Knowledge Bank

Art for Heart's Sake

We’re not being allowed to see the pictures yet, and even its deep underground location is currently being kept secret, but there’s great excitement here in the UK, and especially in Wales, about the oldest piece of rock art yet to be discovered in the British Isles.

The rock somewhere on the Gower Peninsula apparently shows the faint scratching of a reindeer with a spear in its neck, and it’s dated to around 14,000 years ago, during the last Ice Age. (It’s not the one above, by the way, which is even older and from the Chauvet caves in France, dating to around 35,000 years ago.)

Classic reindeer design

Experts are also studying other marks etched into the rock below the speared reindeer.

“This drawing was done with the right hand by somebody using a piece of flint who has drawn a classic reindeer design,” said Dr George Nash, an associate professor at the University of Tomar in Portugal, who stumbled upon the prehistoric find.

"It is very, very exciting!"

But although this Welsh etching is extremely old, it is not the oldest on Earth. The earliest attested cave art comes from the Blombos caves in southern Africa and at 74,000 years old, it includes geometric designs.

Just this one find alone instantly smashed the paradigm about Stone Age cave men being ignorant savages. In fact, the term ‘cave men’ is barely used anymore by people in the know ~ not least because our earliest ancestors rarely lived inside caves which they regarded as sacred spaces and used only for ritual activity.

Art and health

The importance to holistic health and general wellbeing of ritual activity, where the sacred is invoked and evoked, has become almost lost to us today, although shamanic healers are bringing back some of it. It’s interesting to also see the importance of art to our earliest ancestors ~ whose communications were much more right brain, image-based than left brain, word-based ~ and other health practitioners are able to help plug that gap today, such as art therapists.

So what is art therapy? Well, it’s a type of psychotherapy which helps people to express themselves and their emotions through the use of various art materials. In fact, this expression of their art ~ whether it’s a drawing, painting, collage or sculpture, is the primary form of communication between the client and the art therapist, making it very useful for people who have difficulty expressing themselves for whatever reasons.

The clients themselves are not expected to have had any previous artistic experience, nor are they expected to produce masterpieces. But the art therapist will be highly trained in this field, and will usually have a degree in Art and have completed a Postgraduate Diploma in Art Therapy.

Creative communication

Art therapy works in two ways: Firstly, it is used as a direct form of ‘therapy’ for the person involved — in that being creative and artistic can be both relaxing and satisfying, thereby promoting emotional well-being and mental health. Secondly, it is used as a form of communication.

Art therapists are trained to recognise the messages being depicted, so that they can determine the clients underlying thoughts and feelings and help the client to have a better understanding of themselves.

Art therapy is useful in a number of situations where the client would usually find it difficult to express themselves verbally, either because they do not have the mental capability, or because they have an emotional issue which makes it too painful to talk about, or they simply are not very good at expressing themselves.

However, this is not always the case, because, as mentioned above, art can be useful as a form of therapy in its own right.

Commonly, art therapists will work with clients who have learning difficulties, whether they are adults or children, for adult mental health reasons, within child and family centres, within the prison service and for palliative care.

So if you’re feeling the need to take your right-side brain for a walk, you could take up art therapy. You could even start painting on some rocks yourself and give your descendents, 74,000 years from now, something to think about!

To learn more about holistic therapies, go to The Therapy Book.