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Creative Art as Therapy and a Useful for the Mind1

According to the seminal work by de Botton and Armstrong, Art as Therapy (2013), they suggest that:

Art is a tool for the mind which helps us to extend the inadequacy of our physical make-up, with which art functions to deal with the non-material dimensions of life's encounters: such as self understanding, remembering, sorrow, growth, hope, rebalancing, appreciation (de Botton and Armstrong, 2013, p.5).

Art provides an interface for self, familial and communal healing and is a useful tool bridging multiple levels of expression, nurture understanding, engagement and transformation. The discourse of art often originates far beyond the imaginary landscape of the individual artist. One could learn from an empathetic perspective when the individual artist pursuing self-development and striving for self-understanding; art criticism, analysis, appreciation could spring from the discussion of any family living rooms to friends at dinner parties, peer groups at school, playgrounds, workplaces and gossips in the neighbourhood; socially-engaged art could generate debates in the public realm, through participation it could fire the imagination of a nation. 

The following offer case studies of art’s transformative power at micro (individual), meso (family, service systems) and exo and macro (community, environment, culture) levels.



Individual: Pursuit of Mindfulnes, Self-understanding and Remembering through Art 

We are often led and affected by complex relationships among peoples, places, objects, experiences... so at times we are driven off-track to confusion and self-doubt. Art, often works as a medium to bring self-awareness, pre-requires the artist to constantly observe, adjust, reflect, construct and reframe the position of the self in relation to the interconnectedness with all people, as well as working with various elements of transient nature in the external world in order to create the work.

One example is a blind-folded action carried out by Amy Cheung continuously for 72 hours, between June 30, 1997 and July 2, 1997, at the turning point of Hong Kong ending its status as a British Colony and beginning a new historical chapter as China's Special Administrative Region. There were countless speculation and celebration for Hong Kong's return to the motherland and yet many fear for Hong Kong's dissolution by the Communists. Hong Kong was at a crossroad full of confusing emotions, so was the artist's mistrust of her own identity and saddened by the tension of Hong Kong's situation.

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Amy Cheung was blind-folded continuously for 72 hours, experiencing Hong Kong's political transition in an introspective and self-understanding manner, 1st July, 1997. (Image Source: Courtesy of the artist)

Inspired by Lady Justice, on one hand the blindfold action was carried out through an introspective quest from the artist's wish to cope with an identity crisis objectively without fear or favour, regardless of money, power and authority; on the other hand 72 individuals from the community were invited to ‘act as her eyes’ to document for her, so each member had a heightened awareness to ‘see on other's behalf’ for a particular hour leading to the ‘blind hours’ being transformed into a new kind of currency with which the artist used to exchange for 72 more unique visions. A collective historical documentation and a communal remembering of the sociopolitical climates of the sovereignty transfer over Hong Kong 1997 had been created through an individual's wish for self-understanding supported by community involvement for a set of more diversified and democratic perspectives.

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72 individuals were invited to ‘see’ on the artist's behalf for an hour by documenting their Hong Kong for her, all images photographed by participants were imbedded in 72 candles exhibited at Amos Anderson Museum in Finland. (Image Source: Courtesy of the artist)
 

Family: How does Art Depict Sorrow, Growth and Adaptation within Family Life Cycle

Sorrow, Growth and Appreciation2 
As much and as happiness, sorrow and boredom are all parts of life. There should be legitimate places for all these ubiquitous emotions. Artists are experts in transforming their sorrow, even repetitive and tedious nappy-changing tasks and all sorts of ‘unimpressive experiences into something noble’ (de Botton and Armstrong, 2013, p.26).

This could be best exemplified by Mary Kelly's large-scale installation titled Post-Partum Documents (1973-79)3 , a detailed sociological artwork charting the growth of both the artist's role as a mother and the development of her son from birth to the age of five. This work comprises many such as faecal-stained diaper liners, printed with details of the baby's diet, scraps of baby’s comforter, physical objects from the child's collection, innocent scribbles on some highly controlled psychoanalytical text, as a whole this artwork testifies how universally mundane, difficult yet complex the relationship between mother and child could be.

With this comprehensive observation and study, we could witness qualities of universal family dynamic with meaningful details cantered upon the notion of care and mutual respect- ‘Kelly’s voice does not overbear her infant son’s, instead it exists in tandem, we see clearly the mother developing and adapting as much as her child’4 . Also the seed of sadness and sense of loss grew along with the infant's separation from the mother, growing from dependence to independence.

Art as a social and analytical expression also provides reflective space and instrument to depict deeply this intricate advancement of family life circle and the shifting roles, adaptive responses between family members. Although art might not directly answer all questions, stresses and adversities of our daily lives, it better equips us to cope with a variety of intense emotions, if we can use our creativity to transform our negative thoughts and experiences with leaps of faith, interpreting sorrow as an opportunity to learn, grow and appreciate different emotional palette during our life-long journey, could we ask if all great artists suffer profoundly and also need to deal with soiled diapers in order to make great artwork, why shan't I?

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Mary Kelly, Post-Partum Document, 1973-1979
Image Source: Brian Prince. Post-Partum Document, 1973-1979 http://www.brianprince.com/file_cabinet/marykelly/SCRIPT/ppd.html, accessed in August 2014.

 

Endnote:

[1] Extracted from de Botton, B., Armstrong, J. (2013). Art as Therapy. Phaidon Press, pp. 7 – 65.

[2] Extracted from de Botton and Armstrong, 2013, pp.26-31, 64-65.
[3] Source: Mary Kelly. Post-Partum Document, from http://www.marykellyartist.com/post_partum_document.html, accessed in August, 2014.
[4] Source: Smarthistory. Mary Kelly's Postpartum Document, from http://smarthistory.khanacademy.org/mary-kellys-postpartum-document.html, accessed in August 2014.

 

References:

Brian Prince. Post-Partum Document, 1973-1979 http://www.brianprince.com/file_cabinet/marykelly/SCRIPT/ppd.html, accessed in August 2014.

de Botton, D. B., Armstrong, J. (2013). Art as Therapy. Phaidon Press.

Mary Kelly. Post-Partum Document, from http://www.marykellyartist.com/post_partum_document.html, accessed in August, 2014 Smarthistory.

Mary Kelly's Postpartum Document, from http://smarthistory.khanacademy.org/mary-kellys-postpartum-document.html, accessed in August 2014.

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