Efforts To Reduce Burn Out Are Better With Company

There is a fairly extensive article on the Time magazine site about using creative practice to address burnout.  The piece by Jamie Ducharme was titled “I Tried to Cure My Work Burnout. Here’s What Happened.” As readers know, I dislike the prescriptive use of the arts as a cure for physical/mental/social ills so I feared the worse.

Ducharme’s article covers the efforts of the University of Colorado’s School of Medicine’s Colorado Resiliency Arts Lab (CORAL) to do research on relieving people’s burnout. At this time they are generally focusing on healthcare workers in their research.

I was happy to see that the researchers didn’t see themselves as curing burnout as much as building resilience in participants.

But the data suggest one leads to the other: for almost 150 health care providers who joined the study from September 2020 to July 2021, the approach led to small but significant decreases in anxiety, depression, and burnout, according to a 2022 study published in the American Journal of Medicine. If the framework proves effective for people in a wider swath of health care jobs, Moss says CORAL’s approach could feasibly be adopted by burned-out workers in any industry.

What I really appreciated was the finding that it was the social activity, rather than the creative practice alone that lead to the reduction of burnout. This bolsters messaging arts and cultural organizations use regarding sharing experiences with others in a face to face environment. To some extent, the research supports providing more interactive experiences versus passively watching a show or viewing visual art without comment or discussion.

But when I asked Moss and his team if the CORAL curriculum could be distilled into something I, or any individual, could do on my own, I was met with a resounding no. The program’s magic, its facilitators said, is in bringing people together to feel the solidarity and community so often lacking in modern life. People can draw or dance or write or sing on their own, but it likely won’t have the same transformative effect without a human connection.

That’s what Dr. Colin West, who researches physician well-being at the Mayo Clinic, found in 2021, when he published a study on what happened when physicians met up for group discussions over meals. Their burnout symptoms improved, but it wasn’t necessarily the food that made the difference—it was support. “We have so many shared experiences and so many stressors that are in common, and yet physicians will often feel like, Well, I can’t talk to anybody about this,” West says. Bringing people together to share their experiences can help.

Sometimes You Are More Creative Without The Brainstorming Session

Nina Simon may have left museum administration and being an agent of change behind to write books, but she still manages to live and think right on the cusp of things. Today, I receive an article from her substack site where she reflects back on the process of creative collaboration when she was working at a museum versus her interactions with her editor as an author.

She likens the process of working as an author as baton passing. She will send materials to her editor and after some time, the editor sends the materials back with great questions and comments. When she was working in a museum, she was often in a room with many others brainstorming all sorts of ideas in real time.

Reflecting back, she wonders if she may have misused the brainstorming sessions. Was she using them to present ideas or solve problems that she hadn’t properly developed or worked through? Was she similarly demanding answers and ideas from others without providing them sufficient time to contemplate good solutions? She also wondered if used the sessions to insert herself into other people’s projects and exert control over them.

I thought this was great and something to really ponder, but fate doubled down and the second item on my social media feed came from Dan Pink who linked to a Harvard Business Review article that not only said asynchronous work can bolster creativity, but that some of Nina’s instincts were correct.

Studies show that women and people from marginalized communities are given fewer opportunities to speak and are criticized more harshly when they do in a range of synchronous work settings. Consequently, synchronous teams may inhibit women and marginalized people’s expression of new or risky ideas, ultimately making teams less equal and their output less creative

In a study conducted with Baul folk musicians in India, a style that lends itself to both synchronous and asynchronous practice, researchers found that synchronous collaboration could lead to people feeling stifled whereas asynchronous practice could result in greater creativity, despite and probably due to, mistakes practitioners made.

Initial interviews revealed that women singers performing synchronously with men felt constantly “corrected by [their] seniors” and sensed that their fellow musicians “did not stand by [them].” They did not report being offered the “encouragement” and “positive reinforcement” that their men counterparts described receiving from their colleagues.


