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Shaun McNiff – How Art Heals: Whole Art Expression and Going with the Grain of Nature

December 6, 2021

We had an inspiring, engaging time with Shaun McNiff, who created the first graduate program in expressive arts in the world, pioneering a vision of “Whole Art Expression”. Over 90 people registered from around the world! He shared an illuminating PowerPoint highlighting the beginning of expressive arts in the 1970’s– with images of art therapy at Danvers State Psychiatric Hospital and its innovative partnership with a prestigious community art gallery where Lesley students (including Laury Rappaport) and faculty (Shaun) integrated all of the arts in therapy. It was amazing to see a glimpse of the transformation that people living in the hospital, some for 25-50 years, underwent as they engaged in the arts in such an enriching community environment.

Shaun went on to teach incredibly memorable lessons, including:

  • Methods of engagement such as: the movement basis of expression, the significance of simplicity and authenticity in quality expression, creating with objects from nature, and the use of digital media

  • How to access the depths of artistic expression with the most elemental, simple gestures and organic actions

  • Demonstrating how to channel resistances, inhibitions, and doubts into creative and healing expressions

  • Illustrating environments and communities that support the creative expression of others, and how to create such settings

After, participants at the Live Zoom meeting engaged in a rich dialogue with Shaun– asking questions and sharing their reflections and ideas. Our hope is that seeing, listening, and hearing these pioneering stories from the expressive arts will continue to nourish the unfolding of the arts in healing (branches)– as they continue to deepen and spread around the world (wings)!

A couple highlights from participants:

"[I enjoyed] Hearing from Shaun, hearing his perspective based on his enormous history with this work, and hearing (and feeling) his passion for his vision of this work in the future. "
"Can we please have another teleconference with Shaun? I would like to hear more about how he sees the future of this work evolving in such a way that we can reach vastly more people, create greater access to the work for all people, especially those undeserved communities."

About Shaun McNiff:

Shaun McNiff is author of Imagination in Action: Secrets for Unleashing Creative Expression; Trust the Process: An Artist’s Guide to Letting Go; Art as Medicine; Art Heals; Depth Psychology of Art; Integrating the Arts in Therapy; and other books. His writings have been widely influential and translated into many languages; he has lectured and taught throughout the world.

Shaun McNiff is the recipient of numerous honors and awards, including the Lifetime Achievement Award of the Journal of Applied Arts and Health for his leadership in advancing art as research, and an Honorary Life Member Award from the American Art Therapy Association. He established the integrated arts in therapy and education graduate training programs at Lesley University from which the field of expressive arts therapy emerged– and in 2002 Lesley appointed him as its first University Professor. His lifework is committed to furthering universal access to artistic expression as a source of individual community well-being and understanding.


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