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The Case for Creative Self-Expression

Looking for permission to paint, dance or create? Watch this video.


Part of the Aging Well Through Arts Special Report

My fifth-grade daughter — a budding ballerina who likes a juicy story — recently came home from school excited about a project she is working on. She was just beginning research on a paper about Martha Graham, the mother of modern dance.

Wikipedia  — a source which fifth-grade biographers are not allowed to use, but which this journalist finds handy on occasion (only as a starting point!) — describes Graham like this: “Her influence on dance has been compared with the influence of Picasso on modern visual arts, the influence of Stravinsky on music, and the influence of Frank Lloyd Wright on architecture.”

In short, Graham was a genius, a game-changer who in hindsight seems born to greatness — born to dance. Movement fascinated her from a young age. According to one biographer, as a girl she would sit for hours watching the lions at the zoo and then figure out how to mimic their movements.

But the tidbit my fifth-grade firecracker was dying to share was this: Graham’s parents thought the arts were frivolous. “Mom, the book I was reading said that when Martha Graham’s father died, she thought, ‘Here’s my chance,’” my daughter told me with wide eyes and a nervous giggle. “Like her dad dying was a good thing.”

An outrageous idea to my sweet child. The idea that the arts are frivolous is just as outrageous to me.

Being creative — self-expression through art — isn’t just for fun. It’s crucial to our well-being. A defining human attribute and, as those who work in the field of artful aging, or creative aging, will tell you, serious stuff — the kind of stuff that can be the difference between flourishing as we age or fading away as we grow older.

This is something I know in my bones. But I always like when I see others present scientific evidence to back it up. That’s what struck me about the recent entertaining video (below) from PBS, The Evolutionary Advantages of Art, which discusses art, music and dance. The video sheds light on the reason we humans are hard-wired to make art. It even mentions Martha Graham and the importance of dance to our species (and others).

If you’re looking for permission to revisit an artistic impulse of your youth — or try something entirely new — it’s worth watching. Enjoy!

By Heidi Raschke
Heidi Raschke is a longtime journalist and editor who previously was the Executive Editor of Mpls-St. Paul Magazine and Living and Learning Editor at Next Avenue. Currently, she runs her own content strategy and development consultancy.@heidiraschke

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