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I define art-based research (ABR) as the use of creative expression in various art forms by the researchers, either alone or with others, as a primary mode of inquiry – in contrast to the more conventional use of artistic expression to generate data for examination by other disciplines.

(In response to why people not using art-based research)
What is unique and perhaps most challenging about art-based research is that it does not advocate set methods of inquiry.

~ Shaun McNiff


Expressive Arts Therapy (EXA) is an intermodal approach to the arts therapies. A sensory “modality” should be distinguished from an artistic “discipline.” In a way, all the arts therapies have an intermodal aspect; each draws upon diverse sensory and communication modalities; and often practitioners employ a variety of artistic disciplines as well. What is distinctive about EXA is that it makes intermodality into both its method and its philosophy. Expressive Arts Therapists are trained as specialist in the intermodal use of the arts in therapy. They learn how to help clients move from one mode of expression to another (“intermodal transfer”), when appropriate, and they use different forms of expression in responding to clients’ work (“aesthetic response”).
What distinguishes expressive arts therapy from the other arts therapies is not only its method but also its philosophical framework. EXA is based upon an aesthetic approach to therapy. It places the arts at the center of its theory and practice. This distinguishes it from more psychologically-oriented approaches.
…Art-making is not self-expression; but neither is it divorced from the experience of the maker. In fact, the value of the work depends on the extent to which it speaks to that experience. In this sense only, the product can be said to be judged by the process, i.e. by the impact it has on the client’s experience.
…Just as the work does not “mirror” the inner psychological state of the client (it does not reproduce it but transcends it in the direction of a new emergent meaning), so the response of the therapist is not a reproductive witnessing. In a work-oriented approach to expressive arts therapy, witnessing means responding, shaping a response through an aesthetic form. This giving and taking between client and therapist is in fact a specific version of normal human interaction; we never passively mirror or reflect each other but are always modified by the acts of the other. Human interaction always requires response. Aesthetic responsibility demand s that we respond to an art-work in the language of the arts, rather than through an interpretation which stems from another region of being.

In the field of EXA, we need to think about certain basic topics:

  • What does it mean to be human? This questions includes others, such as our relationship to our bodies, to others and to the world around us.
  • What is art and what roles does it play in human life?
  • Given our conception of what it means to be human, how do the arts work in our chosen field to bring about change (in therapy, education, coaching or social change)?

~ Steve Levine