My last blog post here heralded in the summer and now, somehow, whether you judge these things meteorologically or astronomically, either way it is undeniably autumn. My family's summer became a blur, with my wife becoming unwell in July, her being diagnosed with a serious illness and then spending most of August in hospital 49 miles away. She is now thankfully at home with me, but needing ongoing support and treatment.
People often don't know quite what to say. One friend emailed me in sympathy, referring to our situation as a "predicament", which seemed something of an understatement. A predicament is a troubling, embarrassing or ludicrous situation. To us, it seemed my wife's illness was a catastrophe, a calamity. Another colleague, sending best wishes, referred to my wife as my "beloved". This seemed quaint and completely apt. What had happened was not that my wife and I had found ourselves in a predicament, but that a calamity had befallen my beloved.
In the midst of all this, though I have found some solace in reading books and listening to music, it's not surprising that I have not felt much like engaging in my own creative activity over the past three months. I have neglected my blog, and had little appetite for writing, songwriting, performing or other means of self-expression. My own wellbeing has, of course, been affected by concerns about the health of my beloved and this has, in turn, affected my creativity. There is a paradox inherent in the relationship between creativity and wellbeing: while it's true that participating in creative activity generally enhances wellbeing (Stickley, Wright and Slade, 2018) it's also true that creativity calls for a level of equanimity (Sawyer, 2012). So, on the one hand, Shaun McNiff (the pioneering art therapist and professor of expressive therapies) is right to suggest "art and creativity are the soul's medicines – what the soul uses to minister to itself, cure its maladies, and restore its vitality" (McNiff, 2004: pxii-xiii); on the other hand, people are more likely to be creative when they are well-balanced (Sawyer, 2012) and enjoying a positive mood (Amabile et al., 2005) or, as Mozart once described it, "when I am completely myself ... and of good cheer..." (Vernon, 1970: p.55).
This is not meant to be an excuse for a lack of creative activity – it's simply an acknowledgment that crises such as serious illness in the family can impact on the emotional wellbeing of the whole family and that this needs to be regained before we can fully partake of the healing power of art and creativity. But, here I am writing once again ... and it feels good.
Amabile, T. M., Barsade, S. G., Mueller, J. S. & Staw, B. M. (2005). Affect and creativity at work. Administrative Science Quarterly, 50 (3), 367-403.
McNiff, S. (2004). Art heals: How creativity cures the soul. Boston, Massachusetts: Shambala Publications.
Sawyer, R K. (2012). Explaining creativity: The science of human innovation. (2nd ed.) Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Stickley, T., Wright, N. and Slade M. (2018). The art of recovery: outcomes from participatory arts activities for people using mental health services. Journal of Mental Health. Feb 15:1-7. doi: 10.1080/09638237.2018.1437609. [Epub ahead of print]. Available at: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/09638237.2018.1437609
Vernon, P.E. (1970). Creativity. Middlesex: Penguin Books.