POLYPHONYJournal of the Irish Association of Creative Arts Therapists

Review: Ecopoiesis: A New Perspective for the Expressive and Creative Arts Therapies

Published on May 20, 2023 by Anya Spark


The book Ecopoiesis: A New Perspective for the Expressive and Creative Arts Therapies In the 21st Century (Jessica Kingsley, 2022), by Stephen K. Levine and Alexander Kopytin, is a serendipity for me. It chose me at the right time, but most of all, at the right circumstances. This book for me is a symbol, a beacon that my personal life as a holistic art therapist and my professional choices are true and that humanity itself is on the right track.

This book starts slowly by setting a mood and feeling describing the fragility of nature and life, beauty, sense of wonder, sacred spaces, eco-education and integration, creativity, and ecopoiesis. Then it adds a bit of pace in the chapters dedicated to multiple approaches and functions of ecopoiesis, our neurological responses, heart-seeing, multi-sensory connection, belonging with nature in art, and creative therapies. The final chapters are dedicated to the large-scale application of ecopoiesis and environment art, including the activist work of Newton Harrison. The last chapter in the book, written by Judith Alalu L. and Odette A. Velez V., is a loud shout, scream, call for action to implement ecopoiesis in all our human endeavors, not only art and creative therapies. It is a grand finale as if in a major orchestra play with drums, tubes, and horns.

This is a clear and strong message that time has changed and here are tools to deal with it.

For me, it is essential to see that ecopoiesis expand into other realms beyond therapy settings, as I am an economist by education, who became an art therapist in the musing circles of my dear teacher and mentor Monica Carpendale. The ecopoiesis was part of my art-therapeutic upbringing, and Chapter 10 in this book, written by Carpendale, is like an echo of the class I spent the last two years during the pandemic. It is as if I entered the room again with multiple nature and found objects, hearing and reflecting on nature metaphors. It became part of who I am as a therapist.

One of the materials buskets

Spark, A. (2023). Ocean gifts. [Photograph]. Pacific Ocean. Private Collection.

But serendipity and synchronicity are sensed in all chapters. For the last year, I lived and worked on a sailboat in the Pacific Ocean, continuously exposed to elements, depending on them, intuned with them, and accustomed to wind, sun, heat, tides, and sky. Especially the night sky – I love it. What I personally felt in my past life as pathology, I believe is well reflected in several chapters of this book as "nature deficit disorder" (p. 299), “shortage of resonance with the natural world” (p. 99, p.307), loss of “biophilia” (p.246) or attunement to the rhythms of nature. Historically, we lost the need to be deeply attuned to nature, being aided and accommodated by inventions and machines, by the safety of concrete buildings, asphalt roads, and "fences". Oh, yes, "fences" are so accurately described by Teagan White (p. 291). After traveling around the Earth, I can define the well-being of any nation by the height of its fences! As opposed to fences, in connecting to Ocean, Newton Harrison asks " Can I stretch my empathy to include a small ocean?” (p. 260)

Being one with Ocean, I suddenly restored the ability to feel its rhythm, its energy, and its mood. Everything has its own energetic charge, even non-living elements.

The sailboat as a man-maid item has a strong vibration. Spending days and nights in the boat, I and my family can sense it. I strongly believe that what we describe often as symptoms of autism, is an amplified sensory ability to feel vibrations. As if nature asking us to come back to reciprocity and shows us what we need by giving people autistic powers which we are lacking. My mild autistic perception of humans, the world, cities, and crowds, suddenly is not a burden or weakness, but a power and strength that I can use, and rely on in the wild. It is my superpower here in the ocean. Varvara Sidorova in Chapter 5 describes her principles and concludes that "The pandemic has launched a process of change in our relationship to nature, between the body of nature and one's own body, weakening the process of attunement to nature" (p. 90). I can’t completely agree that weakening started with the pandemic. I believe the pandemic highlighted and brought to daylight what was happening for millennia. It just becomes so evident in the last two years that we are crippling as species in the current techno-money-oriented world.

In this book, we have a polyphony of voices from therapists, educators, and practitioners sharing their "new way" of living and being in the world with an activated capacity for ecopoiesis. If the first book by Levine on “Ecopoiesis” and Kopytin's book on “Green Studio” were the first two drops, now we are witnessing the "infinite ripples" mentioned by Beverly A’Court (p. 108). After coming out of the pandemic, with the current political unrest in Europe, and with the launch of Chat GPT, we are now on a new spiral in human development. There is no way to go back. Technological, social, and political changes unprecedently becoming global. We are united on the planet Earth electronically, economically, and governmentally. But the powers of those who protect Pacha Mama and Mama Qucha, who are still "swimming" (p. 322), have to grow and unite as well. The “new perspective” as Kopytin and Levine calls it, now must be part of our daily lives.

