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Why is creativity important for your mental health?


Why is creativity important for your mental health?

R.M. Sánchez-Camus (Marcelo),
Written by
Hamish Chohan
Published date
03 March 2020

R.M. Sánchez-Camus (Marcelo) teaches the Health and Wellbeing through Art Making Short Course. On the course students get to explore the practice of creative wellbeing and art making while getting a better understanding of some of the key positions around the arts and health movement. We spoke with Marcelo to ask a vital question, why is creativity important for your mental health?

R.M. Sánchez-Camus (Marcelo) delivering a workshop at the Affordable Art Fair

Hi, what is your name and what do you teach?

My name is Marcelo and I have developed the Health and Wellbeing through Art Making Short Course based on my experiences as a visual artist dedicated to social practice.

Why is creativity important for your mental health?

Those of us who engage in creative practice have a deep and embedded understanding that creativity is so central to who we are that without it we would falter physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. We don't often spend enough time trying to understand exactly what is happening in our brains and as a result in our bodies. In the work I have done, I have seen first-hand the emotional and physical benefits of creative practice in people. I have watched patients in a hospice who cannot find relief from any number of painkillers sit at a table and go into flow and for a brief period of art making forget about their pain. Our brain takes up 1/5 of the energy our bodies produce, it’s a powerful factory. Creativity happily flows between both our rational left brain thinking and our intuitive right brain, contrary to the myth of artists' being right brained. We can utilise creativity as a tool to help not only design a better external world but a better internal world. Our mental health is not about being content or happy all the time - that is a farce. It’s about being resilient and recovering from the peaks and valleys that are inevitable in life and applying the same creative strategies and practices you may apply to your work to your mind.

Health and Wellbeing through Art Making Short Course students working in the studio

How did you come to work in your field?

I was always interested in spaces, places, psychogeography and how we inhabit the world. My first works as a young artist explored interactive installation, which slowly started incorporating people and performance. I have worked collaboratively for 20 years running various collectives both in NYC and London. I always had an interest in how this work could not only impact on society, but also include community. This focus led me to bring my practice into many different places and situations. I've created work in post-war regions, in hospitals with dying patients, in both urban and rural locations from mid-Wales to Sub-Saharan Africa. I have been working with St. Christopher’s Hospice in South London for many years developing work around End of Life care. Now I run the Creative Neighbourhoods programme, a new initiative that brings this work out into the community. And for the last few years I have been developing the Social Art Network and helped convene the Social Art Summit in Sheffield in 2018, which is the first attempt to do a national review of social practice across the UK with some incredible guests from abroad. My own practice centres around Applied Live Art Studios (ALAS) a social practice studio based in London and dedicated to developing work and fostering young artists interested in social justice and the ecologies of wellness.

R.M. Sánchez-Camus (Marcelo) delivering a workshop at the Affordable Art Fair

Could you tell us a little bit about something you've been working on recently, as well as your wider practice?

At the moment I am delivering my latest large-scale commission, a three month exhibition at the Horniman Museum and Gardens entitled From Birth Til' Death: Scrolled Life Stories. The project has been in development for over a year, working with community organisations that offer support to the most vulnerable in our society. The work is a series of life scrolls that tell a story from the remembered past to the imagined future in beautifully painted symbols on papyrus. It’s a big project with many brilliant artists working on it and with some incredible stories to be told. I'm also convening Freedom Festival's 2020 Symposium this year and designing an exploded conference model taking the learning out into the streets through socially engaged interventions as ways of thinking about who we are today.

Health and Wellbeing through Art Making Short Course student working on a large drawing

Tell us about one piece of creative work by another artist that has been on your mind lately.

There's lots of work that is constantly on my mind, but more important than the singular artist is thinking about the collective body. This is really exemplified by the awarding to all four nominees of the Turner Prize upon their request. What I love about this gesture is that it both exemplifies the new movement in creative practice towards an embedded egalitarianism that is usually absent in the art world. What I find even more interesting is how this subverts ideas of power and how upsetting that may be to those who are not only accustomed to but uphold the conventions that creatives are constantly questioning and dismantling.

What advice would you give to aspiring creatives?

For those creatives who are less interested in market forces and more interested in who we are as people and how we live, there is an avalanche of work coming your way. I say this because we have awoken from a kind of social slumber where now we question everything relentlessly. We need creative responses to help us understand who we are as a society and how we can live together. My work around arts and health is fully dedicated to directly facing the socio-political challenges of our times. Wellbeing is not just about stepping away from the chaos of living but knowing how to be resplendent amongst it.

Health and Wellbeing through Art Making Short Course students working in the studio

How has teaching students at Central Saint Martins informed your approach to art?

My course is a combination between theoretical and practical, considering the impact of modes and mediums of expression while also being able to lose yourself in the process of creativity. My objective is that students who complete the course have a real, concrete and grounded experience of how we can confront some of the challenges of mental and physical health with and through creative practice.

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