I spent three days in Albuquerque, New Mexico last week at the American Art Therapy Association (AATA) annual conference. A year ago they announced that Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the author of “Flow” would be the keynote speaker, and I decided I wanted to attend and hear him speak. The conference also offered an evening at the Albuquerque Art Museum.
I read an early book by Csikszentmihalyi when I worked at the University of the Pacific Library, in which he detailed a study of college art students where the subjects were in a room with art materials and various diverse objects, tasked with making a unique drawing using some of the objects on the table. Ten years later these students were interviewed again about the work they were currently doing to earn a living. He found that the students who had made the most innovative drawings were now earning their living as successful artists, but those who had composed a standard still-life of the objects were no longer making art.
I discovered that Csikszentmihalyi had continued in the positive psychology movement to study “flow” and why some activities give us a high when we do them. Having experienced a few of those moments in my own art making, I wanted to understand how they happened.
In his book, “Finding Flow,” 1997, he explains the conditions that lead to that experience where you become so immersed in what you are doing that you lose track of time and have the sense that everything works perfectly. The research method he uses is called random sampling, where subjects are given a beeper which goes off at random times and they write down what they are doing and how they feel emotionally at that moment.
In his remarks last Saturday at AATA, he discussed a study he had done with teens that showed that while they may complain about doing art projects, they self-rated their highest good feelings after they had made something creative like art, music, acting, or sports. He said we enjoy making art because we feel so good afterwards.
In my new eBook I write about some flow experiences I’ve had and how I’m looking for a way of working that produces more flow. The timing of finishing my memoir, “Looking for Connection,” just prior to the conference is no accident. I seemed to me that attending the conference would give me a good opportunity to promote my book. So I designed and had printed some post card size handouts to distribute at the conference.
In one session of about twenty people we were asked to share about our digital experience, so this was a perfect opening to mention my website and new eBook. I put out cards for class members to take.
At the event where attendees sold their crafts, I engaged with the artists and gave them a card. At one end of the room authors were available for book signings, so I introduced myself to each of them as I looked at their books and gave them a card.
But the most amazing encounters happened while waiting in lines and on the two flights going home. I was flying Southwest and selected an aisle seat. A woman would take the seat next to me and I’d introduce myself and a conversation would ensue. This is not what I usually do, but as I was talking there would be a question, usually “How does art therapy work?”
Each conversation was different, but as I gave them each a card and talked about the themes in my book, these women related to what I was saying in a personal way. It was as if the Spirit had directed them to where I was sitting. It was truly an amazing trip.