At the Barnes, Art as Therapy

At the Barnes, Art as Therapy

 

The Philadelphia Inquirer
August 16, 2015
By Michael Vitez

Four teenage girls—all of whom have been raped or abused, overdosed on pills or cut themselves, or lived in foster care or detention homes—came to some place Friday none had ever been.

The Barnes Foundation.

The teens live now in a residential facility in Rosemont called theVillage for 60 girls like them. These girls were the four for whom art therapy this year has been the most healing, who have best used art projects at theVillage to help them control their emotions and be present in the moment.

Their reward was a visit to the Barnes, one of the great art treasures of the world.

Some have parents who tried to hurt them, people who would want to harm them, so they will not be identified here.

The youngest and shortest girl, 14, in a plaid top, whom we will call Plaid, brought a journal, and wrote throughout the tour.

She wrote this before the tour began:

"I am going to an art museum today. It's called the Barnes Foundation. It's supposed to be one of a kind so that's really exciting. I don't usually go to museums, but I hope it will be interesting. Let's hope for the best, shall we?"

Before they even entered the galleries, standing by the coat check, the four girls were entranced by Native American pottery.

"Who knew circles and squiggles could be so inspirational," Plaid scribbled.

Into the first gallery they walked, into the crush of Matisse and Renoir and Monet and so many other masters. The girls just slowly spun around.

Their tour guide, Kathy Bright, led them to one painting, The Bathing Hour, by William James Glackens.

"Dr. Barnes and Glackens were old friends," the tour guide explained. "They both went to Central High."

One of the girls, who some museum volunteers said looked like a Monet painting because she was wearing blue lipstick, a blue print floral blouse, and blue shoes, could not believe what she had just heard.

"I went to Central High," she said—briefly, that is, before she overdosed, and bounced in and out of placements and hospitals.

The tour guide explained to them "the tricks of Dr. Barnes." She had them look at one wall, and imagine slicing a line right through the middle of one painting in the center, from ceiling to floor, and imagine folding the room over, one side on top of the other.

Every wall in the museum is symmetrical, she said. She pointed out the pieces of metal—locks, keys, hinges—sculpture and pottery and paintings, and challenged the girls to prove her wrong. None did.

Deeper into the collection they went. "In this room is the painting that is our most popular postcard," Bright told them and challenged the girls to guess which painting.

All four picked paintings with water, two by Monet, one by Renoir, and another by Glackens.

Only Plaid guessed right—The Studio Boat by Monet.

"It seems so calm and relaxing, like you're on vacation," she said. "It was the first one I noticed when I came in. I love how the reflections of the boat ripple in the water."

In another room, there was a painting by Glackens of a woman smoking. On a table in front of the painting was an ashtray. The girls picked up on that connection right away.

"Of course none of you are smokers," Bright said. The girls exchanged glances.

In another room, Bright gave all the girls a few square blue swatches, in different shades, and instructed them to try and match their squares with blues in the paintings.

They matched the squares to a Picasso hat, a Monet sea, and a Renoir river, and had no idea necessarily of the magnificence of the painters. But they had a new understanding of the color blue.

"Light blue, baby blue, soft blue, electric blue, midnight blue. So much blue!" Plaid wrote in her journal.

After the 40-minute tour, the four girls went into a room downstairs at the Barnes and did art projects of their own, decorating shopping bags and creating little mobiles out of paper plates.

"Miss Cynthia, I think we should come back!" another of the girls, now 16, raped at 12, said to Cynthia Innis, their art therapist from theVillage.

Innis said art is so valuable to these girls - helping them cope, express themselves, feel joy, and accomplishment - and the trip had given her many ideas to try back in their arts cottage in Rosemont.

All too quickly, it was time to go.

In her last entry of the morning, Plaid wrote:

"There are so many artists with so many styles of art, with so many colors. But all of the art has one thing in common. It all has meaning and every meaning is different."