Participation can be more important than art

My talk at last week’s SIMM-posium in Ghent was an opportunity to share some concerns about widely held assumptions in the field. (You can download the paper from the Resources page.) One of those assumptions is that the effects of participation and the effects of art are the same – but they’re not. It’s something I touched on long ago at the end of Use or Ornament? but it is still rarely discussed. The heart of the question is this:

If people have gained from participating in an art project, could they have gained as much (or more) from joining a sports team, a social club or a church?

As the eminent psychologist Michael Argyle showed, wider social networks, new skills, increased confidence and happiness are all common outcomes of social participation. Art can be a great way of facilitating that participation but there are many others. If we understand that, we can ask a more interesting question:

What do people gain only from participating in art?

In other words, if playing sport will get me fitter and build my stamina (at the risk of injury), what will participating in art do for me that sport will not? That question is at the heart of A Restless Art, as well as being discussed more fully in my paper, so if you have any thoughts about it, please do share them in the comments below.

Bright Brass

As if to underline the point about what may be important to participants, I saw this deeply moving film about a children’s music project in Congo. It is one of two now being researched by the man behind SIMM, Lukas Pairon, and Rachel Corner, who made the film was also there. It is a powerful story of healing in a dark world, but it’s important to reflect on how that healing might be happening.