Thinking OT

Thoughts from Harrison Training and the occupational therapy world

Posts Tagged ‘octavia hill

Beauty and Art in OT

with one comment

In my first post I commented on the BAOT quote from Octavia Hill which stated;

“‘The poor should never be denied beauty.’

I ranted there about the judgments and relationships that such a comment represents, although I recognise that socially altruistic benefactors could get away with that kind of thing back then.

I want to look now at the choice of the word “Beauty” and what that means to the profession.  It is clear that the BAOT feel it applies or else they would not have chosen this quote.

The word “Beauty” itself can usher in subjective judgments, the eye of the beholder and all that, but I think that if we reduce it down to a very base meaning then it becomes more universal.

Let me give an example.  When I was speaking to colleagues here at Harrison Training about this, we felt that beauty could apply to several areas of what we do, including beauty of movement.  We are not necessarily talking about high-art concepts of balletic motion, but simply movement with function.

There is a request, for example, on the BAOT page on Facebook, for help on one handed hairwashing.  Now, the act of hairwashing itself is of course utterly urbane, but the enabling and delivery of this functional movement would be a beautiful thing for that client.

Beauty can also apply to the central notion of occupation, that sense of experiencing time as being useful or with meaning.

I suspect it was originally used in an artistic sense also, namely that beauty and art are synonymous. 

While Octavia Hill was talking about access to beauty and art as being the end goal the profession has moved forward.  Art is an integral part of our intervention tool kit, enabling our clients to create meaning and expression.

I am mindful of the use of various art mediums as intervention;

  • writing both, journalling and creative;
  • visual art;
  • physical art; and
  • musical and percussive art.

That creation of meaning and expression is central to our condition.  Just look to today’s news of the ongoing research into using scans of brain activity to enable communication with coma patients.  Consider, in particular, this excerpt;

“It is lawful to allow patients in a permanent vegetative state to die by withdrawing all treatment, but if a patient showed they could respond it would not be, even if they made it clear that was what they wanted.”

So, beauty, art and the creation of meaning and expression. 

On the other hand, we might all be so busy that the concept of beauty bears no relation to our day to day work?  Your thoughts?

Neil Denny

Written by harrisontraining

February 4, 2010 at 12:25 pm

She Said What?

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In a review of other OT bodies online material I found this remarkable quote from Octavia Hill, held up by the British Association of Occupational Therapists as being one of the founders or precursors to the occupational therapy movement;

“‘The poor should never be denied beauty, simply through accident of birth.’

I guess that you could get away with saying things like that in the 19th Century.

The comment sounds offensive to modern ears. 

There is a degree of pitying within it, of almost cloying paternalism.

The labelling of “The poor” calls in all manner of judgments and relative positions on the part not only of Octavia Hill – presumably not one of the poor – and those people she was referring to, but also of the listener. 

These words set me thinking about how the language we use shapes our relationships with those we come into contact with. 

There is something of a chicken and egg situation here.  Did Octavia Hill’s comments shape the nature of her relationship with her clients, or did the language reflect her pre-existing perception of them?

I suggest that there is a two-way stream here.

The ways in which we perceive our colleagues and clients may well be subconscious.  That in turn drives our choice of words, but the words we use reinforce the perception.  There is a lot of work in the filed of narrative theory that looks at this area that I may well write about later to explore how such thinking can help us within our work. 

The debate about political correctness rages on.  I do not think I am talking about that here, although some comments may disagree.  I am simply interested in how aware and reflective we are about our patterns of communication and how that communication might impact and block the work that we and our clients are trying to do.

In my next post I will revisit the quote above to consider this thing called beauty and what that might mean to an occuaptional therapist and her/his clients.

Neil Denny

Written by harrisontraining

February 4, 2010 at 10:06 am