The Art of Wellbeing – An Invitation to a Conversation.
Is the urge to create, deeply and innately embedded in the human psyche? I have long felt it to be so! And if so for what reason has it evolved? Human beings are blessed with the power of higher consciousness; we have the capacity to grasp at impressions of the cosmos and our place in it; to see ourselves both as a speck of stardust in the immensity of the universe and as a solitary human being struggling to survive and fulfil ourselves in this life we have been given on earth. How can we possibly express the wonderment and bewilderment of that state being through medium of our spoken vocabulary alone? We can’t! But we can capture something of what it means to be alive in our dance, music, song, drama, poetry and painting.
So my starting point in thinking about the arts and well being is that art is first and foremost an act of communication. When the creative energy stirs within us and we begin to paint, draw, make music, act, or write with a little more freedom, something of us – our meanings and feelings, are transfigured into what we create. If someone who has been only able to manage feint, tentative pencil sketches, suddenly produces something that has a trace of colour, freedom and uniqueness I want to say ‘frame that picture! Hang it on your wall! That is you; that is a glimpse of all that is extraordinary about you, daring to show through’ And as in art so in life! Art can be liberating; it can free us from those mind forged manacles that William Blake talks about. Once we have glimpsed the light of our own being we cannot go back to living in the shadows, we begin to feel alive and embrace life perhaps for the first time.
Very little of this may be recognised by participant/students who come new to Inside Out. But something brings people and keeps them coming? I sense that that motivation goes beyond simply the need for something to do; beyond a need for social contact and belonging, important though these things are. Perhaps the missing word here is ‘meaning’? Art offers a ‘meaningful’ activity, a socially valued activity, particularly if therapeutic arts programmes are led and taught in a way that has professional artistic quality. As many commentators on the arts and health movement have said – ‘arts for arts sake’ is the ‘vital element’ for successful wellbeing outcomes. We can ‘find ourselves’ through the arts, or perhaps because our personhood is never complete but always in an emergent state, it might be more accurate to say we can ‘realise more of ourselves through art’ and in that sense it has meaning. To have our creative endeavours validated is also to receive personal validation and we grow in the light of those attributions. At Inside Out over the years we have witnessed many people ‘make their mark’ both literally and metaphorically.
I identify with all this personally. One of the joys of being involved in running Inside Out is that you get to be a participant/student too. I am not where I was 10 years ago. My way of being in the world has changed and my immersion in the therapeutic arts at Inside Out has contributed significantly to that change. If I had to sum up how or in what way I would use a word I used earlier – liberation. I feel liberated from many of the constraints – those morbid preoccupations of the ego that for so long have been such a life denying presence in my life. That is what Inside Out can be for people liberating – liberating in all sorts of ways!
Copyright Peter N. Watkins (2013)
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