Clinical training was tough, and I found engaging in creative practice – of whichever kind – provided a special mixture of release, expression, absorption, problem-solving, reflection and a sense of achievement. I increased my use of creative methods in clinical practice and eventually focussed my research on the arts and mental health.
No culture has ever existed without art, affirming its centrality and importance. We treasure examples from across the ages and display them in galleries and museums around the world. I start this blog from The Louvre in Paris where the is the Mona Lisa is guarded. Can science explain our interest in her gaze, or is intuition also an effective way of knowing? As psychologists, we are trained to be scientists – but also to acknowledge the limits of science and to draw on our intuition or “fast-thinking,” (see Kahneman: Thinking Fast and Slow) a route to our subconscious which tends to be more accurate than our slower rational thought (also see Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink). The potential for art to connect and engage disparate parts of the brain is something that fascinates me.
The role of the arts in human culture and connection is perhaps sensed more acutely here at The Louvre than anywhere I have ever been before.
From the first empire in history, Mesopotamia (present-day Iraq), enormous and impressive stone carvings depicting human-headed bulls stand 4 metres high. Their impressive scale and detail challenged my ability to empathise with the meaning or purpose of art. I walked onwards to 19th Century European Paintings and viewed The Wedding at Cana, hung opposite the Mona Lisa. This vast image tells the story of Jesus turning water into wine; but I noticed that even in a painting of this most famous legend, it is the musicians at the foreground in the centre.
Continuing through the vast spaces housing many diverse artworks and artefacts, the power of arts to document and convey feeling and connection beyond the reach of words is obvious. Did you know, only 10% of our understanding of meaning is derived from the actual words chosen? The majority is conveyed via tone and body language. While language has its own art-forms and can sensitively convey depth of experience, after and beyond there still remain things to be said. Perhaps this is why the arts are linked to complex experiences and to mental distress; we need an additional and alternative route than language alone.
In a welcome coincidence, ahead of my research trip to Finland in May 2017, yesterday I came across the Insitut Finlandias in Paris, and hope to return during opening hours this weekend in preparation for my trip.
I will write more about why Finland features in my arts and health Churchill Fellowship.
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So this is it! A dive into the unknown… a skydive – which I ended up doing on my last day in Paris! A lovely symbol of the leap of faith I am taking into blogging…
Thanks for reading and lastly: get in touch! The Churchill Fellowship will allow me to travel and investigate arts and health initiatives; do you have an organisation I could visit? Or might you have a request for a blog topic? Ask away! Stay Involved to receive an email when I post.
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Next time: Episode #2: an insight into an exhibition at Insitut Finlandais.
Episode #3: Creativity and Bipolar Disorder, by those with lived experience