Today’s post is an interview with Wendy Miller. Wendy is a sculptor, expressive arts therapist, and educator. Together with her late husband Gene Cohen (considered one of the founding fathers of geriatric psychiatry) she wrote Sky Above Clouds: Finding Our Way through Creativity, Aging, and Illness.
The book explores how the aging mind can build resilience and continue growth, even during times of grave illness, thus setting aside the traditional paradigm of aging as a time of decline.
With Miller’s insights and expressive psychological writing, Sky Above Clouds tells the inside story of how attitude, community, creativity, and love shape a life, with or without health, even to our dying.
My conversation with Ms. Miller focuses on personal creativity and how to use creativity to support yourself.
How do you define creativity?
I define creativity as the “arrival” of something new. Creativity is bringing something new into existence that has value. Creativity is the way that each of us supplements engagement with ourselves.
Creativity arises from what is objectively true (your eyes are brown, you have a scar by your ear, your head is bald from chemo) and also from subjective self-reflections; the many hues and tones of our shifting perceptions and the meanings they hold or the meanings we give them as our awareness deepens.
For me, creativity is all about imagery because images speak in a language of sensation. Images provide depth at the same time as they expand meaning.
Why does creativity matter? What does creativity give to us?
Creativity matters because it gives us our health and grows our wisdom.
Creativity matters because, through the act of creativity, humans make meaning.
Creativity can give us greater understanding of our experience and move us toward healing. Using creativity as a resource during illness and aging can offer us feelings of balance and renewal. Creativity is a way to express meaning during illness and aging.
Perhaps creativity and healing are one and the same, having the same task. The task of both creativity and healing is what I call “integrative intelligence” and what Gene called “developmental intelligence”. The main idea of both terms is the many ways in which we reflect on, take apart, and learn from our varied kinds of experiences.
Creativity and healing teaches us to see everything that counts and has accumulated in our lives and leads us towards a matured wisdom.
What advice would you give to women who long to return to their creativity after being away from it for a time?
This is such a good question! At almost every book reading I have done this year, a woman has asked me this question!
During a woman’s life, there are times when she is further away from her own creativity. This happened to me. After a long period of not expressing myself, I came back to it because I felt ready to listen to myself and engage in the quiet dialog within. To get back to my own creativity, I had to drop my own fears and just listen to myself.
It helped me to view creativity as a call to prayer, towards the self, and towards life-force. From my perspective, it is worth it to return to your own creativity as it offers us a path to personal integration. Instead of living in chaos, creativity brings congruence to the life-cycle events of the mind, body, and spirit.
If I was experiencing a period of personal illness, how could creativity support me?
Personal illness and a loss of health are a part of life. During illness there is loss of many kinds – of physical health, mental functioning and emotional well-being, etc. There is nothing romantic about loss – nothing at all.
Creativity during illness is especially potent as it emerges from a connection to loss. In the simplest way, practicing creativity during illness keeps you engaged with your own experience.
What most surprised you in your findings on creativity?
For me, as an artist (sculptor) and art therapist, I most often had thought of creativity as connected with imagery and art-making. But what is most surprising for me as I have aged is that is it not the physical art-making that is the most significant aspect of our creativity.
What is most significant about creativity is that creativity is a perspective. Creativity is to remember well how to explore, play, and be curious as we watch and engage with our experiences.
It is this creative perspective we must nurture.
For women who want more resources on this topic, what books would you recommend?
I would recommend The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life by Twyla Tharp, Art Is a Way of Knowing: A Guide to Self-Knowledge and Spiritual Fulfillment through Creativity by Pat B. Allen, and Interview with the Muse: Remarkable Women Speak on Creativity and Power by Nina Winter.