Writing and Art – Therapy and Resistance

Ruth HartleyArt Process, Creativity, Visual Arts, Writing ProcessLeave a Comment


8 drawings are arranged on the gallery wall they show a woman with 5 arms, 5 breasts each containing a drawing of a child. She has wings but is rooted to the earth. Her head is that of Medusa and she holds scissors, a gun, a thread and a lead attached to a dog who is biting her thigh.

Charcoal and mixed media drawings on cotton rag paper titled “The ‘true’ History of my Body” by Ruth Hartley

“Corpus”, my art installation was shown at Peleyre in September 2016. Its theme may be summed up as the search for the spirit in the flesh.

It was well received which pleased me no end as my work is sometimes regarded as challenging and unconventional. I always hope that my art will be the start of a conversation between me and those who come to see it and even if they don’t like it very much I’m normally relaxed about that. As a writer and artist I am used to rejections though never indifferent to them but there was one response to the exhibition that rocked me back on my heels. It was from someone who runs a gallery with a great deal of sophistication and expertise.

“Your art is your personal therapy,” she said.


The image shows a hole embroidered with red thread in a hessian hanging. Through the hole is a suspended figure in outline of a woman's body also in hessian

www.woman or Spiderwoman mixed media installation on hessian by Ruth Hartley

I didn’t think it was a question and I gathered that art as therapy didn’t rate for her. I hadn’t thought of my art as therapy before. By the time I had considered the question fully she had moved away and I was still trying to articulate my ideas.

There were several things I teased out of this incident with regard to making art and of course, to writing a story because like many creative people I do both.


A very simple ungendered drawing of a childlike body on transparent paper allows a glimpsed image bbehind it of a mythical woman's body

Line and wash charcoal drawing on transparent paper of spirit or soul by Ruth Hartley

If there is a level at which all creative activity is therapeutic that seems fine to me but that isn’t the end or the point of it all.

Art is transformative. Okay—so therapy is transformative also, but therapy is personal and private, whereas art moves away from its maker into a communication with other people that isn’t just about shared pain. I remember understanding that personal experience underpins political action. My art and my writing are not detached from my life they arise out of it. Like political action they are about resistance—they are a fightback—a way of claiming power. They are art and literature, however, so they have to work as art and as literature.

They need to be as good as I can make them.

They have to be at another level to therapy.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.