Thursday, September 22, 2005

Second Happiness Challenge: Finding Flow


The Artist's Happiness Challenge is an e-course consisting of six artistic challenges (lessons) based on the current research being done in the field of positive psychology. I am posting the challenges here.

Here's the Second Happiness Challenge: Finding Flow!

This second Artist's Happiness Challenge has to do partly with Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's research on "flow" and partly with "Grandma" Layton's contour drawings. I got the idea from their work, and from my own observations. One morning I had a slight headache while engaging in my morning routine of journaling and drawing. As I wrote my thoughts ("this headache is awful, I wish it would go away, etc") the headache intesified. When I began drawing a still life with one of my puppets in it, following the puppet's contours with my eyes, while my hands created the same contour on the paper, everything fell away. I was completely involved in the contours, and I had no awareness of time, headache, or anything else. It was definitely one of Csikszentmihalyi's flow moments. I paused, noticed how I was feeling, began to write it down in words and the slight headache returned. When I went back to the contour drawing, the headache disappeared. It was as if endorphins were being released in the process of contour drawing.

Then I remembered how "Grandma" Layton took up drawing at the age of 68 to help deal with her depression. She took a class in contour drawing. She believed that the process of drawing and looking hard at things as she drew them, caused the lessening of her depression and a change in her feelings about her life! She described finding drawing as a miracle. It seemed to me to be related to my own sense of endorphin release while engaging in drawing contours of puppets.

So here's the challenge. Find an object that has interesting contours, get comfortable with paper, pen, or pencil, but forget the eraser. This is about experiencing the process of eye seeing and hand drawing, it's not about judging if the line is perfect or not. If you have time constraints, set an alarm, preferably in another room, for 20 or so minutes. This will let your mind relax so that for this small amount of time you can become fully engaged.
(Csikszentmihalyi describes flow as intense experiential involvement in moment-to-moment activity, where attention is fully invested in the task at hand.) Then draw slowly and as carefully as you can, letting your hand create the contours as your eyes follow them. When you have completed a drawing, see how you feel. Does it seem like maybe it would be a good way to start the day, with a little contour drawing, or a 3 good things, piece of art?

To see some of "Grandma" Layton's contour drawings, go to: http://faculty.indy.cc.ks.us/jnull/introlayton.htm

And to read some of Csikszentmihalyi's work go to his website: http://qlrc.cgu.edu/research.htm

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