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Why Art Matters

Why Art Matters

When I first contemplated 40,000-year-old cave paintings, it really struck me just how fundamental art is to the human condition. Even though our prehistoric ancestors lived without the comforts of civilisation, they still took the trouble to make art. Sure, questions may still hang over the value or the purpose of art but, evidently, it has always been a crucial part of our lives, our loves, our labours and, by extension, our wellbeing too. It is no wonder that art is nowadays used as a therapy – and not just for recovery: the current focus for the profession is on building resilience in clients.

Cathy Malchiodi, a psychologist and art therapist with 30 years in practice, concludes that the true purpose of art is one of resilience, not of pathology or mental illness. It is why humankind has continually returned to creating art as one way to repair and recover from the inescapable physical, emotional, interpersonal and spiritual challenges of life. In other words, artistic expression and the creative process are really manifestations of the drive toward health and wellbeing, not merely signposts of repression, projection or displacement.

The cave-dwellers probably didn’t have therapists: they must have been a naturally resilient lot. Perhaps it helped that they lived communally in tightly knit groups, where individual effort was intimately connected to the wellbeing of the whole group. Nowadays, when many of us have little or no group support day-to-day, personal resilience plays an important part in our continued wellbeing. Some of us may never meet an artist – as in a painter, sculptor, musician or poet – though we can always access their works and find inspiration in their creativity. For the resilience-enhancing capacities of art expression are found not in any one particular type of art, but within the characteristics of artmaking itself. The real essence of being an artist is about creativity – pushing boundaries and coming up with something new that will have an impact on others who perceive it – and in this sense, we all come into contact with artists sooner or later, either in our personal or professional lives, or both.

And just as artists enthuse us with their creativity, so do we in turn inspire others. Barbara Frederickson’s research demonstrates how artistic creativity produces positive emotions that result in reinforcing upward spirals whereby the positivity results in even more creativity. And, in another upward spiral, the presence of creative people promotes creativity in others. This type of infectious energy is equally effective in social and work situations. Research by David Laak demonstrates that resilient employees build strong connections and positive relationships with their colleagues, and that a resilient worker will do what they can to help another person to achieve success in the workplace. The bottom line is that a resilient worker is a team-player who aims for a win-win with their fellow employees.

Modern workplaces are typified by change. The climate of work imposes on employees a need to be flexible and adaptive. Resilient workers are seen to be more able to manage inevitable changes and deal with novel scenarios. They are also more skilled at dealing with setbacks and have the capacity to move on after they encounter a stumbling block. When this translates into teamwork, success becomes an everyday expectation. Perhaps we should take look at those cave-dwellers in a new light: they understood the importance of teamwork and left us some wonderful art to prove it.

Thanks to Rachel Ward Lilley for sharing this article.

Author: Rachel Ward Lilley is a business and educational psychologist. She has worked for many years advising SMEs and her current work relates to issues of resilience, communication, personal development, team building and motivation. Over the past 12 years Rachel has extended her work into the educational field.  Find out more here www.rachelwl.co.uk.

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