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Shine On – The Many Facets of Glitter

Article edited by Hephzibah Kaplan with written contributions (initialled) and more from (in alphabetical order) Fawzia Afifi, Elisabetta Cittadini, Auriel Eagleton, Elaine Zaple Gulliver, Louise Higgs, Pia Jones, Sally Skaife, Taylor Smart & Colleen Steiner Westling.

Photographs by Pia Jones.

Shine On – The Many Facets of Glitter

Clinical Meeting: February 2018

Shiny adornments, facades and decorations go back as far as cave paintings where they used to use Mica flakes. The ancient civilizations –  Egyptian, Chinese, Greek, Roman – would all use reflective metallic materials for their sparkly, light-catching quality. Children and adults are entranced by shiny stuff, sparkly jewels, gleaming cars, shimmering water droplets, and even twinkly Christmas lights.

Most people want to be seen, it’s part of being alive; on special occasions we want to sparkle and be radiant. Like iridescent sea shells and fish scales attracting another, our own sparkliness can be a magnet, or sometimes a deterrent. As glitter refracts light it imbues a sense of magic and takes us to an earlier age of fairy tale dreams, hopes and possibilities.

Glitter in the art therapy studio has many evocations and in a recent clinical meeting the art therapists met to discuss their own associations around glitter and to reflect on their potential meanings and inferences for clients. Just like glitter that leaves its remnants and pollinates the space, the art therapy team have been captivated with glitter memories and meanings which are assortedly offered herewith. Glitter is the material that just keeps on giving…

PJ writes:

Glitter has many facets – and just as it twinkles, shifts and catches the light, this clinical meeting took many shifts and turns in exploring the many associations with glitter as an arts material, and what it might mean for us and our clients. This elusive, hard-to-handle and pin down material provoked perhaps surprisingly much depth and debate in response and discussion.  

All that glitters is not gold

It’s artificial, man-made and toxic to the environment. (See useful links below for buying non-toxic glitter).

Glitter can represent what is fake, not real.

It can remind us of our materialism, hoarding treasure, shiny resources that are fought over, a symbol of greed, a source of conflict and war. Equally as clients/therapists, do we want to use it all up or hoard it?

What does it provoke in the art therapist about saving or wasting art resources? Are we repelled by it, attracted to it? What do we do with the remnants of glitter and how might we recycle it?

You can’t shine shit

Can we sit with the difficult, the hard, the unbearable, without the need to make something positive and shiny out of it?

Or is glitter and its shiny counterparts an important symbol of the alchemical nature of art therapy processes, that shit is turned to gold, through the therapeutic process?

Glitter as transformation

As the stars glitter at night, might glitter also be a human attempt to capture the age-old magic of the stars, the celestial heavens, the universe and fairy dust. Is glitter an ancient symbol of transformation, of change, of the magical, activating the inner child and those beliefs in fairy tales?

It somehow captures the imagination, it mesmerises us, seduces us. We want to believe in magic and hope. Can this treasure on the outside, somehow help our clients activate treasure on the inside? To access our own magic, our own specialness.

Glitter as projection

At the same time, we have to be aware of the dangers of this. Is the therapist perceived as the fairy with the magic wand, that can wave away and magic problems and difficulties away?

Glitter as defence

Or is glitter a defence, against the earthy, natural processes – ageing, illness, dying, death – covering up our own fears and horror around being in a decaying body. Wanting more and more and more, is this reflective of our current culture, and a denial that we can’t take any of this with us?

Glitter as identity

Is glitter inherently gender-biased in the modern age? As the Disney machine targets girls with glitter princess dresses, what might glitter mean to different genders and in different cultures? 

Is it a chance to explore different faces of femininity, of identity, and/or are we socially conditioned to appreciate and value glitter?

Glitter as an unwieldly material

Using glitter can be a test of dexterity and patience. Glitter is hard to pin down, fiddly to use and can test the aptitude of client and therapist.

Glitter and PVA glue can look like a big accident or an intentional relationship. It can be hard to control, to make it work. The sparkle is a distraction from the mess. How does it activate our own responses to mess, the unknown, as it flies in the air or cascades out the container onto the page?

Different approaches to glitter

How different clients might use the glitter – a tiny piece of light – counting glitter – or wearing glitter – leaving therapy as a glitter “bomb,” feeling special. When is glitter used as a cover up for difficult feelings, or when might it be used as an act of celebration. When the glitter leaves its mark on the cheek of the therapist – what might it represent? A shared experience? Tears?

Have we become addicted to shine and glitter?  Too much – glitter is everywhere, in our hair, products, fashion. Has it taken away some of our natural wonder for simpler things in life?  Does glitter’s ubiquitous nature devalue its values of preciousness and specialness? Is it indicative of our Western consumer, “positivity” culture?

Does glitter trick us, seduce us, tempt us with the fake, the material, a promise of something that it can’t deliver?

