Taking the pressure off, Letter from Robert
October 28, 2005
There's a bit of excitement in the medical
world these days.
It seems that Britt-Maj Wikstroem of the Ersta
Skoendal University College in Stockholm, Sweden has had twenty elderly
women gather once a week to discuss different works of art.
"Their attitudes became more positive,
more creative, their blood pressure went down and they needed fewer
laxatives," she reported. As a control she used another group who
discussed their own hobbies and interests. This second group of ladies
did not experience these beneficial effects.
In the meantime everybody is jumping up and
down and agreeing that talking about art is good for you.
Whoa, hold on here!
I've noticed that if I ask a group to discuss
their own hobbies and interests--including their own work--only a small
percentage will relish the idea. They may do it, but they're
uncomfortable. This reaction may be because a lot of people feel they
are inadequate and perhaps undeserving--or that they feel there's not
much to say about what they do.
However, the few who do jump at the opportunity
are gung-ho. This verbal minority is often more than verbal--
they can go on and on.
But here's the interesting part.
When that same group is shown the work of
someone else--perhaps a well-known Van Gogh or the work of one of their
peers, nearly everyone is itching to put in their bit.
Because of the more neutral nature of the
request, the pressure is off.
People feel empowered, at ease, eager to
advise, give opinions and to generally help out.
Fact is, giving out gives happy feelings.
People leave these sorts of encounters feeling
better about themselves.
My guess is that their bowels might work better
too.Wikstroem's research may shed some light on this dichotomy. In order
to feel good about yourself through art, the idea--for many of us
anyway--is to separate ourselves from our work.
That gung-ho, verbal minority I was talking
about, are often folks who have done just this.
In a way they are an odd bunch.
Creative people need some sort of an alter
ego--some might say a split personality.
Many successful artists tell me that they have
trained themselves to separate their working persona from their public
On occasions they are unable to take themselves
At other times they take themselves very
In any case, distancing yourself is
probably good for your art.
It might be good for your health as well.
PS: "When you look at art made by other people,
you see what you need to see in it.
(Alberto Giacometti) "The tongue can
paint what the eye can't see." (Chinese proverb)