Graduate Division: Grad Journal
The Art of Self-Confidence
Art making was a formative part of Luisa Ospina’s adolescence. So much so, she decided to focus her MA in Art Therapy thesis on fostering positive self esteem through art in her clients. In her thesis titled “Increasing Self-Esteem in Adolescents: Cultivating Artistic Sensibility and Artist Identity in Art Therapy” Ospina’s larger interest in art world approaches to art therapy converge to create a holistic environment for young people to make and exhibit their art.
Working in the historic Pilsen neighborhood at Mujeres Latinas en Accion, Ospina was sensitive to the challenges of imparting artistic knowledge in a space that is already culturally rich. In this interview, an excerpt of our larger conversation, Ospina elaborated on her aims and approaches to her thesis work.
Amie Soudien: How did you arrive at your final thesis topic?
Luisa Ospina: I consider myself an artist, and I have a personal practice. I was trying to find a way to cultivate that same kind of art practice in my clients, as opposed to limited art sessions. I started looking at how art history has been implemented in art therapy. It’s a good way to help inspire or broaden clients’ perspective of what art looks like. It also helps clients understand themselves from a cultural and contextual perspective, so that they might know more about the art in their culture, or the art where they live, and how this comes together in their own identity.
I reached a point where I realized that in talking about art history, I was going to need to talk about aesthetics. In the art therapy world there’s a bit of a dichotomy in the process of making art and the product. I wanted to emphasize that what you make is just as important as when you make it. We had an exhibition with the art therapy department which was called ‘The Art of Connection,’ and exhibited my clients’ work. I thought it would be great to exhibit the work of clients for my thesis. I have used art in a therapeutic way in my artistic practice and that’s really helped me process my own struggles. I decided that my thesis would be about utilizing these fine arts discourse tools to cultivate an artistic sensibility and identity in my clients as a way to build self-esteem.
AS: You mentioned that you’re working with adolescents. Is that something you’re particularly interested in?
LO: I feel like this would work well with any age group, however it was particularly helpful that I worked with adolescents through my internship. I think that I was very mindful of choosing to work with adolescents, because I started making art when I was an adolescent, and I feel like this is that period of identity formation when you’re becoming who you are and understanding the person you want to be, and choosing the people you want to be with. In this period where social context is so important, I feel like having an artist’s identity is really beneficial as well. I decided it would be a good time period of development to integrate this into the art therapy session. I was working at Mujeres Latinas en Accion, a community center in Pilsen. I was working with mostly Mexican-American Latinos.
AS: You spoke a little bit about bringing in your group’s own cultural context into the work. How did that work within the context of Pilsen and its rich cultural history?
LO: I definitely tried to be mindful, and come from a critical consciousness perspective. A lot of the children in the program are immigrants, or children of immigrants. Some of them have undocumented parents. You have to have a lot of tact as someone who is running a group like this. I introduced artists in our sessions as part of the art history component, and some of the artists were Mexican American, or Mexican so that they could make that connection, if they wanted to, if they weren’t able to. I didn’t want to determine how they connected to their cultures.
Their exhibition was held at the National Museum of Mexican Art, so they had the chance to exhibit work alongside other Mexican American and Mexican artists. This museum is really important in Pilsen, and it’s important for the community. Its also very accessible to them, their parents and their friends.
AS: Could you describe some the activities or programs you have implemented?
LO: Not all art therapy looks the same, but for this particular group we did studio work. We had a ritual that started the group and ended the group. We would play music together, as that was the ritual that they chose. Then we would check in with a self-esteem prompt: did you do something you’re really proud of this week? Or, how did you handle a difficult situation really well? We would have a time where we would introduce some artists and have a discussion about them. Then we would have 50 minutes to an hour of art making.
Usually at the end we would have a critique or a work in progress discussion. At the beginning of the group we co-created a safe space by deciding our expectations of each other. One of the rules was no negativity, only positivity. This was really helpful because not only would they have the confidence to speak their minds and assert what they were thinking, but it was also constructive. In this period of their lives they’re so concerned with how people look at them, or think about them, so it was helpful to addressm that in a space where it was welcomed. It’s so powerful to make art in community, and I think it was helpful for them as well.