We found that women’s performances were rated 17% higher when they recorded asynchronously, and that this effect was driven by the degree of creativity in their singing, based on ratings by experts in Baul folk music. (The experts assigned overall ratings to every track as well as timestamped all creative choices made by the singer.)

This creative freedom when singing alone was further captured in interviews with the experimental subjects. After recording asynchronously, one woman said, “I was completely free. I could sing as I wished. I missed some notes at a place, but then I caught on with it later on. I had complete independence and it felt like I was flying like a bird.” Men’s performances were not significantly different in the two conditions, and thus asynchronicity seems to help women without hurting men.

The coincidence of these two pieces on the same subject coming to my attention today provides a lot to consider.

Art Or Advertising? And The Lost Context Of A Summary

Another entry in the “What is art” debate– A bakery owner in NH allowed students to paint a mural on his building. Because the mural depicted a sun rising over mountains made of donuts and muffins, last June the town said it was in violation of the sign ordinance restricting the size of advertisements. If the mountains had looked like mountains instead of baked goods, it would have been considered art, but because they were products sold by the business, the mural is considered an advertisement.

This caused a considerable amount of discussion in the town and apparently increased attendance at Zoning and Planning board meetings, but ultimately residents voted against a proposed change that would have provided clearer rules to allow for works of art.

An organization is submitting a federal case on behalf of the bakery which is leveraging the situation to fundraise for the local high school art department.

Since fighting for the right to display what Mr. Young maintains is a mural, Leavitt’s has become an advocate for the arts. The bakery recently began selling T-shirts with the mural on the front above the words “this is art,” and the Leavitt’s sign on the back with, “this is a sign.” Proceeds benefit the Kennett High School art department. And with the help of a local philanthropist, Leavitt’s is co-sponsoring a scholarship for one student a year from Kennett High who wants to pursue the arts.

“I’m not taking it down because it’s the kids’ artwork,” Mr. Young says.

The article has pictures of the mural and the tshirts. A number of the people interviewed for the story seemed pretty supportive of the mural, including a couple local government officials who appeared to have wanted to proposed change to pass in order to provide for greater clarity. While some people were concerned about murals going up willy-nilly and the appearance of billboards, it is pretty clear the bakery mural is not meant to be a sales advertisement. There are no words at all on that part of the building, nor are any figures beckoning people in.

As an aside, I noticed as I was re-reading the article that there is a feature that allows you to toggle between a Quick Read and Deep Read, with the latter indicating it make take 6 minutes to read the longer content. I think that must be how long it takes a computer to read it aloud, because that seems pretty long. I am not quite sure what to think about this feature. While folks do seem to have a shorter attention span and providing a shorter option may encourage people to engage with the topic, it also seems to suggest there is content that isn’t important to know and can be safely omitted.

Reading the abridged version of the article changes the tone of the article. The full article seems sympathetic toward the cause of the mural, the abridged version seems to suggest anarchy will break out in the absence of local self-governance.


He Proved The Power Of The Rule Of (Folding In) Thirds

When I saw a notice about MAD Magazine artist Al Jaffee’s death at 102 yesterday, it was tucked in the corner of a website so I didn’t think there would be a lot of notice. But this morning there were a plethora of stories.

He has been feted for his work on the magazine’s fold-in back cover which turned a large picture into the wry answer the picture caption.  For me, that was an inadvertent bit of visual art education to readers of the magazine. Seeing how ultimate image was derived from the larger piece taught people to look closer at what might be happening at the edges of pictures. I can’t be the only person who tried to figure out the answer in my mind’s eye before folding the page.

While it may not have been high art, those covers could have been a great entrée for introductory level visual arts courses since so many classic paintings had meaningful images inserted in the periphery. And of course, the final fold in image wasn’t the only visual joke. The whole cover was peppered with satire and foolishness as a reward to the patient viewer.

You can find many examples of his fold-ins on different websites  DC Comics interviewed him awhile back where he discussed how he managed to engineer the covers.