Creativity, health and arts advocacy

This paper, written with Taryn Bloom and published in the International Journal of Cultural Policy, volume 10, number 2, 2004, builds on the ideas outlined in Advocating Creativity. The themes explored in the paper are:
1.    The links between artistic creativity and therapeutic benefit.
2.    Arts advocacy, or more specifically arguing for government support of the arts.
3.    Strategic issues surrounding arts advocacy.

As with our previous research, this paper challenges the dominant view that creativity is about new ideas (the ‘invention-cognition’ view of creativity). The paper argues that this view is too narrow to be representative of artistic creativity, as it downplays emotions and traditions that are integral to a full understanding of artistic creativity. The paper pursues what it means to recognise that artistic creativity involves emotions, or ‘affect’ by reviewing evidence from the art therapy literature.

The review of the art therapy literature finds a wide range of evidence for art’s therapeutic benefits – from its application in psychotherapeutic interventions for children and adolescents, to its beneficial use in eating disorders, chronic pain, Alzheimer’s disease, and terminal illness. The paper outlines some of the limitations in using the body of research to advocate the arts, in particular:

  • Given that most of the research is undertaken on unhealthy subjects, the findings are not necessarily generalisable to the ‘healthy’ population. The paper advises arts advocates to be aware of the context within which they use the scientific evidence to support their case.
  • Some researchers have criticised the quality or scientific rigour of the art therapy evidence, which would weaken advocacy arguments based on the evidence.
  • Most of the research focuses on the benefits of artistic creativity and ignores the potential costs. The paper argues that identifying and understanding the potential negative impacts of art will confer strategic benefits to arts advocates, and can make for better arts policies.

The paper explores the use of evidence in arts advocacy and the strategic context within which advocacy takes place. Building on earlier work (in Advocating Creativity and my paper on Economic impact studies), the paper posits two effects that may result from advocacy’s strategic setting:

  1. A ‘ratcheting’ effect, in which improved evidence for existing arguments is matched or bettered by competitors, creating an upward spiral in which arguments become increasingly exaggerated as competitors attempt to outdo the arguments of their rivals.
  2. A ‘clustering’ effect, in which the deployment of a new and successful type of advocacy argument in one policy area is rapidly replicated in other policy areas. Some possible examples are provided.

The paper argues that arts advocates can improve their advocacy outcomes if they are aware of strategic issues such as these.

In summary, the article provides insights into the type of arguments that might flow from recognising that creativity has affective implications as well as cognitive implications. The objective of the paper is to improve arts advocacy. But, as the paper notes, ‘A significant part of the discussion is … directed toward strategic issues. Any advocacy argument needs to be assessed in light of the dynamic strategic interactions of all players in the advocacy ‘game’. The interplay between advocacy ‘stakeholders’ may determine the ultimate success of failure of any improvements in advocacy… The spectre of retaliatory response should not discourage arts advocates from considering and investigating new and alternative advocacy arguments, but it does demand that advocacy be designed with the strategic context in mind.’

Read the full paper:
Creativity, health and arts advocacy>

The paper was originally published in the International Journal of Cultural Policy>

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