Creativity and Ageing – a Reflection

Written by Jude Sullivan – guest blogger

Jude, a current MAC student, recently completed a short course with UTAS called Creativity and Ageing. It introduced existing research on the benefits of engagement with the arts during the process of ageing, and included the role of creativity in reducing risk factors for dementia.
 Throughout the course, Jude was able to explore, develop and reflect on her own creativity and has generously shared her experience with us.
According to Geoffrey Petty, the creative process consists of six working phases, inspiration, clarification, distillation, perspiration, evaluation, and incubation. He suggests that the term “creative” is used broadly, to include the creative arts as well as invention, design, problem solving, writing, and entrepreneurial initiatives to name a few. I approached the Creativity and Ageing projects loosely following this model.
My inspiration for my projects was based on the familiar leading to the unfamiliar. Initially I took inspiration for my first piece from a poem written for me on the day of a friend’s funeral.
 “Pure clean water of Life
pours over the stones of our past years”
 Excerpt from Water of Life Roger Lovesey, (2016)
This idea generated as I reflected on the poem and was inspired by the idea of running water for the setting. Through writing and drawing in my journal, I was able to experiment, take risks, use spontaneity and intuition to developing my creative thoughts.
During this stage I was inspired to include bird-like images which are connected to feelings and memories of my mother who I lost to dementia the previous year. This idea set me off to research doves and peacocks. The symbolism of vision, royalty, spirituality, awakening, guidance, protectiveness and watchfulness connected to the peacock, and in Roman mythology, where the tail has the “eyes” of the stars excited my feelings and the idea of a background of peacock feathers evolved. I was developing unconscious, emerging images, in the way Francis Bacon displayed in his art work. The area of intention was related to my instincts, or as Francis Bacon referred to as “a cloud of sensation“.
During the process, following the inspiration phase, I clarified my goals where I constantly referred to the purpose to enable me to achieve the outcome. At the same time, I was critical of some of the ideas and processes that I had thought about. It was becoming complicated and these critical thoughts changed my approach and helped me to complete the piece. It was time to leave it for a few days or so.
Following the final painting stage, I added some more elements of mixed media. I loved the process of creating the painting and was committed to it. This stage is most satisfying to me when it all comes together.

“The outcomes of creative activities can provide a sense of artistic accomplishment, and growing self confidence due to finding solutions to a challenge and the self-control practised in the process of creation”. (Cohen)

Jude Sullivan, mixed media

I selected collage for the next piece to challenge me, as it involved using skills and processes which are unfamiliar to me. It was a different experience in that there was no structure to the brief, apart from linking the theme to a feeling, emotion, or sensation. Joyfulness, colour, and spirituality were my guide and the suggested artists such as Henry Matisse and Fred Tomaselli inspired me.
The experimental stage was just that; playing with the medium, being messy, switching between wanting to clarify and continue to experiment. The best ideas were chosen for further development, and finally the light bulb moment happened. From that point on I felt in tune with the paper crafting and my connection to the work; it was therapeutic and I was happy with the final piece.

Jude Sullivan, mixed media

For the photomontage, I had a vision of a woman flying on the back of a mythical bird. I was inspired by the artist Wangechi Mutu in the way she splices things together and creates in different ways. The creative process flowed from being inspired, to clarifying where the idea could take me, building on it as I went and thoroughly enjoying the process. Leaving the art work alone for a few days or so, reflecting on the image followed by adding more to complete it, worked for me.

Jude Sullivan, mixed media

Finally, the Herbarium was my choice as a different way of creating. Again there was a link to many aspects of my life; I am connected to nature, photography and art, but I have never approached the pressing of plants, the recording or research involved as in this project.

Jude Sullivan, pressed plant


The choice and collection of many samples, finding the best plant to select for the study and developing a creative response was the brief. The process of pressing the plants and classifying them was quite scientific and easy to follow and was necessary to achieve the best result and the process suited my organised approach to documenting the plant. I experimented with different types of indigenous flowering bushland plants and discovered that some pressed easier than others.  Choosing one which had a connection to the idea of food providing plants for native birds and insects became my inspiration.
Once pressed, mounted, classified and labelled, I planned the creative response. I decided to use a photocopy of the pressed plant, cut it out and mount it onto the paper including a painting or oil pastel of the native bird, though this was not as simple as I had imagined. I ignored the experimental process, and started assembling the cut-out piece.

Jude Sullivan, mixed media

I was rushing ahead without much clarification or evaluation of the process. The journal paper was not an effective basis for the pastel work which is a new medium for me, and I neglected to block in the background first. This made the process less satisfying but I persevered, learning from my hurried, non-strategic approach.
During this course and the creation of these works, I have discovered some insights into my way of creating which has given me a better idea of how my mind operates and creates.  All aspects of the study have opened my mind to how we can become more experimental, and try new things as we age.

“Late-life creativity reflects aspects of late-life thinking; synthesis, reflection and wisdom” (Adams- Price).

Geoffrey PettyHow to be Better at Creativity“, (1996)
 Cohen, G. et al. “The impact of professionally conducted cultural programs on the physical health, mental health, and social functioning of older adults” The Gerontologist 46 (2006): 726-73
Adams-Price, Caroline E. ed. Creativity and Successful Aging. New York: Springer, 1998.
The Life of Francis Bacon Documentary – YouTube
▶ 52:38


Creativity and hope

March 16, 2017