"Social systems that disdain or discount beauty, form, mystery, meaning, value and quality - whether in art or in life - are depriving their members of human requirements as fundamental as those for food, warmth and shelter." (Ellen Dissanayake)
I first adopted the phrase 'Creative Recovery' when I was writing up my doctoral studies. At that time, I could see our engagement with work was falling and followed a personal 'red thread' of research into how we could recover the creativity that we lose as we move into our adult lives. Now, following a brush with 'burnout,' I'm inquiring into how creativity continues to be pushed out of our workplaces even though it is increasingly recognised as essential to normal human life.
The idea that a creative, artful engagement with our world performs a biological function is controversial.
We easily dismiss aesthetic criteria at work as unnecessary frippery and find words like beauty, meaning or quality embarrassing to use in business. Back in my office at Ashridge, we frequently extol the beauty of our buildings and 'stunning' surroundings but use a more instrumental, mechanistic vocabulary when we reference our work.
Yet, conversely, while organisations struggle with artful engagement, the associated techniques form well documented, beneficial approaches to change, and find clear roles in therapy and well-being.
As I use photography to explore my own creative recovery and healing, I find myself playing within three distinct fields of artful work.
Firstly, my inquiry is simply to 'notice what I notice' as I use my photographs as an easy 'visual journal'.
In reviewing the picture I've chosen for this post, I'm just fascinated by the way the iPhone image is pushed to the edge of breakdown, yet it still manages to hold it's integrity and coherence. It feels resonant to my own situation (and, judging by my email inbox many of you feel similarly). So, how can I 'know differently' as a consequence of an image 'speaking' to me in this way? How might I reflect on what is going on for me here?
Secondly, I realise that I'm playing on boundary of 'therapeutic photography' and 'phototherapy'.
Therapeutic Photography is the name for photo-based activities that are self-initiated and conducted by oneself (or as part of an organized group or project), but where no formal therapy is taking place. By contrast, PhotoTherapy techniques are therapy practices used as part of a clinical intervention by a trained therapist. I need to bear in mind that reflections arising in my 'inquiry into noticing' could be indicative of deeper patterns; I must be wary and look after myself, seeking appropriate help if it becomes necessary.
Thirdly, I know that, as I photograph, I am intentionally setting the ground to 'lose myself' in the magic and wonder of the process .
In fact, writing for this blog can have a similar effect.
In 'Finding Flow', Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi notes that we can spend our days in either work-induced anxiety and stress, or leisure-induced passive boredom. As I use photography to refamiliarise myself with the 'life altering' potential of the 'flow' condition, my aim will be to encourage its spread back into other areas of my life and work.
And so, returning to the formal 'work' arena, I also return to Ellen Dissanakaye's thinking at the top of this post. If our work environments 'disdain or discount beauty, form, mystery, meaning, value and quality' or deploy tokenistic gestures to mask their absence, it's no surprise that our engagement with organisations is so low.
As managers and leaders, we need to rekindle our sense of magic, creativity and artfulness, whatever that looks like in our organisations.
As our professional environments become more pressurised and engagement rates continue to fall, artfulness at work is no longer an option, or a distraction.
It's essential to who we are.
See more about therapeutic photography and phototherapy here at Judy Weiser's PhotoTherapy Centre website.
You can find Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's 'Finding Flow' here.