The press loves nothing better to pit Science against Arts. This is no surprise because it has always been easier to study and account for the quantifiable over the qualitative. The expression of emotions and feelings tends to be thrown in the Freud bucket and put on the psychology ‘to do’ pile and left in exchange for development of big pharma with direct, immediate, and lucrative applications. Governments will axe the Arts first because statistically it’s not as measurable in its return as engineering, science, fiscal, or service based industries. Which would you prefer, a closure of a hospital or an art gallery? Spending money on a new school or a museum? Which ones are more valid in terms of public expenditure? Which ones help the most people?
Yep, I thought so.
It’s no surprise then that Arts seems to come off as the poorer relation. Even though governments are unlikely to understand this misconception any time soon thankfully scientists are waking up to its benefits. The things we’ve always felt to be helpful and true about expressing ourselves are actually now being measured and validated by medicine and the scientific community. Using art in occupational therapy has long been recognised for its benefits in rehabilitating those who have undergone a life-changing or difficult experience. Only recently has anyone started to attempt to quantify how and why it works. Psychoanalysts in the field of Neuropsychological rehabilitation are blazing the way for this, providing in-depth study of the uses of art and photography and their effects on patients. At the North Wales Brain Injury Service, Rudi Coetzer has been studying the use of photography to assist patients in improving memory, increasing positivity, and developing a better self-esteem. His paper ‘A Picture Tells a Lifetime of Words: Photography, Psychotherapy, and Brain Injury Rehabilitation’ is a wonderful read from my point of view since it validates everything I have been saying about uses of photography for well-being for the last half a decade. Through my photography workshops I have always insisted that Photography per se is not to be seen as a bundle of the technical and scientific skills which result in a pretty picture. The ‘rules’ of composition should be broken in exchange for the freedom to express. The camera is not a fast car or a spacecraft. It is not an expensive commodity to be coveted. It’s about time we got rid of the myth that to be a good photographer you need to have expensive gear and spend days using photoshop to suck the soul out of your images in an attempt to get the same technical perfection as a thousand other people. A cheap digital camera in the right hands has the potential to produce more meaningful results for the user than a camera five times the price. The camera is merely a tool to be used for self-expression, nothing more.
Coetzer explores the use of photography as therapy for clients with brain trauma, citing Cervoni’s notion that “art appeared to function as a psychological healing tool for improving self-esteem, providing a way for self-expression despite the presence of significant impairments of motor and speech function” (Cervoni 2011). Whilst later he notices the technological progression of cameras has lead to a democratisation of visual creativity to more people. The ease of use of a digital camera makes a successful photograph instantly achievable and can compensate for memory impairment as well as exploring the “psychological essence of metaphors relating to important themes for clients” (Coetzer 2015).
Anyway, I could go on all day about the relevance of his research but I know that you’ve probably got more things to do on a Saturday afternoon than read my thoughts on a Coetzer’s paper. I have another 1000 words I could put down to validate how my photography workshops are good for your soul as well as increasing your positivity. To cut the story short then, the science world is waking up to the way digital photography can be used as therapy. Technological advancements in photography have lead to a revolution in therapeutic practices. Since 2007 papers have been springing up all over the place examining how photographs can be used as psychological ‘evidence’ for reflecting on new challenges, exploring past memories, and aspects of identity. Although the papers often relate to psychotherapy and medical practice, the ideas of exploring past, present, and potential are ones which are universal and accessible to all.
So which would I prefer, a closure of a hospital or an art gallery? Open a school or a museum? I say put the museum in the school and the art gallery in the hospital. Now is the time to open your mind and break down the Arts/Science divide.
Cervoni, E. (2011) “A man paints with his brains and not his hands” (Michelangelo) Gerontology 57:572
Coetzer, R. (2015) “A Picture Tells a Lifetime of Words: Photography, Psychotherapy, and Brain Injury Rehabilitation” Neurodisability and Psychotherapy 3(1) 1-10 (2015)