Thesis Title

The Art Encounter for Self-Reflection: An Art-Based Phenomenological Inquiry

Graduation Date

Spring 2016

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Art Therapy

Degree Granting Institution

Notre Dame de Namur University

Program Name

Art Therapy


This art-based study sought to illuminate the phenomenon of the art encounter for self-reflection through a mixed method approach; integrating the results from a qualitative interpretative phenomenological analysis with quantitative data reflecting artists’ relationship with and beliefs about art. The art encounter, for the purposes of the present study, referred to both the making of and reflecting upon visual art. Twenty-one adult artists who reported feeling comfortable and competent with art-making experienced and reflected upon their lived phenomenon of the art encounter for self-reflection. Subsequently, the artists responded to a belief scale questionnaire designed to check the validity of assumptions related to the phenomenon of investigation. Artists’ subjective reports and responses on the belief scale questionnaire validated that the art encounter can help make self-concepts vivid, have an important impact on those who engage with it, and convey inner psychological material. The results from the phenomenological analysis, beyond validating and exemplifying these assumptions, also described the dynamic between artists and their art, the influences the art encounter had on the artist, and elements that facilitated the self-reflection processes. The study results suggest that because the relationship between the artists and their art seemed to occur naturally, and fundamentally involved movement, dimension, and unpredictability, art therapists should remain responsive to what arises in the dynamic between clients and their art. The results of the present study support the promotion of client-driven relationships between clients and their art and validate the practice of engaging art-therapy clients with art as a means of self-reflection.