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Creativity and Emotional Well Being: Experiencing Ourselves as a Part of the World

by James on November 16th, 2011

I was part of an event on Creativity and Emotional Well Being on Friday at The American Museum in Bath, organized by 5x5x5=creativity. I thought some of you might find it interesting to share some of the ideas and subjects discussed on the day.

The afternoon of the seminar was divided roughly into four parts, with three presentations/conversations, and then time for the wider group to divide up and discuss some of the issues raised in smaller groups.

The first slot was a dialogue between Karen John, Psychologist and Robyn Pound Health Visitor. Karen and Robyn talked about a democratic environment as a healthy state of being, and of the ‘Crucial C’s’ – ‘the beliefs that one is connected to others, a part of family and community, capable of taking care of oneself; and is valued by others, has the knowledge that one counts and makes a difference, and had the courage needed to meet life’s challenges.’

Next came Catherine Lamont Robinson artist and researcher, and Helen Jury, artist and art psychotherapist. Catherine and Helen shared examples from their own practice within and outside of 5x5x5=creativity, looking at the role of creative practice in health, education and psychotherapy, focusing on the impact of such work on individuals. Video footage of this discussion, filmed by Jack Whitehead is available to view on YouTube

The third session was where I came in, alongside Ed Harker, Head teacher at St Saviours Infant School in Bath, and Gillian MacFarland, parent of a child that I worked with at St Saviours and an artist and art therapist. We began our session with an introduction to the work that we have carried out together with teacher Tracy Fournier over the last year, and which we plan to continue over this coming academic year. We built on the two sessions before us, taking the theory and ethos of the first session, and the way that the second session made the case for the benefit of creative practice for individual mental health, and applied these to the hands-on reality of a creative learning project in a school setting.

My own priority was to look at Creative Outdoor Learning, and what happens when each member of a group is supported to lead their own learning within a specific place, using their senses and imaginations to generate a dialogue with their physical, ecological and social environment. In terms of mental health, it’s my belief that we need to experience the reality of our continuity with the world around us to feel that we belong. We need to experience the fact that we are innately creative, and equally important parts of the whole. I also believe that if we experience ourselves as important parts of the whole, then we are more likely to act in positive, affirmative ways towards others and to develop greater empathy for difference.

There has been a lot of talk recently about why people aren’t acting to halt the loss of biodiversity, to slow global warming etc, why people in general seem unable to change their behaviour. The Common Cause Report from the WWF and others  looked at why, with all the information available to us as a society, we aren’t acting fast enough, aren’t seeming to care enough to do what needs to be done. For me it’s something to do with the way that we perceive and relate to the world around us, the way that we learn about our environment and ourselves. As a society, we tend to see the world as ‘out there’, we split the world into the ‘natural’ and the ‘man-made’, we apply inherited ways of seeing the world onto our sensory experiences, and filter our experiences accordingly.

So what is the alternative? What other models are there of learning about and being with the world? Does the way that we are currently taught deny us a more direct connection with the world around us and a sense of agency? It’s a huge subject but to me it’s such an important one.

I think we can earn a lot from other more traditional, aboriginal societies, but we can also learn from the research done by organisations such as 5x5x5=creativity. Through my work within and outside of 5x5x5, I can explore what happens when we allow each individual to go out into the world, and develop knowledge and understanding through direct interaction and experience; what happens when we support each person to experience themselves as innately creative and valuable, and encourage the to share their experiences with others in dialogue.

I believe that if we change the way that children are taught, and enable them to learn about themselves through relationship with the real world around them, through their bodies, imaginations, needs and strengths, then we boost their self esteem, their confidence, their social skills and their ability to empathise not only with each other, but with the non-human world. When we experience ourselves as embedded within the fabric of the world, as an integral part of it, we cannot so readily divorce ourselves from the damage that we are doing to it.

It’s a subject that is continually unfolding in terms of my own understanding, and which is a central theme to my practice as an artist, so please share your own thoughts or research as comments if you’re able to.

But for now, I’ll end with a quote that I read at the conference.

‘As part of the growing movement to shift the paradigm of a bounded, isolated self toward a vision of a self that is permeable, interconnected not only with other human selves but with all living beings and processes, a new theory of child development must be evolved. Such a theory must take into consideration that the infant is born into not only a social but an ecological context. It must acknowledge that, from the earliest moments of life, the infant has an awareness not only of human touch, but of the touch of the breeze on her skin, variations in light and temperature, texture, sound.’

Anita Barrows – The Ecopsychology of Child Development

One Comment
  1. I was very interested in what you have to say above and wondered if you would be interested in coming to our summer school next year 28th July-3rd August and contributing as a facilitator. You met Karen John and she is one of our regular participants.

    Please accept that this is only an initial enquiry as to your availability

    Thank you


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