Early Art Therapy

First uses of Art

Art is a long-standing and multicultural form of expression and communication that holds many therapeutic qualities (Packard, 1980).  The earliest forms of art comes from cave paintings that date back to the paleolithic period.   In fact, as archaeologists find and collect more evidence and new sites it has become increasingly apparent that Neanderthals created markings of various shapes and sizes on cave walls- the earliest forms of art (Than, 2012). According to Packard (1980), humans from this time period may have used art to psychologically prepare hunters for their long and dangerous hunting expeditions.  These paintings portrayed the hunter’s fears hopes and wishes and represented symbolic offerings to their gods.  There is also evidence to suggest that art in the paleolithic period had many purposes which included religion, narratives, myths, messages, and games (Bahn, 1996).  Eventually, what began as a the fulfillment of a human need to create evolved into what we consider to sometimes be necessary when words are not enough to properly facilitate our feelings and inner emotions.


Art in Ancient Civilizations

Art also had an important role in the development and lives of people who lived in ancient civilizations.  In ancient Egypt, for example, art was often used for religious purposes and to symbolically portray different aspects of the afterlife.  Ancient Egyptians also used hieroglyphics for communication purposes.  Similarly, in ancient Greece art was often used to express their religious beliefs and as a means of depicting everyday life.  Ancient Greeks often used artfully decorated pottery for daily activities as well.  Art forms in this civilization included pottery, paintings, and architecture among other forms. All ancient civilizations may have used art to honor and distinguish a ruler or person of high power.  For example, many early statues and paintings are of influential and honored leaders (Bahn, 1996).  Plato, one of the great philosophers, recognized the importance of art.  According to Plato, art was useful in influencing human emotions.  Unfortunately, Plato did not believe art to be influential in positive ways but “disastrous” (Wix, 1995).  Despite his negative views on art, it was still considered  to be an important form of expression in many ancient societies.

The Renaissance

The Renaissance was a huge movement for the development and significance of art.  During this time period, artists created paintings and sculptures that were able to portray the human form in a more accurate and real way (Packard, 1980).  Much of the art work depicted scenes of daily life from that time period as well as historical moments.  This event emphasized the importance of art in daily life, including the use of art as an expression of what was occurring in the mind.   Many influential artists, such as Leonardo Da Vinci and Michelangelo, created infamous works of art that are still well known and aesthetically pleasing today.  The advances in art during the Renaissance was paralleled by philosophical advances by philosophers such as Galileo Galilei and Francis Bacon.  Many of these philosophers contributed important ideas to philosophy which later laid the foundation for psychology.



Agell, G. (1980). History of Art Therapy. Art Education, 33 (4), 8-9.

Bahn, P. (1996).  Archaeology: A Very Short Introduction. New York: Oxford University Press, Inc.

Packard, S. (1980). The History of Art Therapy Education. Art Education, 33 (4), 10-13.

Potash, J.  (2005). Rekindling the Multicultural History of the American Art Therapy    Association.  Journal of the American Art Therapy Association,22 (4), 184-188

Slayton, S., D’Archer, J., & Kaplan, F. (2010). Outcome Studies on the Efficacy of Art          Therapy: A Review of Findings. Journal of the American Art Therapy Association, 27 (3), 108-118.

Than, K. (2012, June 14).  World’s Oldest Cave Art Found-Made by Neanderthals? National Geographic News.  Retrieved from http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2012/06/120614-neanderthal-cave-paintings-spain-science-pike/

Wix, L. (1995). Studios as Locations of Possibility: Remembering a History. Journal of the     American Art Therapy Association, 27, 178-183.

By: Shayna Moreland


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