CRITICAL STANCE ON RESEARCH
As an animator and educator, I have the required skillset to both teach the techniques of different forms of animation as well as analyze the emotional and contextual content required for their creation. When using the term “animation”, I refer to a technique of filmmaking, which consists of photographing successive drawings or small changes of an object’s position, scale, color, etc. to create an illusion of movement (http://www.oxforddictionaries.com). The type of animation most commonly used in therapy settings is stop-motion animation, which consists of photographing objects / puppets, moving them slightly and taking the next photograph (in animation theory referred to as frame). When played back in the sequence of 12 photographs per second (12 frames per second), the series of images creates an illusion of motion.
My interest in animation therapy and its potential application in art education stems from my own need to reach beyond animation as a form of entertainment and discover its unlimited potential as a tool of empowerment, analysis, self-realization, and linguistic and emotional expression. I found animation as a 20-year old immigrant, three years after moving from Poland to the United States and still struggling with expressing myself (because of the obvious linguistic barriers to the less obvious emotional blockages). Animation helped me vocalize aspects that I couldn’t comfortably talk about either physically or emotionally. It improved my self-esteem and gave me power to progress and face the new realities of my life.
Besides the personal motivations, I focus on a potential benefits of animation on immigrant and refugee communities for multiple reasons: United States is a country of immigrants. According to American Psychology Association (2013), approximately one million new immigrants have entered the United States every year since 1990, over 40 million U.S. residents are foreign-born (13% of the entire population) and one in five U.S. residents is a first or second-generation immigrant. Stresses involved in the immigration experience can cause variety of mental health problems, including anxiety, depression, PTSD, substance abuse, suicidal tendencies, and severe mental illness. Psychologists and therapists, educators and other professionals who are serving immigrant children and adults in a variety of settings, including schools, community centers, clinics, and hospitals need to be aware of this “complex transformation in demographics and consider its implications (APA, 2013)”.
One of my main inspirations is the field of “animation therapy,” a pioneering interdisciplinary field of study that consists of therapeutic, social, medical and artistic approaches in work with issues affecting families, adults, young adults and children. As an extension of the traditional art therapy, animation therapy is a fairly new discipline that emerged in England in 2008 with Animation Therapy Ltd., a leading organization in its research and field practice. The “Re-Animation” approach developed by Animation Therapy Ltd. is an innovative approach to using animation in a range of therapeutic settings and applications (http://www.animationtherapy.co.uk/). Joan Ashworth and Helen Mason, co-funders of the organization, describe animation as an effective medium that can be utilized to express complex, sensitive, difficult and subtle ideas. In her earlier research, Mason observes, “the animation process can enable the visual externalization of thoughts and feelings that may be difficult or impossible to verbalize through talk-based therapy approaches alone” (Ashworth & Mason, 2013, p.4). Another valuable quality of animation is symbolism and anonymity to representations of real people and events (Ashworth & Mason, 2013, p. 5). Mason, who started out her career as an occupational therapist, states, “The incredible versatility and scope of animation in all its vices as a motivating creative activity makes it a unique and adaptable tool for use within a wide range of therapies” (http://www.animationtherapy.co.uk). Drawing from a wide range of therapeutic approaches, applying new animation techniques and tools in the area of art therapy and bridging “the gap between health and social care with a focus on social inclusion”, Animation Therapy Ltd. is on the forefront of research and field practice of this pioneering field of study (Mason, 2009, p. 111).
There are multiple benefits of art therapy in immigrant and refugee settings, one of which is being a linguistic bridge that connects people of different nationalities within the groups, but also enables the practitioner to provide quality mental health care to people whose language he or she does not speak and who have a limited knowledge of English. Even within the same language of communication, art therapy helps connect people with limited emotional capacity, who have problems expressing their thoughts and feelings.
Video and animation have a potential of teaching people about their own presence and attentiveness. They can be used almost as a form of meditation and focus building. The tangibility / physicality of video and animation creating process (including learning how to use a camera or software, how to come up with the story and how to produce it), might give people a greater sense of self awareness, satisfaction and accomplishment. It’s also easier to express real emotions and experiences through an imaginary narrative.
Through my own experiences teaching animation to both children and adults, I have observed a great appeal of this art form that presents itself differently than other types of digital media. As my students generally understand a video camera technology (its use, capability to capture movement, and basic processes used in a video creation), animation basics are not as transparent. The novelty and “mystery” of this medium, enhances the process of learning about it and heightens the gratification of seeing the finished product. The sense of power, control and achievement that comes with creating an illusion of movement empowers and motivates students. The long lasting effects of mastering an understanding of the software and the creation process itself can have powerful therapeutic implications in various learning or community environments. With constantly fluctuating ideas of multiculturalism, diversity and immigration reforms, investing in new and innovative ways to understand our changing society and our place in it is extremely important.