Arts-based reminiscence through visual art and narrative analysis: An intergenerational exploration


  • Emily J. Mills, BA
  • Lauren S. Seifert, PhD
  • Clare Murray Adams, MFA



art interventions, ABR, eldercare, memory, arts-based activities, elders, intergenerational


Objective: To celebrate memory through intergenerational reminiscence that led to the creation of Keepsake Boxes and to the cultivation of lively narratives about them. In Western cultures, adults more than 65 years of age are often subjected to negative and condescending attitudes. Yet they are one of our greatest resources—possessing life experience and wisdom. The current research study sought to oppose ageism and affirm the value of aging adults through reminiscence, expressive art, visual analysis, and narrative analysis. In an intergenerational collaboration, a multimethod and trans-disciplinary approach was used to investigate an arts-based reminiscence activity. With a focus on problem solving, the authors drew upon theory, research, and methods from art, psychology, gerontology, and literary analysis. Dialogic process, narrative analysis, qualitative research techniques, and visual methods were cultivated. All participants took an art class that focused on one of their chosen, significant memories. The researchers used both narrative and visual methods to respond to participants’ artwork and narrative explanations. This project provides an example of the use of multiple methodologies within a trans-disciplinary framework to help engage adults across generations in reminiscence and reflection. It reasserts a positive role of art activities in elder life and of intergenerational collaboration in arts-based research.

Author Biographies

Emily J. Mills, BA

Psychology and Visual Arts, Malone University, Canton, Ohio

Lauren S. Seifert, PhD

Professor of Psychology, Malone University, Canton, Ohio

Clare Murray Adams, MFA

Associate Professor (Retired), Visual Arts, Malone University, Canton, Ohio


Walz TH, Brown P: Family-based long-term care for the elder: Stress considerations. In Wykle ML, Kahana E, Kowal J (eds.): Stress and Health Among the Elderly. New York, NY: Springer, 1992: 223-238.

US Census Bureau: USA Quickfacts. Available at Accessed August 26, 2014.

Jackson JS, Antonucci TC: Social support processes in health and effective functioning of the elder. In Wykle ML, Kahana E, Kowal J (eds.): Stress and Health Among the Elderly. New York, NY: Springer, 1992: 72-88.

Weiss JC: The role of art therapy in aiding older adults with life transitions. In Duffy M (ed.): Handbook of Counseling and Psychotherapy with Older Adults. New York, NY: John Wiley, 1999: 182-196.

Seifert LS, Drennan BM, Baker MK: Intergenerational pen-pals: Making connections through the arts and children's hearts. Act Dir Q Alzheimers Other Dement Patients. 2006; 7: 27-41.

Schullery NM: Workplace engagement and generational differences in values. Bus Commun Q. 2013; 7: 252-265.

Adams CM: The Handkerchief Memory Project. Canton, OH: Author, 2013.

Jongeward C: Visual portraits: Integrating artistic process into qualitative research. In Leavy P (ed.): Method Meets Art. New York, NY: The Guilford Press, 2009: 239-251.

Anderson JR, Matessa M, Lebiere C: ACT-R: A theory of higher level cognition and its relation to visual attention. Hum Comput Interact. 1997; 12: 439-462.

Atkinson RC, Shiffrin RM: Human memory: A proposed system and its control processes. In Spence K, Spence J (eds.): The Psychology of Learning and Motivation. Vol 2. New York, NY: Academic Press, 1968: 89-195.

Ebbinghaus H: Memory: A Contribution to Experimental Psychology. Ruger HA, Bussenius CE, Hilgard ER, trans. New York, NY: Dover Publications, 1885/1964.

Rubin DC (ed.): Autobiographical Memory. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1986.

Schacter D: Searching for Memory: The Brain, the Mind, and the Past. New York, NY: Basic Books, 1996.

Loftus EF, Cahill L: Memory distortion: From misinformation to rich false memory. In Nairne JS (ed.): The Foundations of Remembering: Essays in Honor of Henry L. Roediger, III. New York, NY: Psychology Press, 2007: 413-425.

