Edith Kramer is known as a social realist painter, a follower of psychoanalytic theory and a fore-mother of art therapy.
Life and work
Edith Kramer was born in Vienna, Austria in 1916. At age 13 Kramer began art lessons with Friedl Dicker. Dicker was associated with the Bauhaus in Weimer Germany, and was an artist and art teacher of note. Kramer was influenced by the method for teaching art developed by Bauhaus artist Joseph Itten. It was in 1934 after Kramer graduated from Realgymnasium that she, then 18, followed Dicker to Prague to continue to study under her.It was during this time in Prague that Kramer worked with Dicker in helping children who's parents where political refugees.
By 1938, as a young adult Kramer fled Europe to America, specifically New York City. There she worked for three years teaching sculpture at the prestigious Little Red School House. During World War II Kramer worked at a machine shop in the Soho district of New York. She stayed after her shift to draw the other workers in their industrial setting. Artworks like these are known as social realism paintings. In 1947 Kramer visited some of the earliest artworks known to man, the caves at Lascaux. Kramer spoke of these cave paintings as an example of the universal language of art.
At the age of 33 she again returned to America, and to New York City, with hopes of making a living as an artist. Raised in a family who was interested in psychoanalytic theory, Kramer herself became a follower of Sigmund Freud. Kramer especially believed in the concept of sublimation. Freudian theory describes sublimation as a process in which primitive urges coming from the Id are transformed into socially productive activities that lead to gratification of the original urge. Edith Kramer's training was in art, art education, and psychoanalytically informed psychotherapy. Still in her 33rd year, Kramer was offered a job at Wiltwycks School for Boys. This job was arranged for her by Psychoanalyst, Dr. Viola Bernard. In fact, it was Dr. Bernard who gave Kramer the title, "Art Therapist." It was here that Kramer worked with disturbed boys, ages 8 through 13, for the following seven years. Though the fore mothers of Art Therapy, Edith Kramer and Margaret Naumburg, had a similar goal of combining art and psychology, their beliefs took a different path where Kramer began to declare that it was art as therapy, and Naumburg instead promoted art in therapy.
Kramer's life work was spent with children and adolescents that were often unable to explain their feelings through the use of words. In 1958 Kramer published Art Therapy in a Children's Community. Kramer also worked at Jacobi Hospital in their child psychiatric ward for 13 years. In 1971 Kramer published Art as Therapy with Children. Kramer wrote in her books of her experiences with her clients. Kramer worked for 14 years at the Jewish Guild for the Blind. In 1976 Kramer, with the help of Dr. Laurie Wilson, set out to start a program in Art Therapy at New York University. While at NYU, Kramer came up with an important method of the program and called it, the Art Therapist third hand intervention. This concept called for the versatility of the Art Therapist, so as to be more easily able to facilitate the client's artistic endeavors. An example of this may be the therapist mixing the paint for the client so as to achieve a desired color or tone. It is important to note that Kramer believed that product was as important as process in Art Therapy. She felt denying the client the gratification of the end product was robbing them. Kramer believed that Art Therapy should fall more in the humanities area than psychology. Now in her 90's, Kramer has returned to her home in Austria, and continues to give her attention to her life long love, art.
- Jung, Maxine Borowsky, & Wadeson, Harriet (editors), Architects of art therapy (Springield, IL: Charles C. Thomas, 2006)
- Kramer, Edith, Art as Therapy, Collected Papers. (London and Philadelphia: Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2000)