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More recently, a Western Australian study aimed to quantify the relationship between art and happiness in the general population. It concluded that people who had two hours a week of ‘arts engagement’ were much happier human beings, all other variables being taken into account. This two-hour period was called the ‘dose-response’ – in other words, the minimum ‘dose’ required for a positive effect.

‘It’s awesome,’ said Dr Christina Davies, who led the study. ‘If you break that down it’s only fifteen to twenty minutes a day. That is a colouring book. It’s easy to get that amount of art into your day.’ Art, she suggested, could be ‘prescribed’ to enhance the wellbeing of entire populations. So why not? Why not launch public health campaigns to make the population healthier by giving them more art? What is wrong with that?

There is, after all, a kernel of truth in this: art can be therapeutic. People who are engaged with art probably are happier. I’m all for everyone being happier. And I’ve seen how art can change lives – it opens worlds and possibilities, articulates difficult and complex truths, and liberates the mind from crushing social shackles.

But while it might be very restful to colour in pictures for fifteen minutes a day, that has as much to do with art as Soylent has to do with actual food. And art by ‘prescription’? That is one letter away from ‘proscription’. I worry about what might be made of this study, about the sidelining of art and artists into a substructure of the wellness industry. The disconsoling truth is that when art is absorbed into institutional structures, those aspects of it that matter the most tend to disappear altogether.

Look at the appropriation of ‘creativity’ by corporate culture. The ‘creative’ executive – according to Businessweek, the most desired quality in twenty-first-century business leaders – attends ‘creativity’ workshops to get in tune with his inner buzzwords. Often these are given cachet by museums or other arts organisations cashing in on the corporate dollar – in reality, it’s just How to Win Friends and Influence People with a new, grandiloquent vocabulary.

Corporate ‘creativity’ feeds parasitically on the perceived status of art – an aura of unconventional genius and inspiration – but refashions creativity itself to suit its own ends. Artists, after all, aren’t primarily interested in making money, but in making art. Arts practice, with its necessary failures and open exploration, is in fact completely antithetical to the aims of a corporation. This distorted notion of ‘creativity’ is then projected back on art itself. It’s depressing to see how artistic culture has embraced the language of the ‘artspreneur’, even as artists’ incomes wither on the vine.

From Alison Croggon’s “On art as therapy” in Overland.

This is a good and very useful examination of vertical and horizontal concept creep around topics like harm, trauma and addiction. I would argue that the concept of co-dependence has also experienced a broadening to the point of becoming virtually useless as a term.

Some of the concept creep is about increased sophistication in our understanding of impact, but some of it is about a failure to examine interactions from multiple perspectives. The perspectives most overlooked will tend be those of the most marginalised, as demonstrated below.

Two stories illustrate how concept creep can be a force for good or ill.

Story 1: During the 1950s, third graders would climb into their parents’ cars and ride around without seatbelts. When stopping short, fathers and mothers would use their right arms in hopes of keeping their little ones from hitting their heads on the dashboard. These kids lived in houses slathered with lead paint and spent hours in family rooms thick with cigarette smoke. Today, there are laws against letting children ride around without seat belts, lead paint is banned, and there is such a powerful stigma against exposing children to second-hand smoke that far fewer kids suffer from poor health outcomes related to such exposure. Society’s concept of what constituted an unacceptable risk, harm, or trauma expanded for the better.

Story 2: During the 1950s, third graders could walk to school, play alone at the park, or bike 10 minutes to a friend’s house without anyone worrying or objecting, so long as they came home for supper or before the street lights came on. Today, though kidnapping is just as rare, a parent who allows that same behavior is at risk of arrest or even losing custody of their children to their state’s child protective services bureaucracy. Society’s concept of what constituted an unacceptable risk, harm, or trauma expanded for ill. In Hanna Rosin’s words, it  “stripped childhood of independence, risk taking, and discovery—without making it safer.”

From Conor Friedersdorf’s “How Americans became so sensitive to harm” in The Atlantic.

This is a fascinating article, as people’s stories of long-term relationships usually are.  You don’t have to be into open relationships, I’m not, to understand and relate to much of what Melissa Broder is talking about in this piece, “Thoughts on open marriage and illness” in Literary Hub. 

As much as anything it is about familiarity, desire and long-term relationships.

There is something about a long-term relationship that takes away the ability to see the other person. We stop seeing them as their own entity. We stop seeing them as a possibility, rather than a possession. Or we stop seeing the possibility of them not being there. The gap we have to cross to get to them is no longer there: the gap filled with doubt as to whether we are loved or whether he will text or whether he likes me. We stop fucking in that gap, or fucking from across that gap. We start fucking in some new shared space that we feel we own. Or maybe the shared space is still the gap but we fuck there for so long we stop seeing it.

I made conscious choices in the relationship I am in now to protect us against over-familiarity. But reconciling that with acceptance in its various forms, self-acceptance as well as of the messiness of life, things I am also actively pursuing, has been complicated.

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I am sure I have said this before, but there is nothing like the tenderness you see in your children when they are suddenly caring for you when you’re sick.

And there is nothing more reassuring, as a parent, than seeing your own phrases and tending mirrored back to you. To see your nurturing as it is seen by your children.

 

Kiss

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I pressed her again on the question I’d been turning over in my mind: Why is it that writing (or really any creative pursuit) seems to be in such conflict with parenting?

She answered calmly, hardly raising her voice. “Because the point of art is to unsettle, to question, to disturb what is comfortable and safe. And that shouldn’t be anyone’s goal as a parent.”

From Kim Books’ wonderful essay, “A portrait of the artist as a young mom: Is domestic life the enemy of creative work?” in The Cut.

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