Kunz JA, Soltys FG (eds.): Transformational Reminiscence: Life Story Work. New York, NY: Springer, 2007.

Butler RN: The life review: An interpretation of reminiscence in old age. Psychiatry J Study Interpers Process. 1963; 26: 65-76.

McGaugh JL: Making lasting memories: Remembering the significant. Proc Natl Acad Sci. 2013; 110(suppl 2): 10402-10407.

Webster JD, Haight BK: Critical Advances in Reminiscence Work: From Theory to Application. New York, NY: Springer, 2002.

StoryCorps: Featured Stories. Available at Accessed August 26, 2014.

Kunz JA (Producer): The Joys and Surprises of Telling Your Life Story [video]. Superior, WI: International Institute of Reminiscence and Life Review, University of Wisconsin, 2002.

National Center for Creative Aging: Creative Aging: Get the Facts. Available at Accessed August 26, 2014.

Rogers N: The Creative Connection for Groups: Person-Centered Expressive Arts for Healing and Social Change. Palo Alto, CA: Science & Behavior Books, 2011.

Davis J: Infusing the arts across the curriculum. In Torff BA (ed.): Unfusing the Arts Across the Curriculum (Project Zero). Symposium conducted at the annual convention of the

American Psychological Association. August 1995.

Davis J: The MUSE Book. Cambridge, MA: Harvard College, 1996.

Lindauer MS: Aging, Creativity, and Art: A Positive Perspective on Late-Life Development. New York, NY: Kluwer Academic/Plenum, 2003.

Beard RL: Art therapies and dementia care: A systematic review. Dementia. 2011; 11: 633-656.

Seifert LS: Chasing Dragonflies: Life and Care in Aging. Cuyahoga Falls, OH: Clove Press Ltd, 2007.

Seifert LS, Smerglia VL: Telmia…Short Stories for Active Adults. Cuyahoga Falls, OH: Clove Press, Ltd, 2012.

Rubin JA: Artful Therapy. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons Inc, 2005.

Engel S: Context Is Everything: The Nature of Memory. New York, NY: W.H. Freeman and Company, 1999.

Portnoy EJ: Make Their Days: Activities for Residents in Long Term Care [eBook]. Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas, 1999.

Anderson LS, Heyne LA: A strengths approach to assessment in therapeutic recreation: Tools for positive change. J Ther Recreation. 2013; XLVI: 89-108.

Schaefer CE (ed.): Play Therapy with Adults. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc, 2003.

Chazan SE: Profiles of Play. London, UK: Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2002.

Seifert LS, Baker MK: Art and Alzheimer-type dementia: A longitudinal study. Clin Gerontol. 2003; 26: 3-15.

Leavy P: Method Meets Art. New York, NY: The Guilford Press, 2009.

Eisner E: The Enlightened Eye. New York, NY: Macmillan, 1991.

Leavy P: Essentials of Transdisciplinary Research: Using Problem-Centered Methodologies. Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press, 2011.

Cozby PC: Methods in Behavioral Research. 9th ed. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill, 2001.

Dooley D: Social Research Methods. 4th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 2001.

Gee J: Units in the production of narrative discourse. Discourse Process. 1986; 9: 391-422.

Gee J: A linguistic approach to narrative. J Narrat Life History. 1991; 1: 15-39.

Kim J: For whom the bell tolls: Conflicting voices inside an alternative high school. Int J Educ Arts. 2006; 7: 1-19.

Seifert LS, Naramore J: Judging activity success: Is it all about whether participants are interacting? Act Dir Q Alzheimers Other Dement Patients. 2014; 15: 17-34.



How to Cite

Mills, BA, E. J., Seifert, PhD, L. S., & Adams, MFA, C. M. (2014). Arts-based reminiscence through visual art and narrative analysis: An intergenerational exploration. American Journal of Recreation Therapy, 13(3), 34–46.