There are many examples of nature in art, even if we take the word to an extremely narrow margin and only include wildlife and plants, the plethora of work these things have inspired is huge. When we set a scene, we can often begin with the natural surroundings, and talk about the natural feelings people are expressing. Nature provides endless metaphor in the way its processes and behaviour find similarities with our own, or show how we can do things better. Artists and creators often find benefit in being outside and exposing the mind and body to fresh air, sounds of the outdoors, and all of the colours and shapes that shift as we pass. It's almost an old-wife's tale that natural surroundings help us to be more creative. We recommend it as therapy and for respite, we instinctively know of its spirit-charging quality that we can all draw on. The Japanese even have a word for it, Shinrin-yoku, meaning forest bathing.
There is in fact good science behind this phenomenon. Studies have shown various positive benefits to the body and mind associated with spending time in a natural environment. For those of us who live in the city, getting out of the artificial environment and and into the local wild-spots can be really great especially if we need to remain collected, fresh thinking, and at rest on the inside.
“ "Nature" is what we see
"Nature" is what we see--
The Hill—the Afternoon--
Squirrel—Eclipse— the Bumble bee--
Nay—Nature is Heaven--
Nature is what we hear--
The Bobolink—the Sea--
Nay—Nature is Harmony--
Nature is what we know--
Yet have no art to say--
So impotent Our Wisdom is
To her Simplicity. ”
The Japanese conducted experiments recently in which they invited people to walk in natural and in urban environments. These were equal in length and difficulty. The blood pressure, heart rate, and personal mood were taken before and after the walks. In the experiment, those who walked in nature showed a significantly lower stress level than before the walk. Those who were on urban walks reported anxiety and stress and did not show as much physical improvement. A Finnish study was conducted in a similar way and showed that city residents had decreased stress levels if they went walking in a local park or wood for twenty minutes each day. This again was in comparison to walking in urban settings.
A study undertaken at Stanford University showed that if subjects walked in nature for less than an hour, their cognitive abilities improved. By clearing mental fog and putting a stop to clingy thoughts, the assessment demonstrated that the natural environment can help people become more cognitively able. Rumination is the act of thinking deeply about things. Although helpful if we consciously avoid negative or harmful avenues, if unchecked it can result in lingering depressive thoughts. We can ruminate on upsetting ideas and end up making ourselves unwell. The same Stanford study extended its criteria to determine whether nature walking could help us to cease rumination and depression. In this second study, the part of the brain whose inactivity is a sign of clinical depression (called the subgenual prefrontal cortex) was shown to have increased activity.
Problem solving requires creative thinking. We have to be able to see the answer when it is at first occulted from us. Doing this requires significant attention and high level thought processes. When we're surrounded by technology, our attention is often diverted to all manner of sources. With phones, televisions, radios, books, and magazines, we're likely to be only giving a fraction of our concentration to a particular problem. Being outside for significant periods of time has shown to completely undo this side-effect of our media-gluttony. A study was able to demonstrate that a group of people increased their problem solving skills significantly after spending a few days out hiking.
With all the data adding up to one clear answer, getting out and about in the natural world does and will improve your mind and mood. You'll be healthier and more aware for each step taken in nature. This means that there is yet another reason to look after our environment. Disposing of waste responsibly is really important. If we can recycle something then it's always worth doing that. Be careful with nature and it will reward us with its vast riches and diversity for as long as we live in harmony with it.
It's easy to follow the leader and do as they do, it makes sure we remain blameless in the general scheme of progress. Perhaps wise for those who feel unable to cope with the emotional consequences of being a leader, it's the creative innovators with the courage to be themselves that find their way to the front. But then, even still, it's not necessarily as simple as that. Being able to imagine things in new ways is only the edge of the forest. If we peer through the fir branches we will find a much wider and more complex system of being. How is it possible to be fresh, inventive, and in a solid place of leadership? It takes a person with particular qualities which we can all work towards attaining.
Studies have shown that Icelanders are one of the most creative people in the world. Their culture produces more than average innovations and modern ideas for the numbers involved. They may only be few in number but their cultural footprint is huge. We can look at the way their country is run to see why this may be the case.
Their education system involves a lot more freedom than many other developed nations. With adaptive and innovative curricula, students can be given tailor made educations that benefit their personal skill sets and challenges. Complimenting pupils with teacher led paths to future success helps them to firstly trust in their peers but also expect a certain degree of freedom in their life path. Alongside free play as part of schooling, and with communities made of extended families, a sense of confidence and natural self-assurance is something of a given.
Although Icelanders don't perceive their culture as creative, almost every family has a member who is in a creative industry. This maybe suggests that although it's not a tradition or a national pride, it's not a taboo either. There is an element of personal pride in their work for the creative industry, and it's normalised for them. For many other nations it's not so common. We can perhaps ask ourselves if we treat creatives as normal or as quirky oddballs. We must expect to be treated as normal people like anyone else and not be afraid to put our foot down when given the disrespect deserved of a fraud or hysterical nonsense.
Having well connected communities allows individuals to draw on a large wealth of knowledge and imagination. Because it's not a tricky subject in Iceland, it's quite appropriate for someone to ask their family and friends for help in their creative endeavour. The community get together and work on solutions together. Finding solutions is what creativity is all about. Either by helping people understand a point of view, a feeling, or by helping people get more cars over the bridge in an hour, a problem is solved.
