How to “make meaning” of your client’s artwork

Bearing witness to a client’s art creation process is a powerful moment for me. When I see a client creating art, I am witnessing their inner world be expressed.

I’ve been asked by some folks how I go about “making meaning” from a client’s art, so in this post I will be talking about my own art analysis process.

Elements of my own art analysis: content, form, process, mood, and interpretation

  • CONTENT: Viewing the actual content of the artwork.
    • What exactly do you see?
    • Did your client name the artwork? If yes, did the title somehow change the way you see the work?
    • What is the theme?
    • Examples: Landscapes, self-portraits, a memory, abstract



      Abstract art

      Sept 12 014.jpg


  • FORM: Viewing the formal elements of the artwork.
    • What colors did your client use?
      • See previous post about the psychology of color.
      • Sometimes the client makes up their own meanings to colors. Ask the client what the colors mean for them!
    • Notice the shapes used.
    • What kind of lines did your client use? Textures? Patterns? Size?
    • Examples: Dripped paint, bright colors, dark colors, layered, straight lines, curved lines, etc.slide_2.jpgline-practice.png


  • PROCESS: Noticing how the artwork was created.
    • What materials did your client use to create their art?
    • During the art creation process, what did you notice about your client? (Notice their body language, facial expressions, pacing of the art creation…)
    • Ask your client what they were thinking and feeling during the art creation process.
    • Examples of art mediums: Paint, colored pencils, collage
    • Examples of noticing: The client may have seemed calm during the creation. Or maybe the client appeared anxious, drawing in a seemingly fast manner. Maybe the client occasionally paused and closed their eyes. There’s so many things you can notice!children-painting1.jpgchild_drawing.jpg
  • MOOD: Viewing the communicated moods, feelings.
    • How does the work make you feel? (countertransference reactions to the art?)
    • How does the work make the client feel?
    • Does the color, texture, theme, form of the work affect your mood?
    • Noticing your reactions to the artwork is important. kids-showing-off-artwork-at-art-by-tjm-studio-greensboro-img_0772-crop.jpg

  • INTERPRETATION: Looking at the meaning behind the artwork.
    • What does the client say about the artwork? Do they have an “explanation” for it?
    • This can be an excellent opportunity for you to make your clinical interpretation of the artwork. Offer this interpretation to the client. Ask if this interpretation is correct. If yes, cool. If not, it will still generate discussion about the art.Screen Shot 2016-08-10 at 9.25.48 AM.png




Remember, you are not the ultimate expert of the client’s art meaning(s). The client is. Ask the client to talk about their art to you and learn from them. These are all things to be aware of for your own clinical insight.


*All pictures are not client work and were generated from a simple Google search. 


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