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Just a poet in words, images and objects.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Art versus therapy: final imaginary dialogue with Peter London

What is the difference between art and therapy? They have entirely different goals and motivations. The goal of therapy is the healing of illness. The goal of art (all art) is the creation of a satisfying form -- in movement, sound, color, words or any other material. Therapy is utilitarian, serving a purpose beyond itself, successful only insofar as it promotes healing. Art serves no purpose other than providing joy in the creative work itself. Joy in creative work. This is the meaning of esthetic experience ..
Barbara Mettier Creative dance -- Art or therapy?, American Journal of Dance Therapy 12 (2), 1990

At 2 am, I found this article open on the table, where my beloved had left it as part of his university research. When I read this quote, that vague uneasiness I have had reading Peter London's"Drawing Closer to Nature"  suddenly crystallised.

I was going to share my experience in undertaking one of the guided encounters with nature that Peter uses; alone and unaided, contrary to Peter's advice that one should be accompanied by congenial companions and guided by an empathetic teacher. However, I think I will just cut to the chase and give you my reactions. 

The encounter I chose to undergo was My Self as Landscape, where you are invited find the landscape that is your way of being through the making of an art work. Peter offers a number of ways in to the encounter: guided meditation, meditating on the phrase "my self as landscape",just plunging in, or considering what aspects of nature you find yourself most at home with, Either way you choose to begin, the strategy is improvisational, making it up as you go, without any direct intention.Once the art work is made, you are invited to reflect on the art work (ideally with the congenial companions and the empathetic teacher), to tease out what it means and how it shows your self.

Curiously, the art I produced was no different to the art I was producing. When I rationally considered the questions about which types of landscape and natural conditions resonated with me, it was not that much different either. Of course, what resonated with me depended a lot on the state of my flowing being. Sometimes I like bright sunshine and sometimes I like rain, sometimes my hear leaps when I see a rugged craggy mountain and sometimes it sings when I see gentle rolling hills, sometimes I like the sea and sometimes I like the desert.

No matter what I tried, however, I couldn't shake off the nagging impression that the whole set-up of encounters was irredeemably artificial. I don't mean the techniques used, but rather the whole idea of the question itself. Indeed, I rather felt that both nature and art were being exploited to achieve a particular result, albeit one that was worthy...namely becoming more aware of a natural and truthful self.

As Barbar Mettier says, therapy is utilitarian, art is aesthetic, and, I would add, nature just is. 

P.S. Serendipitously, I am also reading Rising Ground: A Search for the Spirit of Place by Philip Marsden, about his wanderings through the landscape of Cornwall. Of the 18th-century antiquarian John Whitaker and John Henderson, the Cornish historian, he writes they "promoted that diligent attention to the world that makes life worth living".