OK, so I jumped the gun a little by posting about the Mervyn Peake Awards, but there was a time issue at stake there, as the closing date was fast approaching.
Anyway, there is quite a lot of interest in encouraging Parkinson’s patients to explore their creativity. It’s a subject very close to my heart, because I enjoy being creative; as you may be able to tell, I like to write. I also like to paint (and to draw).
How does art help? There doesn’t seem to be any definitive answer to that, but most of the Parkinsonian artists who talk about their art refer to being focussed on their work, and many say that their symptoms do not affect them while they are thus engaged. A clinical note that is available on-line discusses the art of one gentleman with Parkinson’s; among his symptoms are micrographia (a common complaint with Parkinson’s, where a person’s handwriting is abnormally small); his writing also displays evidence of his tremors. However,
He draws with his right hand despite its tremor, rigidity, and bradykinesia.
[…] his artistic movements were ﬂuid. He did use the kind of cross-hatching style [common in Parkinsonian artists, and which makes use of tremor in the hand …], but his dominant use of line demonstrated exquisite control over larger amplitude sinuous movements that did not change directions suddenly.
The gentleman in question is described as being ‘obsessed’ and ‘preoccupied’ by his art.
As far as I’m aware, those last two adjectives could be applied to many artists without Parkinson’s. It’s quite easy to get ‘lost’ in your art, and temporarily forget the world around you. I am fairly certain that this is one of the reasons that art helps with Parkinson’s – creativity often involves intense focus and a consequent ‘letting go’ of everyday life. Related to this, but possibly not quite the same, is the way in which practising art permits you to enter into a kind of different mode of being.
I think that this last point (despite being my own) is quite interesting. When discussing the progression of Parkinson’s with various health professionals, and also when reading around the subject, the idea of ‘finding new ways of doing things’ – usually everyday, movement-related things – has cropped up several times. This quite often refers to the difference between conscious and unconscious movements (for example, many people in the later stages of Parkinson’s have to think about moving their legs before they can walk; the normal mode of walking is almost entirely unconscious – see here for a scholarly article discussing this).
There was also the fact that, although I have lost the natural ‘swing’ in my left arm while walking, the same arm still knows how to move when running. When I mentioned this to my consultant, he told me it was because running is a different mode to walking and is governed differently by the brain.
- The Parkinson’s Disease Foundation (in America) has a dedicated section of its Web site for creativity. It includes a large gallery featuring artists from many nations
- “Lifeworks: Art Movements” – A brief, and very readable, article published in 2002 by the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ), describes an exhibition put on by a group of people with movement disorders and includes quotes from a number of Parkinsonian artists. I particularly like this one:
“When I paint I’m in the best place because I’m doing only that. There’s no planning, no hierarchy of actions, but just the urgency of living.”
Johanne Vermette, quoted in the article “Lifeworks: Art Movements”, by Susan Pinker
- Anne Atkin, in Australia, writes about her personal ‘Parkinson’s journey’ and how she found solace in art
- “Painting with Parkinson’s: Art as Therapy” is a “A Resource Manual for Parkinson’s Art Groups” in the form of a PDF