Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Does art help keep you mentally healthy?

What do you do to help keep your head straight, to avoid or wash away life’s stresses and strains? Mindapples wants to know what the mental health equivalent of 5 fruit and veg-a-day might be. Many of those who took part in the Arts Debate suggested the arts were useful in this respect. ‘Art makes me feel less alone’, for instance – a phrase so good we use it twice in the graphics of the Arts Council plan. Drop in and tell them what you do.

What do I do after a hard day at the executive coalface to keep myself more or less healthy, I hear you ask? Listen to music as I drive home – although simply buying records can help! Read a book over breakfast. Play fiveaside or go to the gym. Have a meal at the kitchen table with my family. Noodle around on the guitar. Sing some old songs.

I don’t write poetry for my health, by the way – in fact I take it so seriously it can have the reverse effect on my mood. (Some years ago, whilst masquerading briefly as an academic, I published some research that suggested writing even bad poetry could be therapeutic, and there was some evidence that craft helped, but insisting on trying to be really good – let alone ‘great’ – and feeling you’d failed could be bad for the nerves.)

Right, I’m off to see a play now, but as it promises ‘seduction, perversion and love’ and warns of ‘full male and female nudity and scenes of a violent and sexual nature’, I’m not sure what it will do for my mental health!


Andy Gibson said...

Thanks for the mention Mark, and I agree completely about the role of the arts.

For me personally, I'd certainly include playing music as a core thing I do to look after my mind, and I find art galleries really positive too, especially abstract modernist art (I'm a sucker for the Bauhaus). Lately I've also become very interested in the role of drama and improvisation, particularly comedy, in mental wellbeing. It's potent stuff.

I'd be very interested to see the kinds of things your readers find work for them.

Anonymous said...

Hey, I'm not sure that the actual attempt to create art makes makes one feel mentally healthy: I think it sometimes drives me slightly mad.

I did a day's teaching in a school on Monday, and my partner told me I looked like a different person when I came back (in other words not the introspective, moody b*gger I am when I spend a day writing!)

I went to a Myers-Briggs workshop once where they said the important thing, when it came to relaxation, was to use that part of your mind that you don't normally use much.

So an accountant (e.g.) would find it very relaxing to listen to music, but a musician might prefer doing Sudokus.