Well-being through creative activity

What to say……….

So, don’t get me wrong here. I am not having a go at praise, ok. What I do want to talk about is how we praise in the context of a mental health or wellbeing creative session. I have been thinking about this over the course of the last week and taking care to listen in to conversations about work that’s been created. Remember that some of the people we work with at S2C have very low self esteem and confidence, are feeling very vulnerable and sensitive. Also I am coming at this as a trained educator and assessor so I feel qualified to speak on the subject and have a lot of experience behind it too of helping people develop, grow and improve.

The reason this is going to be controversial is that we all do what I’m moaning about, even me. That moment when somebody shows you something they have created and the response is “Awesome, that’s amazing”, “Stunning”, “Beautiful”. And that’s it just those kinds of words. This is fine and to be encouraged, especially among friends sharing on facebook etc. No problem. I begin to have questions in the context S2C are working in. So what do I feel are the problems with this.

Firstly, with the people we are working with, if I always tell them that every piece of work they do is “Amazing” then this leaves nowhere to go. There is no opportunity for growth or progression. I can repeatedly tell somebody that their work is amazing for ten consecutive weeks. Apart from a short term buzz in week 1 or 2 there is nothing to show improvement or that they have gained anything through attending. Yes, I hear you, for some people that they have walked through the door and attended is amazing talking about what they do when they get to the session.

Secondly, if they repeatedly hear that their work is amazing then one of two things starts to happen. Vulnerable people remember. They can either believe this and gain unrealistic expectations of their ability or they can begin to lose confidence, observe what every one else produces and compare it or they begin to doubt what you are telling them because it is all you are saying. Dangerous. Remember S2C is about building confidence, esteem, skill, opportunity, wellbeing.

Thirdly, the work they create uls a pile of amazing artwork. Vulnerable people. It’s all amazing, there is nothing special about anyone piece. Where is the motivation.

So, how do we praise the creative work. We are looking to build for each individual. So of course there must be an element of each bit of praise being tailored to suit the individual. Taking account of that then, general approach to praise should be that your praise has a number of component parts to it.

Part 1: the intitial reaction, not too over the top but clearly indicating you are impressed. “Oh so and so, that is looking really good……………”

Part 2: Identify one or two key elements that have impressed you. “………the way you have blended those colours / how you have used thirds to compose / the brush strokes in this part / the way you have built up the layers / the great texture……”. you get the idea.

Part 3: How this particular piece of work could (if it can be) be improved. “Maybe add a touch of colour that’s different here / perhaps you need to have a focal point / this area is a bit dark can you lighten it up/ is there a way you can add some texture………….”

Part 4: Next time. “Next time maybe you could think about starting with a darker base colour / maybe you could try to keep the same tone…….”

Part 5: Tell or ask them. Don’t always tell them what to do. Ask them what they think they could do.

I very much believe that this will help them improve their skills and their confidence, motivation, self esteem and confidence.

So have a think next time you are about to tell somebody something is amazing. Is that what they need to hear. Some yes. But not always.

Some “Amazing” artwork from this weeks sessions.


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