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My inspiration for the Art Therapy Without Borders International Postcard Art Exchange came from something my mother bought us to help us learn at school– flashcards. I remember learning to recite multiplication and division tables from those cards and ever since then, I have a visual memory of mathematics in the form of manila-colored cards in my head.

We all learn to recite answers to questions, no matter where our education takes us. In graduate school, soon-to-be art therapists are taught a certain set of historical and other facts that we pretty much start to accept as dogma eventually. So I started to think, just what would a set of art therapy flashcards look like? What are the “facts” that we have been taught to recite to our professors, for an exam, and to each other in order to feel that we are part of the group? But most of all, are these facts correct?

My first flashcard is one of several on Margaret Naumburg. When I was in graduate school studying art therapy I had to read Margaret Naumburg’s original works. In the US, we are generally taught that Naumburg is the “mother” of art therapy and the “creator” of art therapy as a profession. These are facts that we readily accept, as to if to anchor ourselves within a lineage of professionals who came before us and as a starting point for the existence of a profession.

Naumburg’s declaration that art therapy is a “profession” took place in the mid-20th century. Meanwhile in the early 21st century we are now questioning if there really is a profession called art therapist. In the US, “art therapist” is not listed as a separate job category in the Department of Labor. Even if it becomes a category, there are challenges to its acceptance. Art therapy degrees are being transformed into counseling degrees for the sake of licensure; is this marriage a good match or a way to keep art therapy education programs in tuitions when unlicensed graduates could not find employment? Naumburg created a profession for the most part by declaration, but does that declaration translate into something more than just an agreed upon “group-think” that there really is a profession called art therapist?

Finally, how does one become the key “creator” of anything? If someone is the first to declare something in writing does that make that person the creator of that premise? It’s easy to realize that Naumburg was not the only person talking the talk, but she was one of the first to get into print. It echoes an unspoken tradition in the field of art therapy that involves rushing to publish on a topic in order to “claim” it. In my humble opinion, that has resulted in a lot of half-baked books and has not really helped to establish a credible profession called “art therapist.” Not sure that is what Naumburg envisioned! I’ll get back to these questions later in future re-visioning.

More flashcards soon!

Cathy Malchiodi, November 17, 2010