I’ve been blogging over the last week or two about how making has been helpful to me when it comes to mental health and managing anxiety. When I first began to contemplate this subject on this blog I drew the link between mindfulness and making, and wrote about how I manage to reach my most mindful state when, well making. I’ve been thinking a bit more about this and while I think in principle this definitely holds, there are ways in which my arts practice diverges significantly from the practice of mindfulness.
In a course I recently completed on mindfulness we were taught to experience things without ascribing value to it, or to become attached to it. The mind has a tendency to attach to things that are pleasurable and to try to prolong that sensation while trying to avoid sensations that are uncomfortable or distressing. One of the ideas behind mindfulness is that the pursuit of pleasure and the attempts to avoid pain are one of the root causes of anxiety, addiction and mental distress. Mindfulness teaches us to sit in the present moment with either pleasure or pain and to acknowledge that it is temporary. The good and the bad both will soon pass. So saying you enjoyed something or found pleasure in something is giving it a value, and from what I understand, not really what mindfulness is about.
While I would say that the moments in which I am making things are probably some of the moments where I am most present, I would also say I derive a deep pleasure from some of the making activities. A lot of the work I’ve been developing involves silhouettes, and I am particularly attached to the use of strong curved lines. I find drawing or cutting a really satisfying curved line to be particularly enjoyable. To be a sensual experience. I am happy, possibly driven, to repeat that experience over and over. When I was studying for my PhD a few years ago now I came across the concept of ‘flow’, which is described as a psychological state in which a person is fully engaged in an activity, is deriving pleasure from that activity and feels energised by it. I think for many people doing art work may provide that state, and this is a positive, healthy state to be in.
I think that it may not be the norm to talk this way about craft. I’ve seen people, particularly (but definitely not exclusively) women, being belittled for their enjoyment of their creative work, as if what they do is trivial. I think I’m lucky. I come from a family of artists and it is totally normal to speak this way about doing something creative. My mum and dad can get pretty caught up in describing a painter’s use of light, a particularly well set up shot in a film or a good solid line. We take creative work seriously and being surrounded by that environment as I grew up was a helpful thing I think. It taught me that putting effort and thought into creative work, whatever that creative work may be, is not trivial.