Critical Perspectives on Art Therapy

This event took place on Wednesday 8th February 2023 at 18:00 to 19:30 GMT / 13:00 to 14:30 EST / 10:00 to 11:30 PST.

 Art therapy is a field that both sits uneasily within histories of art and is largely a conspicuous absence within critical medical humanities. Comprising three papers and a conversation with  Leah GipsonSuzanne Hudson and Elizabeth Otto, this event engages in historicizing and analyzing the practices and processes of art therapy, critically probing the early development, professionalization, underpinnings, and assumptions of the field.


Leah Gipson (School of the Art Institute of Chicago), “Georgette Seabrooke Powell and the Legacy of Harlem in Art Therapy.”

Leah Ra’chel Gipson is Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Art Therapy and Counseling at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She is a faculty member at the Center for Religion and Psychotherapy Chicago, and a board member for A Long Walk Home (ALWH), an arts-based organization led by Black women and girls that empowers young people to end gender-based violence. She helped to establish ALWH’s Girl/Friends Leadership Institute in 2009. As an interdisciplinary artist, Leah facilitates hyperlocal, community projects that engage Black culture and imagines critical “call and response” environments. She explores race and gender through family history, media, and archives using image, sound, textile and installation. In 2016, she received the Propeller Fund Award for The Rectory, an Austin neighborhood artist studio co-op. Her work has been featured at the South Side Community Art Center, Jane Addams Hull House Museum, the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, Project Row Houses, and Nawat Fes.

Gipson describes the legacy of the Harlem Renaissance in the early formation of the art therapy profession in the United States through a discussion of the art of Georgette Seabrooke Powell, an African American art therapist and woman artist. The presentation questions the underrepresentation of Seabrooke Powell in art therapy history and proposes more research on the Harlem Renaissance, an international political art movement that shaped Powell at the time of significant institutional changes that led to the formation of the field. 

Suzanne Hudson (University of Southern California), “Notes on Re-Training.”

A Los Angeles–based art historian and critic, Suzanne Hudson is professor of art history and fine arts at the University of Southern California. A longtime contributor to Artforum, and contributor to international exhibition catalogues and artist books, she is the author of books including Robert Ryman: Used Paint (MIT, 2009), Agnes Martin: Night Sea (Afterall/MIT, 2017), and Contemporary Painting (Thames & Hudson, 2021). Hudson’s work has been supported by the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts (CASVA), Creative Capital | The Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, the Dedalus Foundation, and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, among others. She is currently at work on Better for the Making: Art, Therapy, Process, a study of the therapeutic origins of art-making within American modernism. With Tanya Sheehan, she is also co-editing Modernism, Art, Therapy. 

In this talk, titled “Notes on Retraining”, I am offering an experimental, first-person text that honors the confusions and contradictions born of my “retraining” (as an art historian and writer studying art therapy in a graduate MFT program), and the positionality of the subject of historical research within the critical medical humanities. 

Elizabeth Otto (University at Buffalo (SUNY)), “Bauhaus Teaching as Art Therapy in Friedl Dicker-Brandeis’s Work with Children.”

Dr. Elizabeth Otto is professor for modern and contemporary art history at the State University of New York at Buffalo. She holds a BA from Oberlin College, an MA from Queen’s University, and a PhD from the University of Michigan. Otto has published widely on issues of gender and sexuality in the art, design, photography, and visual culture of early twentieth-century Europe. Otto’s books include Haunted Bauhaus: Occult Spirituality, Gender Fluidity, Queer Identities, and Radical Politics (2019), winner of the Northeast Popular Culture Association’s 2020 Peter C. Rollins prize, and Bauhaus Women: A Global Perspective (2019), co-authored with Dr. Patrick Rössler. She has been awarded fellowships by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts, the Getty Research Institute, the National Humanities Center, and, during the current academic year, the Gerda Henkel Foundation.

Conventional narratives of the Bauhaus’s global imprint tie it to the development of mid-century modern design and the rise of a progressive art pedagogy. In this talk, I link it instead to a largely ephemeral ethics of care and argue that the movement’s lasting significance lies as much in the healing capacity of its methods as in the style and functionality of its objects.

I focus on the work of Bauhaus member and Montessori-trained teacher Friedl Dicker-Brandeis who, in the face of the inhumanities of National-Socialist rule and the Second World War, drew on her Bauhaus and Montessori methodologies to nurture and teach children. Dicker-Brandeis wrote about a kind of art therapy avant la lettre, and she practiced it with hundreds of children in the Theresienstadt ghetto and concentration camp, where she captured the face of one of these children in a watercolor before being deported to her death at Auschwitz. Dicker’s therapeutic practices lived on when one of her students, Edith Kramer, emigrated to the US and helped to found the art-therapy movement.[1] In revisiting this Bauhaus member’s work in light of scholar Joan Tronto’s charge to take seriously “values of caring—attentiveness, responsibility, nurturance, compassion, meeting others’ needs,” I argue that the movement’s significance lies as much in the healing capacity of its methods as in the style and functionality of its objects.


[1] Edith Kramer, Art as Therapy in a Children’s Community (Springfield, Ill.: Charles C. Thomas, 1958).

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