Taking the pressure off, Letter from Robert Genn

October 28, 2005

Dear Judith,

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 persona.

On occasions they are unable to take themselves seriously.

At other times they take themselves very seriously indeed.

 In any case, distancing yourself is probably good for your art.

 It might be good for your health as well.

Best regards,


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)

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