Dr Chris Dooks, Creative Wellbeing Artist

What I do

I am an interdisciplinary artist and post-doctoral researcher based in Edinburgh, Scotland where I specialise in practical medical humanities work and philosophical art processes.

18fbaabI’ve been a part-time digital art tutor for many years as well as a funded photographer / filmmaker / sound artist since 1995.

In 2015, I finished my five-year long doctorate in order to develop practical, transferrable ideas for those who are interested in improving their wellbeing through methods and media not previously offered to them. I specialise in encouraging an arts-based path to navigate what can be miserable circumstances of chronic health, or simply to improve anyone’s wellbeing.

Also in 2015, I started to offer and tailor ‘creative wellbeing clinics’ in Scotland and beyond, as well as remaining an artist in residence in various communities around Europe.

As an artist (not a therapist), I’ve worked with people with severe visual impairment, schizophrenia, bi-polar disorder, ME-CFS, depression and anxiety. My experience is broad; I’ve worked in schools, community centres and I’ve collaborated with housebound clients including senior citizens from both well-off and struggling backgrounds. Today, my being an artist with a doctorate allows me to offer a thoroughly broad range of interventions, projects and workshops underpinned by precedents in lesser-known art histories. In other words I can show you ‘my working out’ of what might seem like an eccentric range of ways we might collaborate. I also may be able to complement the excellent work art therapists do – by not being one. In art therapy, therapy is the key issue. In my sessions the focus is on the process of art and experimental, experiential work.

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I self-medicate through art practices, something I tailor to others interested in improving their wellbeing through practical contemporary arts, filling a niche somewhere between art therapy and a bespoke art school – either one to one or in small groups. I tend to offer an alternative to the many wonderful drawing and painting / sculpture tutors in Scotland because, in general, there’s plenty of them available.

Instead, the tools I use are both familiar and left-field but also growing in popularity; from high-end digital photography and audio field recording to the slightly atypical, i.e. I make much use of broken instruments, buildings that are falling down, and different ways to map one’s existence via what is fast becoming a buzzword – ‘psychogeography‘. I also use ‘appropriation’ for authoring works without actually shifting material, something popular with my more exhausted clients.

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These approaches arose out of necessity when nothing else worked for me.

My research appeals to multiple audiences – from those who are incarcerated through illness to those limited by prison – and I have spent a long time examining how these individuals negotiated such a journey with sanity via creative responses to tragedy. Although my work was developed in response to my own personal history I am able to apply some principles in constructing bespoke artistic interventions for people who have ‘reached the end of the line’ with their healthcare providers -or even themselves.

I am, more than anything,  interested in creativity as a life-supporting mechanism.

My own story

In the late 1990s, I was a TV director for arts television programmes including the long-running UK arts strand The South Bank Show. However, in 1998 I became ill whilst on location in California working for PBS. As I fell apart, my TV career ended and so began an intense learning curve in coping with chronic ill health and initially, a reflexive return to my photographic roots.

Over the following decade, I developed a successful personal art practice sympathetic to my new life expanding into sound art and other media – which has been the foundation for academic enquiry since 2010.

My published thesis and related vinyl records document creative strategies regarding the illness Myalgic Encephalomyelitis or CFS-ME, asking how such an art practice may serve to offset or augment the relationship between the cultural practitioner and the illness.

I am married to an author and we have an effervescent boy and cheeky baby girl.

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