Walking Art For Health – A Proposal

Summary

Supporting people to connect with local outdoor spaces through walking as art to promote personal health and wellbeing.

Work delivered as a combination of offline workshops and online processes centred at Studio Morland and on the Morland website.

Health Rationale

Walking is a useful way to promote health and wellbeing. 10 minutes a day aerobic exercise walking promotes physical and mental health and wellbeing.

This programme builds on this simple affirming practice to work with walking as a creative act, to connect with the outdoors as art.

Guided by ideas and practices from Drama and Movement Therapy, Experiential Learning and Walking Art Practice, participants are invited to explore walking in their local environment and further afield as a form of moving meditation to connect with nature as a mutually health promoting act.

The benefits of both walking and meditation are currently well evidenced. New research about noticing nature and nature connectedness shows that actively engaging with outdoor spaces provides benefits that complement the physical benefits of regular exersize through walking.

This programme works on the assumption that you can learn through experience to notice and connect with nature and make walking a form of arts practice that promotes personal health and wellbeing.

Initial Setup

Online

Use an online space to provide materials that support the work. This would be presented in a way that invites people to approach this as if they were learning to work with an artform like an artist.

It could include the following…

Links to clinical or research evidence for the health benefits of art making, meditation, walking and noticing nature.

Material about the long history of walking art, and a guided invitation to encourage participants to start collecting ideas about what draws their attention and act on this as an intention for participation in the programme.

Invite the scope for communitas and mutual connection and support, online and offline through Studio Morland.

Put up a proposed programme with online and offline elements but present the whole thing as a kind of shared journey or exploration which participants will have some level of control over. This is a creative act, a shared journey of adventure. Whatever happens will emerge out of the experiences of participants. It is a journey of uncertain outcome, but with a certainty of enhanced health and wellbeing.

Seek to promote the idea that what happens can take account of their familial and personal and geographic circumstances. This is important for work in a rural setting.

Offline

A workshop or series of workshops at or through Studio Morland.

A central weathertight space, a room or a tent, with access to outdoor space, either wild or a garden or urban fringe.

In the workshop we can give direct experience of walking ‘artfully’ with intention, attention and attitude. These are the core principles of meditation, but they are also the core principles of art making and performance.

Intention is either made by the participant, eg I want to become more healthy, or in the workshop, given by the facilitator, ‘I want you to walk and be aware of your contact between your feet and the ground. Attention means you act to be aware of what is happening, what you are thinking and sensing in the here and now. Attitude is one of openness and non judgement. We may ask for an attitude of ‘experimentation’ or ‘try it and see what happens’.

So we use simple crafty art making activities or movement based work that reinforce the principles of intention, attention and attitude and allow transfer to walking as a creative act that promotes mental as well as physical health.

For example.

These are presented as things we could do to give an idea of what the work could look like.

Noticing and Sharing Art

We start in the building, but we have artforms around. We invite people to walk with intention, attention and attitude and notice an artform that gets their attention. They find and share the artform and say, if they can, and if they want to, what they see. We can work with ways of seeing. In the arts therapies we might get a person to talk about the artform but then ‘chunk down’ and see it in terms of form as opposed to content. A landscape painting described as ‘beautiful’ could be chunked down to ‘it is a painting’, ‘it has a frame’, ‘it has visible brushstrokes and bits of collage, paper, stuck in there as well’. We could work with this to develop the skill to look like an art maker, moving how they see from viewing art to doing art.

Exploring Ways of Walking

Work with ideas from Drama and Movement Therapy. Walking is explored as an act of performance. Participants are invited to move and pay attention to what happens to their bodies when they do. This can develop at an individual level of awareness or be developed as a form of dance of interactive connection. This can be extended to explore their experience of walking. For example the difference between fitness walking where the person moves faster to enhance aerobic exercise and meditative walking where the person moves more slowly can be felt through the movement of the hips and stride length and the extension of the arms. This work would seek to ground the idea of moving meditation into day to day experiences of movement in the persons everyday, domestic and local life. The goals would be to help people use walking as a way connect their bodies and their minds as unitary phenomena. The work of Dan Seigel could be presented. Here

