
Why Art Therapists Find Collage to be Effective
Collage is effective in art therapy because it can be used by clients who are normally scared of the art-making process. Vick (1999) stated that even the “very shy, resistant, or disoriented newcomer can participate” (p. 70). According to Stallings (as cited in Gussak & Rosal, 2016), collage can be used to provide structure to a session while also promoting freedom of choice and artistic expressions (p. 164).
Collage is also embraced by clients that are threatened by artistic ability. The less structured materials of collage allow one to cross the bridge from insecurity to creativity. Raffaelli and Hartzell (2016) stated, “collage seems to address concerns about failing, being judged, and not being in control, and to allow for the expression of strengths” (p. 25).
Collage is incredibly beneficial as a tool for verbal enhancement. As Forzoni, Perez, Martignetti, and Crispino (2010) pointed out, collage is great for stimulating a starting point (p. 47). Some clients may have a harder time verbalizing their feelings, or have an overall resistance to the art-making process. One can offer a glimpse of their inner-world through collage, and often have images that represent bigger themes going on in their life.
Vick (1999) stated that even a single image that's glued down with a title can become material for discussion “since all the choices in selection, placement, and text are those of the maker” (p. 70). Stallings (2010) found while working with clients with dementia, that collage provides a non-verbal mode of communication as well as expression beyond their verbal and cognitive abilities. (p. 140). Moriarty (1973) states that “collage is an effective means of communicating what is difficult or impossible to verbalize, as well as a first step toward verbal communication” (p. 2).
There are many examples of effective collage directives. One example of an effective collage activity is the “coping collage.” Cox (as cited in Gussak & Rosal, 2016) describes this activity as instructing the client to create a body map and surround the painful spots of their body with images that represent coping strategies (p. 456). Another way collage aides with coping is with grief. According to Robbins (as cited in Gussak & Rosal, 2016) “collage parallels the mourning and healing process as it is a process of construction, reconstruction, and rehabilitation” (p. 167).
Another example of an effective collage directive could be used with clients who are facing difficulties with separation and individuation. Malone and Rosal (1993) conducted a study to assess the separation and individuation of adult identical twins, and found that college is a beneficial assessment tool to measure the process of individuation and the movement towards wholeness(p. 22).
Malchiodi (as cited in Chilton & Scotti, 2014) states that collages are useful for those “who may be intimidated by the idea of making their own representational drawings and paintings” (p. 163). There are no expectations when it comes to collage making. According to Raffaelli and Hartzell (2016), there's no fear of making an image that could be misconstrued or judged (p. 25). Landgarten (1994) found collage valuable for the clients who “were resistant to art therapy” through the power of triggered comments and free associations that wouldn’t have happened without the collage images (p. 218).
The major drawbacks of collage have to do with general safety concerns in art therapy. Landgarten (1993) states that “all art therapists should be knowledgeable about the environment and the media to which our clients are exposed” (p. 26). It is important to fit the needs of the individual when it comes to art materials. Collage could be a useful intervention tool for those who have developmental disabilities. Bailey (as cited in Gussak & Rosal, 2016) states that if the art therapist needs to provide assistance (i.e. cutting, gluing), they must provide just enough help to the individuals to “feel empowered and achieve a level of independence” (p. 323). However, the safety concerns do need to be considered before engaging in the activity.
Glue and scissors seem to be the biggest drawbacks of collage. Should the client have limited fine motor skills, there is the alternative of using torn or pre-cut images to eliminate the need for scissors (Elkis-Abuhoff, 2008, p. 266). Baily (as cited in Gussak & Rosal, 2016) describes that individuals such as those with developmental disabilities require a safe work area due to the possibility of uncontrollable movements or risks of self-harm (p. 322).
Should a client have limited mobility or are in a hospital bed, a digital collage on an iPad or computer may be a better option. According to Malchiodi (as cited in Gussak & Rosal, 2016) digital media offers “another way to ‘cut, move, and paste’ without the sharps or Elmer’s glue” (p. 168). Work done on computers can have the same healing potential as traditional methods, and should a client have a sensitivity to the odor of glue that collage requires, digital collage could be a great alternative. According to Thong (2007), “collages created on the computer achieve the same goal without having to work with different adhesives to achieve these effects” (p. 56).
However, despite how flexible digital collage is, another drawback is that work done on a computer may not be able to be permanently erased, presenting confidentiality issues (Orr, as cited in Gussak & Rosal, 2016, p 195). It is an art therapist’s duty to protect the client during therapy, and Behnke (as cited in Orr, 2012) stated “therapists must understand the culture of online participation in order to make informed ethical decisions” (p. 237).
I invite you to start collecting those magazines you order instead of letting them pile up on your coffee table. Start collecting scraps and momentos that you pick up during the day. Start cutting and shredding pieces of paper to see how they can appeal to you. Just glue something to another piece of paper and see what you can create, and become aware of how your mood changes.
