Assessing the need for creative involvement: Who can benefit?
I believe that any kind of involvement can either be creative or rote; and creative does not necessarily mean art. It is way of approaching your environment. However there has been widespread prejudice that creativity is exclusive to certain groups of people and part of our job is to dispel that myth. We can do it more effectively if we know the roots of that assumption.
I had just given a quick overview of what creativity means to me to a group of seniors and invited them to sort through the magazines and papers supplied. I noticed a man in 8os sitting off to one side and went to talk to him. He explained to me that he was not creative and went on to describe his grand-daughter, “Now, she’s creative and artistic!” I wondered aloud if she had not been encouraged by someone who recognized creativity. He agreed that he was her great supporter. He continued by tell how his childhood was very different to hers. He was the son of dirt-farmers in the mid-west at the time of the Dustbowl. He explained that everyone in the family had to work for survival and if he stopped to day-dream or read or draw he was told “You can’t do that!” He carried his parents’ message through the next 7 decades – a partial message that had become a judgement – he couldn’t draw because he had no talent. Once he realized how he had stopped himself from doing creative work, he sadly acknowledged it was too late now because he could not see. I asked what was the cause and when I found out it was macular degeneration, I described a technique I had used before. Harold, brave man, decided to try it and selected materials to take home and work in privacy. The next day he brought back a beautiful, colorful collage which was displayed in the community room for all to see and praise. Harold decided if he could do one thing he never thought possible that there were others he could creatively approach. I am glad to say that he went on to become a very active member of his community, not only involved in classes but leading several groups sharing things that interested him.
Who can benefit?
Sitting around with nothing much to do, seniors have time to notice what is not working well in our bodies and lives– the twinges we feel, not hearing so well anymore, needing help getting out of the chair and so on. We don’t hear from our family or friends as much as we would like. When this happens in a social setting, the shared complaints become a chorus. The chorus stretches on through weeks and years and becomes habitual, especially as we might not know much else about the people we are chatting to. The story we tell about our lives seem dismal. Not much incentive to bound out of bed – even if we could!
Contrast this with a conversation after a class- “Wow, that was an interesting story! I never knew you served in the navy. Is that where you learned to write?” Or “That painting of yours is beautiful – such colors! I want to learn to paint landscapes I remember from my youth in the old country?”
In my line of work I often hear greetings like “How’s the book coming on?” And “Did you see your poem in the newsletter?” “Can’t wait to hear you sing in the concert?”
The dynamic of relating changes when people are involved and passionate about their work. A group of women from my art classes continued to meet and discuss their work after the classes were over and have had reunions for years (and sent me photographs of them waving to me).
I have found that the arts can provide a meeting ground for people of all ages and states of health, whether or not they have language in common. My own experience bears this out – with older adults in hospital wards, frail elders living at home or in board and care homes or attending adult day health centers; also residents of active aging housing, mature students in lifelong learning college classes, adults in community mental health settings and classes for grandparents and children. Also elementary and middle school children in summer arts programs, and at-risk high school students.
This work is always a voyage of exploration – even seasoned veterans discover anew with each journey into the work of regeneration because the arts/ music/ writing have such potential to open new doors for anyone involved. Making art is all about relationships and that is the basis for the work of ReGenerating.