The need for "self-recognition" as eco-humans is inevitable.

As if in many fairy tales, after we enter the deep forest, lost and displaced, with no sense of "belonging" (p.27), we often meet the great council of wise men or wise women. In an old Russian fairy tale told by Marshak “Twelve Months”, the young girl enters deep wood only to meet the 12 Men-Month (the life cycle) who sat in a circle waiting for her. The youngest one, representing the early spring, gave the girl the magic she needed to exit with new knowledge and powers. The same is in the story of “The Handless Maiden” by Grimm. She is lost in the forest and stays with wise women who gave her "new" or maybe the "ancient" knowledge that was kept by the trees, moss, rivers, by the wilderness in order to go back to civilization as a new queen. This book for me contains the voices of a council of wise men and women, who shared their magic with the readers in order for us to become anew in the world out there.

I was raised in a time of change - when governments failed, when the structures crumbled, and when people lost everything in a matter of hours, including their lives. Nothing is ever permanent, and we are very connected. Connection to nature is always there if we want it or not; if we can or cannot reciprocate, it is still awaiting and calling for us. The ability to have a "sensory perception of our nature" (p. 226) can be achieved in many ways, certainly by going out into nature or bringing nature into your studio, home, group, school, or hospital. But "ecopoiesis" (p. 105) starts with the creative intention, with poiesis to be nature-related. The variety of art-therapy techniques described in this book is a beautiful compilation of remembering the connection to the natural world, external and internal.

It is authentication of our built-in capacity to relate not only to each other but the surrounding world we are part of.

Though this book mostly contains voices of “white” or let’s say representatives from privileged societies, it could have benefited from the knowledge and skills, points of view, and techniques of those who are naturally closer to nature outside of the Western modern world. But I am not surprised. We are learning to heal ourselves. We are slowly opening up to the wisdom of the world past Western. We realize and learn to connect to the natural world, but there is no deep integration yet witnessed in the holistic dreamwork of Aboriginal Australia, elusive Vanuatuan sand drawing ceremonies, and intricate carpet making of deep Kazakh prairies where I am from. We still compartmentalize art, nature, spirit, humans, non-humans, science, and economics. But at least, now all those elements come in the same sight, on the same level together. And we are learning to see it as one.

In my own practice, I use a holistic approach similar to Beverly A’Court (p. 106) where all is one, and all are united. To heal is to balance our weaknesses and powers, to be attuned to “all my relations". As Levine says about it: poiesis is not a philosophy that relies on mental capacities to see the truth. Poiesis is being, living, and creating in truth. It is an "aha moment", it is "that sensory-emotional experience which is literally "breath-taking", which makes us stop and compels our attention to what is happening in the moment" (p. 64).

This book for me is that moment of truth, breath-taking "aha", the serendipity of life happening and prevailing and me sensing myself as part of it.

With ecopoiesis perspectives, methods, and ways of living we can "redefine sanity" (p. 48) and create a new perspective of our understanding of health and pathology (p. 48). Again, we are not sick, we have just forgotten who we are and our powers are unbalanced within the body, spirit, heart, mind, nature, mythical, and social context. Ecopoiesis in the 21st century contains the intention to live life creatively, connected to the “life web” (p.259) holistically.


Grimm, J. & Grimm W. (2018). The Complete Grimm’s Fairy Tales. Digireads.com Publishing.

Kopytin A. & Rugh, M. (2016). Green Studio: Nature and the Arts in Therapy. Hauppauge, NY: Nova Science Publishers.

Levine, S.K. (1992). Poiesis: The Language of Psychology and the Speech of the Soul. Toronto: Palmerston Press/Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Levine, S.K. & Kopytin A. (2022). A New Perspective for the Expressive and Creative Arts Therapies in the 21st Century. Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Marshak, S. (2000). Twelve Months. Fredonia Books.

Anya Spark

Anya Spark for Art Therapy

I am a certified intentional creativity coach, a holistic art therapist, an entrepreneur, a sailor, and a mother. I love connecting with my clients through art.

My favorite topics are joy, inspiration, creativity, empowerment, and healing.

I use art and intentional creativity as means to empower individuals, businesses, and community groups. To date, I have worked with individuals and groups who have experienced trauma, neglect, tragedy, misplacement, immigration, or loss. Also, people who simply want to explore their own self-expression and awareness. The joy in my work is seeing the results and bright positive futures opening up to my clients.