Finding Essence in a Shared Embrace: Co-construction of meaning with cancer survivors in art-based group interactive art therapy

by Sanda Ottewell-Watson

This art-based research enquiry into the lived experience of cancer embraces an artistic process of perceptual awareness. It explores the power of the arts for bringing creativity and healing into the world. This research enquiry links theoretical perspectives of art therapy and cancer care to the potential for art and art making as a means for co-creating meaning, by creating art alongside others in an interactive studio environment. Hermeneutic phenomenology and heuristic methods of understanding are elements used to reveal reflective meaning in the artist researcher’s art and poetry. Important to understanding this thesis is to embrace the depth and power of art as process with its potential to evoke strong emotions and create shared meaning. Because art-based research is both process and product, the art is given equal importance to the written content of this paper.

The intent of this thesis is to create for the reader a dynamic environment in which to discover new insights and shared understandings of the lived experience of cancer. The thesis follows the rhythms and movements of a tango dance, both figuratively and literally, with art and writing dancing in and around the text. Tango is a seductive and passionate dance about interrelationship and connections to others. The facilitation of change, insight, well-being and universality through connections to others is highly evident within this cancer support group and serves to diminish isolation and instill hope. As well, art-based methodology itself is a key component for furthering therapeutic relationship and enhancing shared understanding.