Mosaics, art and the brain…my journey so far.

Ok folks…look above and you will see that there are two new tabs on the main menu of Glittering Shards.

Firstly, “Art & the Brain” will be the place where my evolving research on the connection between art/making with your hands and neuroscience will sit (see more below). Secondly, the Online Resources will, over the next few months, have a growing number of tools to help you engage with both mosaic making (for the love of it!) and art practices as a tool for mindfulness. Bear with me as I develop tools for this page and if you have any thoughts or ideas for online resources (for both mosaic making and mindfulness practices using mosaic / art) I will be very happy to hear from you.

Below is a bit of  my journey discovering the connections between art, mosaics, mindfulness and neuroscience which I have pasted from the new page on the main menu.  If you get to the end of this blog post (I hope you do!) there is a voucher for an e-course waiting for you…

 

neurons

 

Art, mosaics and the brain…my journey

One of the key threads of the journey I have made with Glittering Shards is the discovery that mosaic making can be a form of meditation or mindfulness practice.

I have discovered that my experience of the calming, therapeutic and transformative effects of mosaic is not just my own.  I have lost count of how many times, since 2008,  students have sat in my mosaic studio, picked up mosaic materials for the first time, started to  cut, move, place and stick and literally exhaled the words, “This is so therapeutic…”

The other interesting thread from my last 6 years as a mosaic teacher is that around 70% of students attending my evening classes were, quite by chance, people in the helping professions – doctors, nurses, therapists, psychiatrists, mental health workers, family therapists, prison workers, teachers, OT’s.  I am now so used to this that I just smile quietly and expectantly when people talk about what they do. There is clearly something going on in this pattern – perhaps the need to seek out calming, creative and restorative practices for workers in these stressful roles? The stories that emerge from my students as the course progresses are of my studio being seen as “a creative, peaceful refuge in my week“,  “a little oasis of calm” and “my weekly therapy“.

Mosaic workshops London Concetta Perot

Certainly, the many evening classes and large group workshops I have run in the last 6 years, alongside some of the larger scale community mosaic projects I have co-ordinated, with groups such as refugees, children in care, children with special needs and ‘at risk’ families, attest to the fact that something in particular happens to our stress levels – to our brains – when we engage our hands, our attention and our efforts in a making something solid and creative.

This possibility of harnessing our own capacity for brain change to positive effect, through ‘making with our hands‘ is now the focus of my mosaic practice and academic enquiry. The technical field I am exploring- neuroplasticity – is something I came across over 10 years ago during my work running support groups and creative programmes for abuse survivors. Since then, understanding the physiological impact of how trauma and stress shapes the brain and our ‘anxiety’ systems has been a focus of my learning and one which directly informed my work as an advocate of children in care and secure units (eg. the re-traumatisation of children sitting in LAC reviews with their abusers) and as the  Head of Learning & Development in a national charity where I wrote and delivered training programmes on topics such as safeguarding children, effective advocacy & mental health.  For 10 years, I helped to run survivor support groups and a creative programme (using dance, writing, mosaic, visual and textile art) both through residential weekends and at the annual Greenbelt Arts festival where I delivered seminars to hundreds of people addressing issues such as self-harm, domestic violence and how to support people who have experienced abuse and violence. All this was underpinned by a growing understanding that the damage of such experiences is not irreversible: brain change – neuroplasticity – is possible.

Seven years ago, I took a step back from social work and support work with abuse survivors to raise my young family and focus on my mosaic art. In this time, Glittering Shards – both teaching, commissions and large community art projects- grew and grew allowing me to observe directly the link between my previous learning and the power of creative making. Much of the anecdotal evidence of “mosaic as transformative, mindful practice” which I observed (and experienced) in this period I also found repeated in mosaic books, seminars and mosaic forums. There is clearly something going on when we pick up those tile nippers!

Through delving into my own creativity (in particular the mosaic form) and then discovering mindfulness practice, I feel as though many seemingly disparate threads are coming together. It goes something like this:

  • Life experiences (especially very early ones) shape our brains (such as our ability to manage stress, anxiety and feelings). This can be both positive (with huge implications on areas such as positive parenting education and managing workplace stress) and negative (eg. early attachment failures, the trauma of war, abuse, disaster etc…)
  • For those with negative experiences, the damaging effect on our brains can deeply affect well being and daily life (and the lives of loved ones) and can flip into disabling mental ill-health
  • Understanding the physiological mechanisms by which anxiety, stress, trauma and violence affect us as humans can be liberating. Rather than feeling ‘I am not normal‘, we can reframe our responses  as ‘I am having a normal brain response (eg. post traumatic stress, anxiety disorder, dissociation…) to abnormal situations (eg. violence / trauma)‘.
  • Our brains do not have to remain permanently hard-wired or fixed in these damaging pathways that have been created – they are plastic and changeable.
  • The mechanisms for neuroplasticity (brain change) are slowly being understood by the rapidly evolving neuroscience community which is revealing that ancient contemplative and meditative practices can play a significant part in this change.
  • Understanding the mechanisms in which seemingly intractable patterns of anxiety, disorder and negative emotional states can be changed is both deeply empowering to individuals and of interest to social policy with respect to areas such as health care.
  • Many tools for brain change are at our own disposal (called self-directed neuroplasticity).
  • Some of the tools lie in our use of focussed attention –We can use our minds to change our brains’ (Rick Hanson, London Insight Seminar, Summer 2014).
  • …and I believe that some of the tools are in our hands – literally – through the use of tangible creative mediums, such as mosaics.