Scroll down to find some collage activities to get your inspiration flowing.
If you’re an art therapist, keep reading.
Cultural and Ethical Considerations For Art Therapists
When it comes to cultural and ethical considerations, collage is a safe form of art making granted the right materials are available. Landgarten (1994) makes it a point to use pictures from magazines that matched her clients’ cultures; In order to have pictures from all kinds of cultures, the art therapist should gather a variety of magazines and publications from different ethnic groups and languages in order to have a positive therapeutic payoff (p. 218). Susan Orr (1996) describes magazine photo collage as an “assessment and intervention instrument that can surmount cultural and racial biases while advancing the course of therapy” (p. 83).
There is also the consideration of how the collage images should be provided. Before even starting the session, Stallings (as cited in Gussak & Rosal, 2016) claims that one big consideration is if the client should pick the images out of the magazines themselves, or should the therapist provide pre-cut images (p. 164). Flipping through the magazine may provide a sense of freedom for clients, such as those in highly controlled environments or hospital beds (Foster, as cited in Gussak & Rosal, 2016, p. 164), while others such as those with ADHD may need a more distraction free environment.
Landgarten (1994) discovered that when the pictures are from their own cultural group, Hispanics find it easier to communicate their difficulties and Asian clients find it easier to share their secrets (p. 218). Asian Americans have the lowest rates of seeking out mental health services due to the stigma of receiving services (McGoldrick, Giordano, & Garcia-Preto, 2005, p. 273). he “Japanese do not necessarily believe that problems can be solved, nor do they think that talking about problems will bring about resolutions” (McGoldrick et al., 2005, p. 343). So in the first initial sessions, it may be beneficial to use collage with Asian clients due to its non-intimidating and non-verbal nature.
Collage Use in Reference to the ETC
Collage is a wonderful tool that can be used throughout the many components of the Expressive Therapies Continuum (ETC).
Collage can be used to engage the Cognitive component of the ETC. According to Hinz (2009), “the healing dimension of the cognitive component is the ability to generalize from one concrete experience to other situations.” One example of this problem solving skill is found in self-inquiry collages, where clients could look at discerning prosocial behaviors or setting appropriate boundaries (Chilton & Scotti, 2014, p. 169). Another example is found in cognitive training (CT) often used in the elderly. Pike (as cited in Gussak & Rosal, 2016) includes the example that a participant may be asked to create a personal meaning based on a collage where they select images based on their life, make visual connections between the images, and use contemporary shapes and colors (p. 274). Other examples of Cognitive Component collage techniques include topic-directed collage and pro and con collage (Hinz, 2009, p. 128).
Collage can be found in the Perceptual/Affective component of the ETC as well. There is an activity where the client is asked to make a collage of different faces and emotional expressions (Hinz, 2009, p. 111). Then the client is asked to write what they think is the antecedents to the expressions, and what the consequences will be. The activity engaged the Perceptual Component of the ETC because there was a focus on organization of the faces and visual form before the second set of instructions was given. The activity then moved into the Affective Component once the client was able to analyze the emotions what each face is thinking and doing (Hinz, 2009, p. 53).
Lastly, collage can also be used in the Symbolic component of the ETC. In the symbolic component of the ETC, clients realize “personal meanings within the larger universal symbols”
Kagin and Lusenbrink (1978) suggested that collage is symbolic because “magazine cut-outs present divergent images which the individual has to organize intuitively while constructing a collage” (p. 176). An example of a symbolic activity includes having the clients do a collage with pre-cut archetypal images (Hinz, 2009, p. 149). The client is encouraged to find identification through the symbolic images. Another activity includes having a couple do a have/need collage within the Gottman model to help identify and express needs through the pictures (Ricco, as cited in Gussak & Rosal, 2016, p. 225).
Although collage has a brief history in the practice of art therapy, it is a very diverse medium that is useful to art therapists and works well across different cultures. Collage finds its effectiveness in the art therapy realm through its non-threatening nature that those intimidated by the art process can grasp onto. Collage allows those who are uncomfortable with art the ability to reach their creativity without feeling judged. It allows clients to help verbalize their feelings and express themselves while gaining access to the underlying issues that brought them into therapy. It is a useful tool when working with clients across different cultures granted the appropriate magazines and images are available. Collage is also great for unblocking different components of the ETC, including the cognitive, perceptual, affective, and symbolic component, making it a versatile and effective tool for the therapist.
This medium can be easily adapted to fit almost any situation with a client. Collage is safe to use with clients of different limitations and disabilities with just a few simple adjustments. The biggest concerns with collage are offering pre-cut images vs allowing the client to pick the images themselves as well as the general safety concerns such as scissors and odors.
Overall, collage is a tool that every art therapist should be familiar with. It is a powerful technique that allows clients to ease into the art therapy process while developing insight on themselves. It is a great activity to use during a first session as a non threatening starting point with a client as well as throughout the therapeutic process (Gussak & Rosal, 2016, p. 169).
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