Making the Arts Connection

April 27, 2020

Panoramic image of students painting in class at Century College
Century College Marketing Department

On February 8, Century College English instructors and written word artists, Lisa Brimmer and Josh Cook, took part in a spoken word/musical performance entitled, “Work in Progress” at the Southern Theater in Minneapolis. Brimmer and Cook, along with several other writers joined with local R/B singer/songwriter, Lady Midnight, to focus on the link between artistic/creative expression and mental health. Each writer was asked to read something “risky, raw, or fresh” after which, Lady Midnight played an improvised musical response to how each piece made her feel; demonstrating how the artistic work of one artist can influence another artist who experiences that work as a listener/observer. After the performance, Cook facilitated a talk back session with audience members to get their responses to the readings and music as well as to answer questions about the creative process and how the creative arts can influence our mental health. 

According to Brimmer, “The event invited us writers to talk about the ways in which writing and creativity can be a container for our mental health in the ways that themes of our own journey show up in our work. For many of us artists, the stories we tell have to do with mental health experiences.” 

Cook said he encouraged the other writers to share something “raw” in order to “combat our often-neurotic writerly tendency to overthink and revise until our fingers bleed and our hair falls out.” 

Dealing with the good, the bad, and the ugly aspects of our inner thoughts, as well as expressing that which we find lovely and loving are two sides of an artist’s coin. Aristotle wrote, “The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance.” Both Brimmer and Cook say they not only use their writing when things are going well in their lives, but also as an outlet when they are experiencing more “blue seasons of life.” Therapy through art has been a longestablished way of helping people express their innermost feelings of fear, joy, or pain, often without any spoken words at all. Says Brimmer, “Art can calm you down or lift you up!” Although she finds art is “totally freeing,” she admits that she can sometimes get way too caught up in her own head and tangle of thoughts. That is when she turns to writing for awhile or she tries to work through something in a rehearsal space. Brimmer, in addition to her writing, participates in performance art and theatre. She says this allows her to focus and just be present.  

Cook also uses music in addition to his writing to express himself. He joins with a group of friends every now and then to just see what happens musically. He describes these “jams” as “loose, weird, and fun.” Says Cook, “Art is there for me when I am over-flowing with joy and life and confidence and creative sparks.” But, when it comes to his writing, it is not all impromptu outpourings. He makes writing a discipline five days a week. 

Brimmer points out that it isn’t just her art that lifts her spirit. “I feel good, too, when I get to see or hear other people’s work. I feel excited about making human connections.” Cook, too, knows the benefits of those human connections on his artistic endeavors, “…it’s more of a by-product of taking care of myself and my family and gleaning inspiration from other artists or thinkers.”

This process of inner reflection and outward expression is vital to the creative process, so much so, that when asked what she would like her students to take away from a study of the arts, Brimmer replied, “I just want my student to get interested in something. Love it or hate it. Respond! Use your voice. Think! Everything you read and encounter is an opportunity to learn more about yourself and the world around you.”  

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