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To creatively focus on the present

The world’s attention is presently on our collective physical health, but let’s also allow ourselves some time to consider our mental health. 

© Rob Stewart 2019 from the series ‘Allotments & Mental Health’

April 21st World Creativity and Innovation Day

April 22nd 50th Annual World Earth Day

These two annual commemoration days celebrated this week may seem distant and disconnected from our current predicament, yet they are more relevant than ever. During this period of mass isolation it may seem odd to pay attention to creativity and innovation, or even to think of the earth as anything other than the site of a pandemic. Isolation, restrictions imposed on work, socialising, and basic freedoms of movement are denied for the first time in most people’s lives. Breaking routines and blocking social interaction creates feelings of frustration and anxiety; and, even though most are at home – and bored – it also induces stress.   

For those fortunate to have gardens, or even allotments, this is an opportunity to spend time outdoors reaping the benefits of exercise, closeness to nature and tasks that are, ultimately, creative. We may have time outdoors restricted, but the creative act of producing art – as we all do – allows us to concentrate on something other than daily concerns: ‘taking intrinsic pleasure from the process of doing things’. It sanctions experimentation that is different at each turn, something absorbing that rewards us with a sense of satisfaction or, at the very least, new knowledge.  

‘November’ © Rob Stewart 2019

OCA student Rob Stewart combined his own creativity with that of local allotment owners. In particular he used assignments 5 and 6 of Landscape to explore the benefits to mental health of tending to life outdoors, of losing yourself in the small world of your immediate surroundings: benefits that have been recognised in a recent study. 

It is a world at once separate from the machinations of the global world, yet intrinsically such an important part of it. Rob states in his introduction ‘All my life I have felt most peaceful and relaxed in quiet spaces outdoors’.  He shows a great empathy with the collective, creative acts of his subjects, even if none are present. His projects have been picked up by the National Allotment Society in its social media channels and published in its spring magazine. It was also featured in an article in the Guardian.

We may not all have access to outdoor spaces with the chance to nurture and grow, but our creative endeavours – even simply the planning of, or reflection on them, facilitate a state of mindfulness: ‘to still a busy mind, settle into a new activity and refocus on the present’. In the (now thankfully) obsolete OCA module The Art of Photography, one assignment required the recording of curves, diagonals, patterns etc. The best example I saw was completed entirely inside a one-bedroomed apartment. It was not about the subject matter, but what imagination can conjure up: by observation, recognition, interpretation and separation from the conventional viewpoint. A case of losing yourself in the (creative) moment.

© Rob Stewart 2019 from the series ‘Allotments & Mental Health’

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Posted by author: Derek Trillo
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4 thoughts on “To creatively focus on the present

  • Great to see this post come out for Earth Day. I’ve always found allotments fascinating spaces to spend time in, and the attention to mental health and allotments as spaces for ‘collective, creative acts’ is so relevant. Thanks Rob and Derek.

  • Thanks Dan, I feel it’s a topic that’s more relevant than ever at the moment. One of the positives that’s come out of the lock-down is how people are communicating with the world: spreading ideas and a community spirit that’s been all too often missing of late. It gives me hope for the future that we will carry on being supportive of each other and appreciate other people’s inventiveness more.

  • Thanks Rob and Derek, very timely. Beautiful colour palette on those shots (and great dahlias!).

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