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July 22, 2023

BLOG: Expressive Arts for Wellbeing

In the last blog of the series, our Creative Project Coordinator Sunny Townsend brings a novel scientific perspective to Albatross Arts’ workshops, drawing on her background to help capture the power of the creative arts on wellbeing.

This week’s workshop was slightly melancholic because it was the last one, and also the end of the funding cycle without definite prospect of more funding and more workshops. The group went over all the different types of workshops they’d had, sharing favourites and who had “found their thing”.

One of the participants showed us a fresh flower wreath she has made since we last got together “I think this class makes me look at things in a different way”. Another said “I would second that”.

I could not complete this series of mini-blogs without returning to the idea of art as data, as it really is such a novel and cool concept for me as a scientist trained in quantitative methods. In an example I appreciate from author and sociologist Dr. Patricia Leavy [1]: school students were asked to create a piece of art about their school experience, one kid drew a cropped picture of herself, when asked about it she said she felt boxed in at school. With this non-verbal data “we can get at data that we otherwise might not” says Dr. Leavy.

At the recent Albatross Arts touring exhibition ‘You can’t pour from an empty cup’, Alex showed me two figures made by workshop participants who were asked to use the clay to express how they were feeling. One was sunbathing with a cocktail, the other was hunched up in a ball. These words don’t do it justice! The art does say it better.

I struggle to articulate myself verbally and have been wondering whether I could express myself better through art than words. But my art practice is analytical drawing of what I see, not what’s on my mind and I feel like my imagination fizzled out with adulthood. Quite scientific you might say.

It is a revelation to me that it doesn’t have to be that way. American art therapist and academic Brian Moon: ‘I occasionally have to deal with institutional politics and faculty conflicts …. my initial response… to envision the various parties involved in a squabble… I think about how I would express the conflicting issues in a visual image using just lines, shapes and colours.’ [2]. He also uses poems or songs to deepen empathy with his clients, and paints-out his difficult feelings about client relationships.

Art as an alternative data form makes sense to me except my analytical brain keeps asking …. How do you analyse art? I gather that this is not always possible, or the point, but I did find an example where quantitative methods were used – a before and after study test score – to show that expressive art making had had an effect on the self-esteem of highly sensitive adolescents [3].

I wonder what data I can gather from the mat I weaved during these sessions! Maybe… I played with a mix of threads and styles, so I was in an experimental and open state of mind!


I feel very lucky to have joined this block of workshops with the SENSE parents/carers club. I think I am finally understanding what expressive art is, like expressive writing (The Sci-Artist’s way, blog 1). It has helped me appreciate the skill of the creative facilitator (‘Weaving in wellbeing’ blog 2). I got to spend time with impressive and resilient group of women and witness them connecting through creativity (‘Wool shop jigsaws, blog 3). My own wellbeing has benefitted (‘The quiet ones’, blog 4) and I now have some idea of the complexity of capturing the full impact of the workshops (‘The quiet ones’, blog 4 and ‘Spillover effects’ blog 5), which will be invaluable when working with Alex and Sue on impact management and reporting.

Thank you so much if you have joined me on this fun, moving and educational journey.


[1] Video ‘Arts-based research: definition, procedures & application’, Dr. Patricia Leavy interviewed by Dr Kruikow

[2] Book ‘Art as Research opportunities and challenges’ Shaun McNiff

[3] Video ‘Art Based Research’ Ryan Rominger

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