Aging and the Arts

UNE’s Center for Excellence in Aging and Health and School of Social Work welcomed Dr. Suzanne Doyle from the University of Missouri – St. Louis to facilitate the workshop:

Ageless Arts: Harnessing Creativity in Later Life 


Dr. Suzanne Doyle speaks about Ageless Arts: Harnessing Creativity in Later Life at UNE’s Center for Excellence in Aging and Health

Over 40 participants gathered to

EXPLORE the intersections of aging, health, wellness and creativity…

LOOK at the “gifts” of aging as assets for artistic intervention…

EXAMINE creativity from process to product…

DISCUSS exciting research showing how arts practice enriches and heals and…

PLAY together with different artistic mediums for creative expression.

The workshop was organized by Dr. Tom Meuser, Director of the Center for Excellence in Aging & Health and co-sponsored by the School of Social Work .   Dr. Meuser joined UNE in Fall, 2018.  He is a clinical psychologist with specialized training and experience in narrative gerontology, the neuropsychology of dementing disorders, and psychosocial intervention approaches to enhance well-being in older adults.  Tom’s published research spans many issues in aging and his work is as creative as it is critically reflective and extensive.  In just one semester at UNE, he has already championed and implemented many innovative research projects, events, and ideas.  Suzanne’s workshop is just one example.  The UNE Legacy Scholars Program is the signature program of the new center and engages interested adults, aged 60+ years, in support of research and scholarship on healthful aging. Prospective Legacy Scholars can register online HERE.  

Dr. Meuser met Dr. Suzanne Doyle while serving as an Interim Associate Dean for the College of Arts & Sciences at the University of Missouri – St. Louis, where he also directed the Gerontology Program.  He was excited to invite her to the UNE community.

Dr. Suzanne Doyle is an artist, narrative psychotherapist, hospice specialist, social worker, and nurse.   The focus of the workshop was on using art as an intervention to support healthful aging.  She shared her own perspectives on utilizing art to enrich the lives of those she serves in her career while encouraging critical reflection and experiential participation from those attending the workshop.

MSW students and other workshop attendees gather together to create art as part of the workshop activities

Pairing quite well with the School of Social Work’s HRSA funded Training in Aging, Diversity Project (project that trains in aging, diversity and funds interested students $10,000 stipend) Many of our TRIAD students attended the event.   Lisa Boldin MSW ’19, reflects on one of the activities:

One activity I particularly loved involved storytelling as an art form. Each group was given a postcard with an image of people. The card was passed person to person and a complicated yarn was spun. As we began to tell the tale of our couple, imagination took over and we became players in the story, embellishing it with aspects that were unusual, possible and perhaps drawn from our own storehouse of experiences. There were many moments of laughter and a connection around our creation. Suzanne shared that this activity can be particularly useful for those who are experiencing memory loss. Their own stories may not be accessible yet they are often able to “make up” a story, parts of which may be drawn from their own lives. There is no need to be accurate or to worry about the details. A scribe records the reflections, and this is turned into a book that is given to each participant. How wonderful to create a story with shared ownership.

Overall, the event was poignant and inspired not only critical thoughtful reflection but meaningful creativity as well.

MSW students gather with Dr. Suzanne Boyle

We leave you with a poem that was read by Susan Doyle as part of her workshop presentation:

Monet Refuses the Operation

Doctor, you say there are no haloes
around the streetlights in Paris
and what I see is an aberration
caused by old age, an affliction.
I tell you it has taken me all my life
to arrive at the vision of gas lamps as angels,
to soften and blur and finally banish
the edges you regret I don’t see,
to learn that the line I called the horizon
does not exist and sky and water,
so long apart, are the same state of being.
Fifty-four years before I could see
Rouen cathedral is built
of parallel shafts of sun,
and now you want to restore
my youthful errors: fixed
notions of top and bottom,
the illusion of three-dimensional space,
wisteria separate
from the bridge it covers.
What can I say to convince you
the Houses of Parliament dissolve
night after night to become
the fluid dream of the Thames?
I will not return to a universe
of objects that don’t know each other,
as if islands were not the lost children
of one great continent.  The world
is flux, and light becomes what it touches,
becomes water, lilies on water,
above and below water,
becomes lilac and mauve and yellow
and white and cerulean lamps,
small fists passing sunlight
so quickly to one another
that it would take long, streaming hair
inside my brush to catch it.
To paint the speed of light!
Our weighted shapes, these verticals,
burn to mix with air
and change our bones, skin, clothes
to gases.  Doctor,
if only you could see
how heaven pulls earth into its arms
and how infinitely the heart expands
to claim this world, blue vapor without end.
Illustration by: Jun Cen