The Therapeutic Nature of Art for Older Adults: IOA’s Kimono Fashion Show Demonstrates the Creativity Behind Vulnerability

the therapeutic nature of art Where does creative power come from? Does it spring from the tempest-tossed genius, slashing at the canvas with a paintbrush? Or is it found more in the inner world of the introvert, working away in a small, dingy studio? It can come from many things, but we tend to imagine the ability as being innate. Creativity, though, doesn’t just come from temperament. It can come from life experience, from challenges, from joys and failures, from a spirit of adventure, and from embracing the vulnerability that comes along with trying something new and knowing that it may be imperfect.

That’s what older adults at Institute on Aging discovered while designing unique, personality-driven kimonos for an art and fashion event last month. The act of designing these unusual outfits allowed seniors to try something new, to exercise their minds and their bodies, and to take on an unusual adventure. They were putting themselves, and their inner lives, out there in a very real and public way that brought the community together and reinforced the importance of art and therapy—or, perhaps, art as therapy.

art as therapy IOA And really, that’s what art is: it’s the idea that there is beauty inside of us, like a constant sunrise, even as dusk tempers other aspects of our lives. If we can tap into that, and pull out the light within, we will always have something to contribute. Perfection isn’t the goal of art; art itself is. That was one of the main lessons of the fashion show, second only to the fundamental truth: kimonos are really fun.

Spinning Fabric Into Artistic Gold

Kelly, the ADHC Manager and Curator at IOA with a background in screen printing and visual art, happened to have reams of extra fabric lying around. Knowing the importance of art for both physical and mental health, she intended to provide a large canvas for participants that have issues with fine motor skills to experiment with different printmaking techniques. As some of the best ideas do, it grew and transformed until the inspiration to design kimonos was born.

IOA kimono fashion show Why kimonos? Well, for one thing, they’re very easy to sew. It’s a straightforward pattern, a graceful waterfall of beauty derived from just one piece of fabric. Kimonos also give a large canvas to work with, and unlike normal canvases, are actually wearable; the most wearable of art and the most art-ready outfit. They’re the best of both worlds.

The process of turning this fabric into art was a three week one. Staffers Tandrika Mayweather and Kelly Harris turned a kernel of an idea into a tangible thing, organizing clients who wanted to participate into groups where they could create and voice their visions for several hours a day.

It was there that the real work of art and healing began.

How Creating Kimonos Kindled Adventure

If you’re a professional kimono maker, or someone who regularly creates artistic clothing, you might just be nodding along. All in a day’s work. But the volunteers at IOA aren’t professionals. Most of them had never even considered themselves to be artists. But all of them are adventurers.

the heart of art The heart of this project was to try something new, to find an unexplored mode of expression. The challenge is in developing a new talent even as motor skills may be in decline. But that was sort of the point: the motions of creation were, themselves, a sort of therapy.

As the project went on, each client’s role in the kimono creation process was tailored to their physical or mental needs. IOA matched their Occupational Therapy regimen with their tasks for the project. Repetitive movements with foam rollers or brushes provided excellent therapy to older adults, who had to concentrate to make sure that the motions of their hands matched their mental energies.

This was an interdisciplinary project that combined the worlds of:

  • Physical therapy
  • Cognitive therapy
  • Art therapy
  • Socialization

And the latter was one of the most important achievements. Friends gathered together to work with each other, to combine creative energies, and to focus on a goal—the goal of channeling inner expressions into outer beauty. And when they were done, it was time for the show: a demonstration of the perfect vision of imperfection.

Walking the Catwalk of Aging

When we think about fashion, we often think about perfection, meticulous designs that somehow reach above the earth. But that isn’t the right way to look at it. Creation itself is naturally imperfect. The serene waterfall is born from rushing torrents eating rock away into jagged edges. Birds stumble on the ground before they soar. Our lives move forward in an aging process.

the beauty of aging on display But all of that is beautiful and filled with its own power and grace. Aging shouldn’t be seen as a march away from something, but instead as part of that self-same beat you’ve followed your whole life. That’s what this project was all about: recreating that beat, and letting people know that every way in which you express yourself creates a kind of joyful perfection.

That joy was shared by the community, who came out to IOA’s Weinberg Auditorium to see staffers and volunteers parade their creations. But it wasn’t just a show. IOA also presented a seminar on how art can aid with cognitive issues and how to incorporate it into Care Plans and OT.

The interest of local artists was spiked, which could lead to future art programs, and even more chances for self-expression. Because everyone, no matter their age, has a story to tell and an inner light that shouldn’t be shielded. Everyone has something to say, whether in song and dance, in words, or in art. There might not be limitless materials with which to design kimonos, but there is no limit to the materials with which older adults can create art.

Institute on Aging offers a wide range of programs, services, and online resources to help older adults and their caregivers live with adventure, independence, and grace. Get in touch with us today to learn more.

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Institute on Aging

Committed to offering thoughtful discussions and resources to older adults, their families, and their caregivers.

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