Unnur Gudrun Ottarsdottir

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In my academic and professional career I focus on therapy, art, research and education. I have dedicated myself to each of these fields and in some cases I weave them together, which can lead to new and surprising discoveries.

Art therapy combines art creation and psychotherapy. Art educational therapy and memory drawings integrate education, therapy and art making. Art and research are connected in research through art. I work in various ways in my art making. In some of my artwork I blend art therapy and visual art and in other works I for example make use of Icelandic lava to explore the relationship between nature and creativity.

I endeavour to explore and utilize accepted therapy approaches and teaching methods that aim to help individuals better understand themselves and discover their own inner strength. In many cases I challenge the ideas that my predecessors have contributed to the world of academia and the sciences, each in their own field, which often gives rise to new methods in a constantly changing society in which there is an increased demand to integrate different fields of knowledge and theory.

A brief summary of my academic and professional experience can be found here below. For more information about each individual field, click on the button “see website.”

I hope you enjoy the journey across the landscape of therapy, art, research and education.

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Art Therapy

From an early age, artistic expression has been a vast source of pleasure for me. Lines and curves, the tactility of clay, various colour compositions and the varying manifestations of form have all facilitated comfort, creativity, satisfaction and quality of life. I have a desire to offer others the experience of creating in this way, with the aim of facilitating their creativity and well-being. I have always been interested in how other people feel, what makes them who they are, why individuals behave in the way they do, and how their well-being can be increased. Art therapy is particularly well suited to my needs because it merges such psychotherapy questions and the process of creating art.

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Art Educational Therapy

Art making, education and emotional processing, which are the central pillars of art educational therapy, have kept my body and soul together and given me tools to learn and share my knowledge about whatever my heart desires. Coursework learning was sometimes challenging for me as a child. As time passed by I developed faith in myself, as I realised that I could easily learn anything that I was interested in. I sought a variety of ways to reach that goal. This search, my studies and research, and the children who I have helped in terms of both their learning and well-being, have laid the foundations for the methods that art educational therapy offers. I have a PhD in art therapy and I have introduced my research internationally in lectures, published journals and books within my professional field.

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Memory Drawing Research

Twenty years ago, I had neither heard nor read about the fact that drawings could facilitate memory, but I believed that this was the case. First I did experiments on myself where I would draw memos. Then I asked family, friends and clients to also draw with the aim of memorising, and then I discovered that the drawings appeared to strengthen memory. These experiments inspired me to conduct a systematic study in the year 2000 in which 134 children participated, where I studied the impact of drawing on memory, when compared to writing. The study brought to light that drawing is generally much more successful in facilitating long-term memory than writing. Nine weeks later, the participants who drew pictures could generally recall five times more words than those who had used the writing method. To the best of my knowledge, it is the first and only study of its kind in the world today where the impact of drawings and words on long-term memory are compared over such a long period of time. At the time of the study in 2000, it was the first time a research study had been conducted in which memory of writing and drawing was systematically compared.

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Research Through Art

Drawing and emotional processing are aspects that facilitate myself and my research. Lines, arrows, squares and circles on a two-dimensional plane clarify many aspects of the research subjects, open the mind, shape thinking and render connections visible, as well as aiding me in developing theories. I also apply colours, forms and brush strokes on wide surfaces, which creates a deeper understanding of a variety of subjects. Many emotions awaken and rise to the surface through the work of the researcher. They can relate to research topics directly and simultaneously connect to personal experiences and emotions. Art that is created in connection with emotions in this way can help individuals process and integrate their emotions, which in turn makes the researcher become more self-aware. At the same time, the researcher becomes more objective with regard to the research material. Art making facilitates resilience when the researcher is faced with uncertainties and it creates channel for containing the new knowledge.

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Many of the most enjoyable moments in my life are when I am creating art. The combination of forms, colours, brush strokes, symbols, drawings, sculptures, experiments and research in terms of my art making has provided me with a perspective with which to express my experiences in different ways than words do. The channel of visual art is pictorial, symbolic and brushed in colours, which provides an opportunity to form a deeper and non-verbal expression which words often cannot convey. My experiments and research in the visual art field that revolve around for example the relationship between visual art and art therapy have provided me with the opportunity to acknowledge new sides of myself and life in general. I take pleasure in exhibiting and sharing my artwork with others and in that way invite others to take part in similar experiences of seeing and experiencing new sides to themselves and existence.

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Moved by Iceland

Interrelations between people, inner connections and connections to nature are important to me. Icelandic nature is raw and powerful, and deep inside the bowels of the fiery earth, lava is created. I design jewellery and create artwork from Icelandic lava that refer to this raw creative power. In my lava pieces, I work with my connections to nature and the creative force inside me. When I share this kind of experience with others, through my lava artwork, I offer them a chance to feel and connect to their own creativity, as well as to merge with nature.

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