Together Or Alone?

When people share how art helps them, they talk about feeling absorbed and focused, shutting out issues, entering a world of their own. All this conjures up quiet, private creativity. But many art for wellbeing initiatives run as groups, in public. So do people benefit more from art for wellbeing as part of a group, or when they try activities as individuals? These are questions I’ve been reflecting on ever since I began not only running projects but also leading an art and craft group.

Photo by Helena Lopes on

Inevitably it is group participation which is far more likely to be recorded, surveyed, monitored, so there’s far greater awareness of its benefits and impacts. If someone starts experimenting with art for their own wellbeing, even if it is at someone else’s suggestion, it’s likely to go unrecorded. In this way, arts for wellbeing initiatives might only tell half the story.

While every group will be different, in most groups the opportunity to spend time with others is uppermost. It’s a chance to share a common interest, and this in itself enriches the activity as people pool ideas, interpret an activity differently or add a new twist. For example, some people might follow an idea to the letter, while others might add different media or materials. In many groups, conversation is key. People might spend so long talking that they run out of time to finish their artwork! I feel this is a positive. The actual art and craft might be overshadowed, but this highlights what it is that participants want and need. Creativity for them may be a way in, common ground, even an activity which relaxes them so they find it easier to talk and share. The impact is more about the experience than it is about the finished product.

Any group’s dynamic depends on far more than the leader. Participants who are happy to contribute and share enhance the experience hugely for leader and members alike.

Trying art for wellbeing as an individual has clear benefits all its own – freedom and flexibility. You are free to try whichever artform or craft you like, whenever and wherever is possible for you, with little or no commitment. This could be entirely positive. Time to yourself might be particularly precious, a haven away. But what helps one person will not suit another. People may struggle with motivation or ideas, or fail to find time if there’s no specific event to attend. Then again, for some art needs to be private all the more because they use art to express very personal feelings or thoughts, maybe by journaling.

In a way the art for wellbeing projects I run feel like a halfway house, combining individual and group elements. People take part in their own time from home, receiving a weekly email resource with example images, but also have the chance to join a private Facebook group for each project. Around 50% of participants join these groups, and judging by their comments they seem to welcome the opportunity to share artwork, to compare, to see how others interpret the theme or idea. Sometimes the group can be a sfe space to share an issue they’re facing, or how art helps them.

Do you find art helpful as an individual or as part of a group? I would really like to hear any experiences in Medley’s Facebook group Thank you.

Published by medleyisobel

My name is Isobel and I run Medley, an online initiative sharing art, nature and music for health and wellbeing.

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