Does glitter enable us to regress, to reconnect with our childhoods, for aspects that we weren’t able to be, or allowed to have, a connection with inner wealth?

As we concluded how the use of glitter for each client might provoke and mean different themes, what was clear is that glitter leaves its mark, in the room, on us, on our clients, and on the environment. How do we as art therapists take responsibility for this shape-shifting, arts material who finds its way into the bellies of fishes, that ironically shimmer and have a similar kind of iridescence. Will the eco-friendly glitters deliver peace with our conscience, and the same experience for clients?    (PJ)


Stardust Memories

The following day a client comments on the sparkles on the floor of the studio saying she’d never noticed them before.  I mentioned we had a new supply of glitter and she said she loved glitter and wanted to use it. She said it reminded her of parties. Using it sparingly her image looked like something faded, a remembered time piece. It was not a party image but something more reflective from an earlier era.

The glitter then had another quality of continuity. The glitter remnants from last night, noted today, used again, evoking something from the past – like itself, does not disappear but is a carrier of messages.

Last night we had reflected on this idea that glitter leaves it trails and marks on the therapists too. We may glisten in the aftermath of a session and that may be activating for the next client. A colleague with a beard told me he unknowingly went into a session with glitter embedded in all his facial hair.

Thus glitter activates so many fantasies and projections. Did the therapist share the glitter with someone else? Did they have more or less than I? Are they entitled to use glitter? Have they ever used it before? What happens when the next client enters and finds the glitter supply diminished? While we put away our clients’ artwork to protect confidentiality, glitter always leaves its trail of evidence.  (HK)

Reflecting on Glitter aka The Beautiful Confusion

When packaging my memories from last night’s Clinical Meeting on Glitter back into my brain, I feel I can say that I now relate to glitter as an art material consisting of multitudes of minute, flat, reflective objects, like tiny mirrors, which when encountered have the ability to create an ephemeral emotional effect for the seer of the material while creating a myriad of feelings for the artist working with this tricky-to-control material. 

Expanded on looking at glitter as tiny mirrors takes me to “mirror gazing” (the practice of staring into a mirror as if it is a bridge to the spiritual world) when considering the sensory aspect of human (animal) attraction to glitter, as drawn to the light both in the outer realms of universal energy but also in potentially reflecting back to the gazer/artist/seer the wish/drive/ to feel light/beauty/spirit/ in and controlled/used/ available themselves. 

Some thoughts and wonders shared in the meeting were; “Glitter can be . . . “;

Too much of a good (?) thing = a bad thing?? * Life * Death * Sadness * Disappointment * Disgust * Attraction * Wishing / wish fulfilment? * Magical * Ability with * Disability  * Dexterity * Out of control / manageable * Beauty * Bedazzling * Fake * Universal connection * Light outside of self * Light inside of self * Stars * Heaven * Toxic * Dangerous * Poisonous * Too much/Just enough * Contamination * Tolerable * Celebratory * Gendered / Genderless * Hidden / Seen …                                                                          (CSW)

Glitter has such an important role for the children I work with and sometimes for the adults too. 

I often reflect on alchemical processes as I make mixtures with children containing all things from salt, flour, paint, honey, herbs, mud… to glitter. The glitter is so often the special ingredient, sprinkled in and labeled ‘sad’ or wordlessly added to the mix with the energy of joy, anger, excitement, love, longing, or any other emotion. 

There is something about glitter as an ingredient that can be differentiated as paint is spread or dough dries, it so often speaks of self-parts or movement within the unconscious that is gradually taking form, only just perceptible.

Glitter has been both ‘magic’ and ‘medicine’ in my sessions and I have often reflected on transitional objects and the way that glitter clings to the skin and clothes of the children I work with as they leave sessions, lingering and barely noticeable, as the feelings in a session might linger on the inside. (AE)


A Poem

Glitter, glitter everywhere
Shining, bright, alluring fare
Glitter sprinkled on the floor
Often seeping out the door

Mermaid’s tails are shining bright
Sparkling though their legs shut tight
David Bowie wears it well,
Machoman is dull as hell!

Glitter decorating shit
Covering every little bit
Must we sparkle all the time
Lovely girls and in our prime

Smothered, trapped, oh its not nice
Happy, clappy, what’s the price?
Leave my shit, oh let it be
Smelly, angry, dull but free!


Finally, what if we ceased to provide glitter? Will it be missed? Would we be sad? When this current stock runs out we shall be purchasing biodegradable glitter only.

Useful sites are:

London Art Therapy Centre is a group art therapy practice with 16 registered arts therapists who run and manage their private practices within a supportive collaborative team. Each month we have a clinical meeting to discuss various themes, patterns and ideas that emerge in our clinical work. We explore these ideas via image-making, discussion and presentations. This article is a compilation of the team exploration and gives a voice to the collective mind of the group. Edited by Hephzibah Kaplan. February 2018

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