Creativity and wellbeing

The pandemic has been a time of change and disruption and the arts and cultural sector has been severely impacted. At the same time, we can see the valuable role creativity has on our wellbeing. This period has prompted me to delve into the topic of creativity, considering its contribution to wellbeing and how to cultivate creativity in everyday life. I have drawn on existing research, held conversations with creative practitioners, and picked up a paintbrush. The result is a series of articles and accompanying interviews complied for my studies in Multiplatform Storytelling at The University of Tasmania, I hope that it provides food for thought and is a useful resource for anyone wanting to chart a creative path.

Defining creativity

Creativity is a broad topic and multiple definitions exist. While contested creativity is often broadly categorised as “Big C” and “little c” [2]. Put simply, “Big C” is the type of creativity we associate with highly skilled creatively talented individuals and “little c” the intrinsic creativity that we all possess. Psychologist and author, Ruth Richards [3] describes this as “everyday creativity”:

“Everyday creativity is identified with two criteria only: originality and meaningfulness—it is new, and it is understandable. Beyond that, any activity can qualify. Whether we are landscaping the yard, fixing the car, instructing our child, advising a friend, or making a gourmet dinner out of some bare leftovers, we can be invoking our everyday creativity.” (Richards, R., 2018, p.3)

The University of New South Wales Centre for Ideas [4] recently explored definitions of creativity in a series of interviews, in which Australian artist and filmmaker Lynette Wallworth described creativity as “being available to everyone” and linked to “the process of imagination”. 

Creativity and wellbeing

So, what then is the benefit of everyday creativity to those not in the arts. During the time of increased social isolation, The University of Tasmania’s Institute for Social Change carried out a survey [5] which found that 80 per cent of respondents described being creative as important to maintaining their wellbeing during the pandemic. Further, The Creativity and Wellbeing Hallmark Research Initiative [6] is working across a suite of research themes with the aim of better understanding the links between creativity and wellbeing. In the United Kingdom and Canada, “social prescribing” [7] allows medical professionals to refer patients to a range of allied health services including creative and community programs.

Art Therapy

There is an existing body of knowledge on the positive effects of art available in the field of Art Therapy. While a distinction should be made between Art Therapy in a clinical setting and art as therapy there are overlapping benefits [8]. This interview with Art Therapist Laura Riddell [9] provides a window into her insights as an art therapist. Laura has provided counselling for over 25 years having worked with children on the autism spectrum and people living with mental health conditions.

Listen to Laura’s interview:

Laura notes that you don’t have to be an artist to benefit from being creative. In Art Therapy, art and visual expression are used as tools to assist in translating complex feelings, Laura says that “creativity can reveal choices that we were previously unaware of”, and colour, form, and materials like clay can be used to express feelings that we don’t have words to for.

When using art as a therapeutic tool Laura finds that an emphasises on the creative process, rather than the outcome is beneficial, saying:

“I think that’s the biggest thing to give yourself permission to do is not to worry about
the outcome, just to get started.”

Letting go of the need for perfection is important as it sets up a non-judgemental space. This is grounded in science, as when humans feel stressed our flight-fight-freeze response is heightened, rather we want to soothe and relax by engaging the parasympathetic nerve [10]. 

As well as being process-driven, setting clear frameworks can help clients navigate around internal roadblocks. Laura describes it as “…not getting people started on a blank piece of paper”. Starting with clear structures sets the safe framework allowing participants to visualise what they are setting out to do, which in turn opens a gateway for natural curiosity to take over. 

Creativity presents other benefits such as connection with others over a shared creative endeavour, connections that can help to build a sense of belonging in the world. While this had been curtailed during the pandemic community-based programs such as the Northern Beaches Secret Rocks [11] project which encourages community members to paint a rock with a message and leave it along a walking route to share with others, are activities that bring a sense of shared connection during challenging times.

Accessing our everyday creativity has benefits and research shows that creativity can help us to make sense of ourselves and our relationships with others. This reminds us of the valuable role visual artists, musicians, dancers, and creative practitioners of all types play in supporting a healthy society.

Author: Kerry Turnbull (Director, Engage Arts)

Feature image: Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash.

This series covers topics related to creativity and wellbeing, we acknowledge that while creativity is beneficial mental well-being is a complex issue. If this content raises issues for you, please connect with support. A list of Australian support services is provided below.

SUPPORT SERVICES

REFERENCES

1.         Runco, M., “Big C, Little c” Creativity as a False Dichotomy: Reality is not Categorical. Creativity Research Journal, 2014. 26(1): p. 131-132.

2.         Richards, R., Everyday Creativity and the Healthy Mind. [electronic resource] : Dynamic New Paths for Self and Society. 1st ed. 2018. ed. Palgrave Studies in Creativity and Culture. 2018: Palgrave Macmillan UK.

3.         UNSW Centre for Ideas, On Creativity, Lynette Wallworth with Sarah Dingle, UNSW, Editor. 2021.

4.         Lester, L. and R. Banham, Creativity, culture and the arts during COVID-19, in The Tasmania Project. 2020, University of Tasmania, Institute for Social Change: Tasmania.

5.         The University of Melbourne. Creativity and Wellbeing. 2021  21/08/2021]; Available from: https://research.unimelb.edu.au/research-at-melbourne/multidisciplinary-research/hallmark-research-initiatives/creativity-and-wellbeing.

6.         Larter. Social prescribing is coming to Australia. 2021  26/08/2021]; Available from: https://larter.com.au/social-prescribing/.

7.         Australia Council for the Arts, Arts and Wellbeing Forum. 2021.

8.         Art Therapy Resouces. Understanding Art Therapy vs Art As Therapy. 2020  2/11/21]; Available from: https://arttherapyresources.com.au/art-as-therapy/.

9.         Riddell, L. Exploring the magic of Being. 2013  8.11.2021]; Available from: http://laurariddell.com.

10.       Nall, R. Your Parasympathetic Nervous System Explained. 2020  9/10/21]; Available from: https://www.healthline.com/health/parasympathetic-nervous-system.

11.       Northern Beaches Secret Rocks. Northern Beaches Secret Rocks #NBSR. 2021  8.11.2021]; Available from: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1552698581430500/about.

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