Art and creativity can be understood from several perspectives, including chronologically, thematically, and theoretically.

The imperative for being familiar with theories of creativity arises because they are derived from different perspectives of what it means to be human, which in turn generates different views about not only the role of the artist and art therapist, but also the nature of the transaction between the artist, viewer and art works (or by the art therapist, client and art works made by the client).

Psychoanalytic, behaviourist and humanist theories of creativity all privilege the unconscious. However, the psychic determinism of psychoanalytic and behaviouristic theories of creativity assumes an individualistic, medicalised / learning approach to the benefits of the arts and creativity – especially when applied within the clinical-patient setting.  I prefer the more optimistic humanistic model of creativity and broader socio-cultural pathway to understanding of the potential benefits of arts and creativity.

My standpoint on creativity—and on the potential contribution of art practices (making, viewing and talking about art) and art therapy for improving the quality of people’s lives—is a hybrid of the humanistic approach to creativity and my life-long commitment to social justice, particularly in the fields of disability policy and practice. In my putative hybrid humanistic-social justice approach to understanding the nature of, and impulse for, creativity, I resist the use of viewing art images as diagnostic tools of health and wellbeing, which appears to be the temptation of psychoanalytic and behaviouristic theories, despite exhortations of art therapists to the contrary. Instead, I approach my work of making art and art therapy as having possibilities in the broader social justice contexts.

Throughout my 30 plus years of professional practice as a social worker, policy advisor and researcher in the disability field, I have consistently adopted the human rights-oriented, social-cultural model of disability rather than the medical model of disability. The social-cultural model vests the impacts of disability in the interactions between the person’s disability and her environmental contexts, while the latter medical model vests the impacts of disablement solely in the perceived ‘brokenness’ or impairment of the individual person’s body and/ or mind. Thus, the medical model of disability is pathology driven, seeking to cure or ‘fix’ the person with the disability, while the social model of disability is change-driven, seeking to reform the socio-economic-cultural constructs of society, including the built environment. While the medical model of disability has resulted in impressive health and rehabilitation technology (including the application of stem cell technology for people with disabling conditions such as multiple sclerosis and the cochlear implant for deaf people), the social model of disability has driven significant political change for people with disability improving the quality of their lives by enabling them to make their own choices in education, employment, housing, and indeed across all the domains of their lives.

Consequently, I am similarly uncomfortable with the emphasis on the psycho-medical models of creativity in both understanding creativity and in the role of making, viewing and talking about art in our lives. While I note the arguments about the power of these models when applied to counsellor-client relationships, I consider that the psycho-medical models—in particular, the psychoanalytic and behaviouristic models of creativity—to be reductionist precisely because they so narrowly scope the role of creativity to individualistic health and well-being outcomes. They place too much onus of responsibility for health and wellbeing entirely within the individual person, appearing either to ignore or be unwilling to accommodate the individual’s broader social, cultural, political, geographical and historical contexts. The corollary of this exclusionary focus is that the psycho-medical models of creativity also seem to exclude the possibilities of the power of creativity and art-making in generating broader social, cultural, political, and environmental impacts for the betterment of our society.

Seiden (2005) notes that ‘Art therapy views the art process as a path to the unconscious, a way of mirroring inner experience as well as a form of release for those perceptions that may be best expressed through art (p. 60). Perhaps the ‘release’ or expression of those perceptions could be applied to advancing the reform of all our institutions and organisations to secure the goal of personal growth, self-fulfilment and life-enrichment of all individuals in our society, and not just the privileged few.


Seiden, D. (2005). Mind over matter: The uses of materials in art, education and therapy. Magnolia Street Publishers. (pp.19-24 and pp.59-61).



Creativity and the creative process: a quick look