Another factor in creativity is what are we exposing our minds to. If we focus on mainstream culture we will lack the innovative and novel aspects to our work and fall stale. If on the other hand we only go for the most odd and quirky stuff out there, what we produce will only benefit a small group of people. That's okay for a hobby but if it's your job then you need to think bigger. A range of sources is the only appropriate diet for any creative person or group. Know what the masses are expecting to see and know what the different ways of pushing the limits are too.
We can also delve into the past to find things that really worked or seeded something that went on to become huge. Exploring historical media and art really does enrich our understanding of what we are meant to do, because what is consistent within media and art from a long time span is surely something we need to pay attention to. Perhaps if we can make something totally unique and completely unseen before then wonderful, however it's no problem to take inspiration from things that have shown their worth already. We do it subconsciously all the time.
What does this all mean though? It seems that we either can or can't think creatively. It takes practice and a degree of inner strength. We are naturally attached to our ideas and project, our desire to succeed produces a real wanting and need for results. It's a true life situation and if we can't handle it then we have to hang up our pencil case and sign up at the local factory. People will challenge our ideas and they will play games of 'ego leap frog' with you that if you're not careful will drive you into the ground like a tent peg. They don't see a nervous, hard working, reliant on good results person, they see a leader, strong and capable. We have to be that person on the inside.
We're not all Icelandic, and we're not all brought up to be confident in our own ability to lead. Many of us are likely to have been given the opposite impression from their peers. Just do as you're told and you'll be fine. Sound familiar? Perhaps a short course in creative leadership is exactly what you need to hammer the nail in that coffin.
They seem distinctly different, one hemisphere versus another, the arts and the sciences appear to grow from completely different trees. We can agree that an artist need not pay attention to decimal points, units, and linear relationships, where as these things are imperative for a scientist. When the world of scientific exploration deals in matters of truth about reality, the artistic world deals in the chaotic and unstable world of the subconscious. Art that is universal to a culture becomes a part of the collective subconscious of that culture, where-as for science, universal truth is gradually discovered and forced into culture by manner of proof.
They may run at odds with one-another, however there is a certainty in similarity also. We know that in order to express truth well, we must communicate it. Communication requires the use of images and words alongside statistical analysis to show the message. The more in depth and complicated the message, the same goes for the communication of it. Only by representing our findings in language and imagery can we allow others to know what we have discovered. This is where art becomes important.
An artist is well able to describe and draw the internal world of themselves, or produce works that encourage feelings, a scientist is equally able to describe and draw the world outside of themselves, and produce images that show vital information. An artist may spend their days painting flowers to great accuracy because of how beautiful they are. A photographer may do the same. Producing quality images of the natural world is both an art and a science. For the image to be science worthy, it must demonstrate a point or feature about the subject. We could show the leaf structure of a buttercup, for example.
So why do we view the two worlds so separately? There is a clear cross-over in the world of science communication that requires artistic skill. Describing the physical processes of cell biology, or the inner workings of nebulae requires a huge verbal palette and an imagination to conjure the best words from. It's a matter of tradition perhaps, however things are looking to change.
The Rubenstein Arts Centre at Duke University, America, has created an exhibition called The Art Of The Scientist. It is created by thirty five individuals, a mixture of artists and scientists, to show how science can be art and vice versa. Fantastic images of geology, chemistry biology, and physics are brought together in massive displays to truly highlight the beauty and intrigue as one entity. Perhaps this will be the first of many exhibits like this from various universities and colleges who teach both subjects.
Now as we enter the world of virtualisation at work and home, learning how best to communicate through the digital medium is of great important to science. Artists are already finding ways to make use of this new technology, with game designers also pioneering the field. Science can also be a big player in this new era of digital reality. If you want to learn more this course from the University of Toronto may be what you're looking for.
It's well known that with living longer comes concerns around age related disease. Dementia is on the rise in our communities as more of us reach an age where it can become an issue. For many years, finding a way to keep people with dementia content and well has been a top priority. Until we can prevent or cure things like this illness, we can find better ways of helping people cope.
Memory is important to us, it helps us to define ourselves and our own personal stories give us the motivations and inspirations to achieve things in life. When we take a positive outlook on our memories, we take a positive outlook on our selves and our lives. So to know that one of the key symptoms of dementia is loss of long term memory, it can be extremely traumatic for those involved. When someone we love doesn't know who we are or can't place what we mean to them in life, it can be very hard. For the sufferer too, the confusion, not knowing who to trust, not knowing what is happening on a daily basis, can all build into unhappy times.
We've been using prompts to help dementia sufferers to remember for years, music has long been successful in stirring up memories from the past. More often these days, carers are turning to poetry as well. With timing, flow, cadence, and imagery, the mind can be prompted on many levels with one reading. If we know the poetry from life then all the better, but poetry about things from the past can also be extremely helpful. The many prompt approach can kick-start those neurons, even just a little.
Art in general has been shown to be extremely rewarding for people with dementia. The process of creating something for a reason by using the imagination is like a massage for the overworked grey matter. Gently waking up the mind to think over and do is helpful for anyone with mental health. We tend to remind ourselves of things and interact with internal dialogue, especially when creating or thinking imaginatively. Encouraging this kind of thing may keep the doctor at bay for us and if we ever get to be a carer for someone then we'll know what we can do.
Want to read some poetry now? Here's mine.
Rowan Blair Colver for Alternative Fruit
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