Transitional Objects

May 17, 2009

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“It is in the space between inner and outer world, which is also the space between people–the transitional space–that intimate relationships and creativity occur.”
-(D.W. Winnicott from Transitional Objects and Transitional Phenomena,1951)

The term “transitional object” is used frequently in art therapy. In her book Handbook of Art Therapy, Cathy Malchiodi gives an excellent description of the meaning behind transitional objects and how this relates to art therapy:

Art products can become transitional objects which may become imbued with meaning beyond what they are in reality. For example, a drawing or painting made by a child who is dependent on the therapist for support may become a transitional object in the absence of the therapist, defusing separation anxiety. In a similar vein, an adult may make a clay figure of a parent who abandoned her as a child, symbolically evoking that person and the unresolved trauma of separation. Henley (1992) notes that art product functions as a transitional object because it supports self-relationship and empowerment and encourages connection with the therapist who facilitates the creative expression.
(Malchiodi, 2002, p.54)

When we are young, a transitional object for us may be our “blankie” that we drag with us to our first day of preschool as a “stand-in” for our parents while we are apart. When we are older, a transitional object may be a piece of jewelry, given to us by someone we love as a reminder of their place in our lives. At the end of our first year in graduate school, my supervision group worked on clay pieces for the last few classes. These evolved over a few weeks, and were left to air-dry for our last day of class so that we could take them home with us as a transitional object from our time together this year.

Our supervisor and teacher Alison gave us each a creative piece of herself – a hand-made ceramic piece that she had created – each one slightly different and unique. In this way, she gave us a transitional object that could visually and symbolically represent her when we no longer met on a weekly basis.

Both pieces are sitting side by side in my studio, and overlooking me as I create. For that matter, my studio has become filled with these transitional objects – many from clients and friends. Each one acts as a container for special memories and experiences that I have shared with others.

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