What’s The Difference Between Mindful Art and Art Therapy?

There's 3 main difference between a mediative art practice and art therapy (in our opinion). Read this to find out what they are!

Whenever I tell someone about art as a form of meditation, their minds immediately jump to "art therapy". While yes, creating artwork is extremely therapeutic, there are some differences between classical art therapy and a basic mindful art practice.


Fist of all, art therapy tends to not only use artwork creation as a way to channel emotions and heal, but also relies upon the relationship with the therapist and the patient. The facilitator helps guide the creative process and offers encouraging support. Often, the therapist will use probative techniques to see if the creator can draw any meaning from the work. Art therapy also often comes with a more detailed curriculum and outlined exercise (many of which can be incorporated into art meditation practices). But the biggest differences for me are:

  1. Working with a professional art therapist vs. self-guided
  2. Drawing conclusions from your art vs. observing your mind during the process
  3. Slightly more structured vs. open to free flow


And please forgive me, because I am speaking in sweeping generalizations. Let's take a look at how we define art therapy.

Here's art therapy as explained by Psychology Today:

Art therapy involves the use of creative techniques such as drawing, painting, collage, coloring, or sculpting to help people express themselves artistically and examine the psychological and emotional undertones in their art. With the guidance of a credentialed art therapist, clients can "decode" the nonverbal messages, symbols, and metaphors often found in these art forms, which should lead to a better understanding of their feelings and behavior so they can move on to resolve deeper issues.

In meditation art, there is no need to draw meaning from the work, and while this isn’t necessarily always the case in art therapy either, mindful art is more about watching your thoughts before and after you start your creation process, rather than coming to a final understanding around or a healing of a trauma. In short, mindful art is never prescriptive or diagnostic.

Mindful art also relies more on introspection, and is easily done by an individual. Whereas art therapy gets the biggest results through work with a trained and licensed art therapist, the benefits of using the act of creating art as a meditation practice is accessible to all.

However, despite having minor differences, the worlds of mindful art and art therapy do still beautifully overlap. They both invite you into a space of calm. They both allow you to express yourself. They both foster peace through creativity. In fact, often art therapists will ask the clients to use mindfulness techniques throughout their practice.


Both of these tools are very powerful for healing and maintaining mental health. They can be used in tandem or separately. I think it's best to use the meditation art techniques to get out of an analytical mindset or daily stress. Art therapy might be better to address deeper traumas. If you don't have the resources to work with an art therapist directly, perhaps dive more into meditative art. But play with it, and see what resonates with you.

If you need some ideas to get you started, here's 30 art therapy ideas you can try at home.