A Brightly Coloured Bell-Jar: Part Two

Clive Parkinson, Director of Arts for Health at Manchester Metropolitan University, continues:

The pathologisation of unhappiness as disease has in turn spawned a counter-culture committed to the pursuit of self-improvement and happiness, which might just result in a generation of the worried-well, who aren’t going to achieve the Nirvana promised them in self help books.

To illustrate this I shared stories from Men’s Health Magazine and snippets of the TV producer and author Rhonda Byrne’s bestsellers, The Secret and The Power which loosely claim, that you can get anything you want by giving love and just wishing for it and pretending whatever it is you want, is all in your power! I’ll leave you to explore the delights of her work, but for me her ideas sound a little bit like the ideas behind Game Theory, albeit dressed up as giving love, but ultimately concerned with what you can get out of life, and central to this is individual, material wealth.

Last year in another paper, I described inequalities in societies, particularly the widening gap in affluent countries, where the rich are getting exponentially richer and the poor are getting poorer. Yet we all have the same marketing pitched at us…we’re told we should aspire to have the products of material wealth, and stretching across our societies, we’re told that depression is of epidemic proportions. In our desperate bid to be normal, whatever that is, all our anxieties, stresses and dissatisfactions are pathologised leaving us analysing this condition of life, and adapting ourselves to what we are told is the aspirational norm.

So along with our wide screen TV, 4-wheel drive, we can now include our anti-depressants, because it’s all symptomatic of this flattened-out consumerist society, what Henry Miller called, ‘The Air-Conditioned Nightmare.’ And whether its new age mysticism, or a pharmacological approach, it seems humans are no longer satisfied with the varied texture of life.

So, what of our creativity in this medicated, flattened out, consumerist society?

For those of you reading this, but who didn’t attend the seminar; I explored some links between placebo and the objectivity of Randomised Controlled Data, via links to intelligence testing and creativity testing, summarising that enriched environments, notably the USA, had seen a constant generational rise in IQ scores, but a reverse trend in creativity scores since 1990.

In their paper, The Creativity Crisis, Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman take this theme further, but with an emphasis not on art classes per se, but on how thinking creatively across the curriculum is key to flourishing. ‘Creativity isn’t about freedom from concrete facts,’ they comment, ‘Rather, (it’s about) fact-finding and deep research (that) are vital stages in the creative process.’ The characteristics of successful creative schools is, ‘they alternate maximum divergent thinking with bouts of intense convergent thinking, through several stages… when applied to the everyday process of work or school, brain function improves.’

This is borne out by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Gary G. Gute who found that highly creative adults tended to grow up in families embodying opposites. ‘Parents encouraged uniqueness, yet provided stability. They were highly responsive to kids’ needs, yet challenged kids to develop skills. This resulted in a sort of adaptability: in times of anxiousness, clear rules could reduce chaos—yet when kids were bored, they could seek change, too. In the space between anxiety and boredom was where creativity flourished.’

(to be continued…)

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