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Sometimes as an Art Therapist I do what some clients like to think are magic tricks. I just call it practicing within my specialty area- which FYI does not happen to include magic. I’ve never been one to say what clients create in artwork flat-out mean anything specific- I’m not a fortune teller or a mind reader. I do not know what your child was trying to draw last night on their bedroom wall with a permanent blue marker or what it means. For me it’s all up for interpretation and has more to do with what the artist says it’s about and the conversation we can have around that. But this post isn’t about the interpretation. This post is about when things really do mean something specific.

Let me tell you a story. Once upon a time, there was this cultural anthropologist – we’ll call her Angeles Arrien (because that is her name.) Angeles was really interested in how people used art and symbols in their storytelling. After 7 years of research, she discovered 5 basic shapes which essentially held the same meanings for people across time, culture, and space. “The meanings attributed to the shapes describes universal aspirations, needs, and fears; each shape symbolizes a specific inner and outer experience relevant to humankind.” She developed the Preferential Shapes Test as a tool for self-discovery. Some of it is cheesy and reads a bit like a horoscope- vague enough to mean anything if you allow it to. And some of it is surprisingly spot-on.

It goes like this- you just draw these 5 universal shapes (circle, square, triangle, spiral, equidistant cross) in order of preference from left to right.

And then I tell you what it’s supposed to mean- using my girl Angeles’s book “Shapes of Life: The Five Universal Shapes and How to Use Them” as the guide.


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