Making a Pathfinder

In the movie ‘Stalker’ by Andre Tarkovsky the protagonist makes his way through ‘The Zone’ using nuts on threads thrown into the environment to show the way. The clip here shows you what I mean. We provide lots of material, cotton, wool, string, different nuts and things. We say this will become your ’Pathfinder’, a way to make or find a path when we go out into the outdoor space. We give time for them to attend to materials and make their own pathfinder. This can be reinforced with asking them to attend to the materials and how they feel. We could give three threads, one chosen to mean something they can share openly, one as a token of some private thing they do not share, and one as a thing that their eyes and senses like with no explanation. Then we teach plaiting and introduce the idea of weaving as a symbol of nature or of the interwoven things in their lives. People could spend 20 minutes making this and learning experientially to attend and notice what is happening. We could invite them to share verbally what is happening. Tell a story of the meaning behind the thing they can share, get them to describe how the material feels in their hands. In the art therapies this is called multimodal working. The experience is worked with in a number of forms (in this case verbalisation and manual handling) and each form gives a new perspective on the experience.

Using the Pathfinder

We use various artforms as source materials to give people ideas. We must have between us enough books and knowledge of materials to provide some support. For painting we could compare Cy Twombly, Monet and Turner (see here) say, and invite people to steal their ideas. We go out into the outdoors. We develop and reinforce the intention, attention, attitude format. We invite people to use their Pathfinder to make a path they follow and attend to it. We invite people to create a gallery of images, in situ, along their path. We invite different way of looking. Like close up vs wide angle, with out of focus eyes to make the image abstract, looking up and down, looking with moving eyes, connecting with touch, smell, hearing with eyes shut etc. We provide a means to work with different artforms. This could include

  • Empty picture frames. Used to frame images at scale, close too or far away. Have the client put frames in a way as to show us what they see.
  • I have a set of digital cameras of various sizes. We invite people to take pictures and choose and print half a dozen and place them in situ.
  • Work with words like Art & Language or Fluxus or provide some poems about place, and get people to do the Borrough’s ‘cutup’ technique and make poems they put in situ. See here
  • If the group would have it, work with movement and dance.

Depending on the venue, clients and timescale, we could not use all of these in their fullest form. We could use some and not others. I think we could choose to have a focus more on walking in nature or more on art making in nature. Given that Morland has a customer base that you know best I would be interested in what you think.

Ongoing Support

Linking Online and Offline Experiences

See if we could have offline workshops at Studio Morland linked to an online space on the Morland Website where people can connect and share ideas.

Use these to balance providing direction and containment with letting the participants provide direction through communitas. The health benefits of making art and walking and working with walking as art to connect with and notice nature would be the main thrust of the work.

Studio Morland would be the offline and online place through which this could happen.

It could be a place where people could show and share what they made and what they did.

So part of the goal could be to show that you can find ways to promote your health, in the little bits of ‘nature’ nearby, right under your nose. This promotes the idea that we can make changes and do things in our everyday lives. I like the idea that it domesticates it for participants as something I can do in my home with my people. It is a form of DIY.

An emphasis on the arts therapies, in which art making is a means of personal exploration and expression, could be balanced against the idea of ‘Fine Art’ as a thing done by ‘Artists’. This could domesticate art into an everyday thing you do to keep you healthy.

What artwork is done can be shared but the emphasis would be that some of this would be for the eyes of only the participant as art-maker and their friends and families. Studio Morland could showcase work, have exhibitions etc, but this is only through a process of consent.

Function of and Support for Funding

Funding could support Morland personal and freelance workers to deliver work through the online and offline facilitation of the work.

If participants are encouraged to work with fitness and meditative walking, we could collect quantitative evidence from fitness walking, in terms of the enhancement of performance of aerobic exercise over time, either by improved times for set distances or increases in distances walked or time spent walking (ie from 50 to 120 minutes a week.)

Art made could also be an indicator of outcomes. If we invited an approach of exposition, in which participants show work but also share narratives of experiences of walking as art and art making, we could have material for qualitative evidence.

Chris Reed Input

I would like to run the offline workshops and support the online work.

I am an HCPC Registered Dramatherapist and qualified teacher with 30+ years work with the arts and the outdoors in the UK, EU and USA with a BSc in Human Ecology.

Header Image – Carey Young – Body Techniques (after A Line in Ireland, Richard Long, 1974) (2007) by Carey Young/Paula Cooper Gallery