Certainly, the last few years has shown me that  the link between mosaic/making with your hands, mindfulness and neuroplasticity is a subject worthy of further investigation, which is the focus of  my own research.  I will be posting more about this in the weeks and months to come. I have created a special email list for those of you who want to keep informed of my research and who may be interested in participating. Sign up here. I would love to hear your stories and experiences of the connection between art/mosaics and the brain – either by commenting on this post or you can  email me .

PS. If you are interesting in learning more, I will be posting reading lists under the “Art & the Brain” tab in my main menu. In the meantime, check out the Foundations of Well Being course (which I am enrolled on) being run by Rick Hanson (a pioneer in the science of mindfulness) and if you want to enrol too, you can get $25 off by quoting FWBGIFT at the checkout.

13 Responses to “Mosaics, art and the brain…my journey so far.”

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  1. Carolyn says:

    Very interesting read and a connection that I have noticed as well. I discovered mosaics after my own personal tragedy. I truly believe mosaics helped to heal me.

    • Concetta says:

      Dear Carolyn, thanks for posting – your website and work are beautiful. Great to hear another story of the power of mosaic making. Keep in touch.

  2. Sonia King says:

    Brava, Concetta! Well done, xxoo, sonia

  3. Barb Holmes says:

    Hi Concetta,
    this resonates very strongly with me. I work as a GP and incorporate mindfulness strategies into a lot of work with my patients , especially around anxiety and depression. For myself I find mosaic art a wonderful and therapeutic counter to my work stress. It is a form of art that particularly lends itself to becoming the observer wholly and completely- wether it be the shape and feel of a tile, the section being worked on, or the piece as a whole. I have found the slowness of the process particularly helpful in developing patience and enjoyment of that process as much as the final result -this I had not had to the same degree with other art forms I had dabbled in.I am keen to keep reading your insights! Thanks, Barb

    • Concetta says:

      I am going to quote you in my research Barb! I agree, the tactile nature and slowness of mosaics are two of the factors I have identified…thans for being interested and hope to keep in touch as it all evolves!

  4. Roe Holcombe says:

    Very interesting. I find it very calming and therapeutic as well!

  5. Claire says:

    Hi Concetta,
    I had to leave your writing on this topic without comment since I didn’t know where to start initially, but I have to say that I detected this aspect of your approach from the first time I saw a trace of you on the internet.

    I have an incomplete thought here knowing that many of us who come to these careers are wounded helpers. We must also have a spiritual reason at some level for wanting to work with others who may be hurt or hurting in some way.

    I can readily identify with your thoughts on a personal level and as someone with a past in the helping professions. I found that my interest in making crafts was always part of my make-up. The need to create something original and make a mosaic seemed to come or maybe evolve after a period of time when unable to do the work I had studied and trained for and I would certainly agree that it’s therapeutic. I have an un-researched interest in the therapeutic effect of colour but that’s only part of the story. There is something about bringing all the elements together which apart are nothing and the activity of bringing them together creates an image for the eye to behold and appreciate. I read recently about the effect of music and singing (other interests of mine) in the creation of pleasure hormones and all of this is certainly healing. So maybe we have been involved or are involved in healing hurt and want in some way to make or create for the therapy of growth, as the offshoot of recovery. Many psychotherapeutic approaches have traditionally been concerned with the effects of our past while some newer ones focus more on our future and how this can be better. For me with each new mosaic I create there is a new possibility and I love that!

    I didn’t expect to get beyond a few sentences, you have tapped a nerve Concetta. With much appreciation.
    Claire

    • Concetta says:

      Hi Claire

      thanks for sharing your thoughts here. I do agree, the ‘wounded healer’ idea (Nouwen) is one that I have lived with too. And you touch on something with the idea of bringing things together – it seems to be a theme popping up everywhere for me at the moment! Bringing together = integration = a journey to wholeness… With appreciation for your taking time to read and comment. x

  6. Nikki says:

    I’m also in the helping professions (youth work) with my own experience of hurt. I’ve been exploring lately what it means to be a very tactile learner (learning to include healing and growth) in this context, no really co-herent thoughts as yet, but i like the tactile link between creativity and mindfulness. I’ll read quietley for a bit but thanks for sharing this journey.

    • Concetta says:

      Thanks for those thoughts Nikki – I do find it interesting to consider what the role of the hands (and the body generally )are in the whole process of learning. Thought processes evolving…!

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  1. […] those swathes of mosaic flooring – it must have taken years – and imagining whether the therapeutic value of the mosaic making process is totally negated by being a mosaic slave?  As with many of these floors, the storytelling is […]



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