With the help of Chrys, Dr. Kurklinsky, and Dr. Sletten, so far we have ironed out the details of the experiment and we have administered 6 of the 9 projects. The process of figuring out which creative exercises would be most beneficial to the patients’ needs was much more difficult than I anticipated! For starters, everyone had to be able to complete each project in 45 minutes. The projects needed to be easily administered with little mess and cleanup. Additionally, we wanted to think of projects that could be financially sustainable for the long term. Lastly, and most importantly, everyone needed to be able to succeed at every project, enjoy the process, and feel that it was meaningful. So all in all, it was quite a challenge! Over the last few weeks my supervisor and I brainstormed, and performed trial projects.
One project we came up with is what we called the ‘Rotation Project’. For this project, we gave each patient a piece of paper and a triangular stencil. We also gave each patient a particular tool; whether it was watercolor, pen, collage materials, pastels, etc. We then set the timer to 4 minutes and the patients then had 4 minutes to work on their paper. After the 4 minutes they passed their paper to the left and their supplies to the right. For this project there were many things to consider –
- It was necessary to give a definite starting point, so providing a stencil seemed like a simple and easy place to start. We found that asking patients to just start on a blank piece of paper proved to be very stressful.
- We wanted to emphasize the idea of ‘process’ rather than end product. It was important that there was no expectation of a successfully completed project, so the patient could not fail. Also, if they were focused on the process, they were more apt to be focusing on the present moment rather than the past or future.
- We hoped the project would force patients to focus less on their own stressors, and their own pain and focus more on other people’s artwork, think about what other people are making, or how they might make things differently than they would. We wanted the project to encourage the idea of the ‘collective’ rather than an intense insular focus on their self.
- We created a gallery in the conference room where the patients meet, so this project is something the patients left in the gallery even after they finished the 3 week program.
Overall, there was a large age range amongst the patients and additionally, everyone came from a wide range of backgrounds, so this sort of collaborative project was fun to do. Initially, everyone was very outwardly upset by the idea of passing around his or her artwork. The idea of working on someone else’s art seemed to be equally antagonizing and the process of physically passing everything left and right seemed to be challenging. Some people also complained because they found certain mediums more antagonizing than others and wanted to keep certain tools rather than passing them around. However, after about two rotations into the project, the patients began to interact with each other about their artwork. They remarked how horrible their project looked and how rushed they felt, but eventually each patient laughed about it, and teased others about their artwork. Consistently, by the end of the project, everyone’s paper looked pretty great and all of the patients were amazed and satisfied. No one felt as if they failed and they had been successfully distracted for 45 minutes. For these patients 45 minutes of relief can make a big difference. The hope is that the patients might return to some of the projects that we came up with, so I tried to emphasize how they could do this rotation project with just one other person, or with a simple doodle. Additionally, I tried to point out famous artists whose artwork is primarily processed based and how well respected their work is in the art world. One patient later told me how much they appreciated this project specifically, because it made them feel like they could really let go and relax. Here is an example: