art and empathy

Unless one is an artist, it is easy to dismiss art as either a luxury or past-time. Rarely do we hear art being described as essential. But science is showing that art is a valuable tool for developing empathy and attention.
I was thankful to be asked to provide a workshop ‘Art and Empathy’ for the ‘We Together‘ Conference for the Anglican Dioceses of Islands and Inlets in Nanaimo BC, Canada.

Most participants did not identify themselves as artists.
In this workshop I shared a short talk and provided three exercises.

The first was an introduction to the practice of contour drawing as a form of mindfulness.  This is a simple method to encourage hand and eye co-ordination which allows us to look deeply and develops empathy with the natural world around us.
The next had participants pair up and draw, however arbitrarily a description of something that they really love. Then partners were told about that activity by describing the drawings. This allowed story telling with the aid of an object which alleviated the pressure of one on one encounter and encouraged empathy with the ‘other’ without losing a sense of one’s own self.
The last activity was using collage to find relationship with random selection of images and textures. This was a direct use of the creative act which is about pulling apart and putting back together. It is also a means of ‘listening’ and exercising empathy to  ourselves without passing judgment or demanding explanation.

By the end of the workshop there was a wonderful atmosphere of busyness, connection and joy.

I am very grateful to the Diocese of Islands and Inlets for the opportunity to share the every day benefits of the visual arts.
( update: In November, I adapted the talk I gave with this workshop and the related sermon I presented at the Abbey Church into an article for the Diocesan Post which can be found here.)

 

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