In a BCA programme our approach to the arts is based on the premise that we are all artists and not that the arts, as so commonly found in the West, are the exclusive province of a talented and esoteric elite. The artist Frederick Franck provides us with our theme: “..for all that is human we have in common”[1] and creativity is surely a fundamental and vital aspect of that humanity. Art is seen as a means and not an end. Artists are seen, not as special kinds of people, but people are seen as special and different kinds of artists.

Working with the arts allows us to play, experiment, encourage each other to take risks, and let go of many of the constraining ideas we grew up with such as ‘There is only one answer’, and ‘everyone else is better than I am at this’. Instead we find our own creativity and enjoy drawing out ideas and supporting each other to develop them.

This is our starting point as we set out on another workshop, another ‘cooperative enquiry‘ into creativity…ideally we aim to be able to include a diverse group of volunteers, perhaps from a local school or business concern. People from all walks of life can benefit from working with a very mixed group of people where perforce assumptions will be challenged. This in itself can release creativity.

At one residential Home we worked across the boundaries of care staff and residents, volunteers and professionals, and one relative joined temporarily. Some unexpected reaction came both from care staff and residents. Sitting down together in a project, sharing memories and feelings, was new for all participants, and marked a beginning which was powerful enough to ripple out into the day to day life of the Home.

We found that using the arts as a medium dispensed with many preconceptions about status and ability .Those who have artistic expertise may even be at a disadvantage, as in every workshop we start with experiment and playing with the materials — whether black ink, colour, words, imagination, improvisation, music or any other creative activity. Discovering hidden talents, talking to each other about memories, personal associations, feelings and common areas of experience and understanding, we found exciting and on many occasions profoundly moving and healing.

Unscrupulous Scorpio

Unscrupulous Scorpio

Drawing on the arts as the medium we find the BCA process releases the creativity which is part of being human and which, when offered the stimulus and opportunity, can go on to affect ever widening circles in society. Scott Peck describes the community building process which he has developed very much in psychotherapeutic terms. However, while seeking similar ends, BCA has found that using creative art activity has the advantage of not being felt to be ‘therapy’, nor is there a need to probe, analyse or interpret to have a lasting effect. By encouraging each participant to become more aware, more attentive to others through the sharing of the activity, fresh attitudes develop and new relationships may be formed.

As if one could kill time without injuring eternity” Thoreau wrote, adding later that “the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation[3]. Whether you kill time in work, in the home or in residential institutions, both you and your community lose by this approach.

In his memorable work Flow: the Psychology of Happiness[4], Mihaly Csikszentimihalyi explains clearly the conditions needed for the flow experience, amongst which is an ability to lose oneself in concentration, to be able to bring something to completion and to receive immediate feedback.

This results in a completely different perception of time and removes momentarily, the worries of everyday concern. A concern for the self disappears and yet the self emerges stronger after the experience.

When faced with the constraints of circumstance: jobs, work or care settings – it is the element of choice that is vital. The creative act is all about choice, of what to express and how. This can lead to a change in the way we perceive ourselves and our lives and also those around us. It can lead to a change in our attitude.

Sometimes all that we can change is our attitude, but this is enough to start a very different set of experiences unfolding. The existential position, that the world has no intrinsic meaning other than that which we give to it, focuses our attention firmly on how important our interpretations of the world are in determining the ways in which we experience our lives. Indeed, Emmy van Deurzen-Smith likens existential counselling to an art tutorial saying that “what is needed …is the discovery of a way to express the inner truth artfully and constructively, rather than clumsily and destructively or not at all“[5].

Exploring our world views through the arts allows and encourages us to express ourselves with originality; to make something new, to create a new order or pattern and to experience, perhaps, a momentary unity with our world. If we do not express our original ideas, we and our communities lose a unique contribution to the whole.