The Mental and Physical Benefits
The benefits of creating art on your health have long been known to science. Much like exercise, the act of creating art enhances brainwave patterns, the nervous system, and releases hormones like serotonin (the feel good hormone). In general, art enhances brain function.
In his book Arts with the Brain in Mind, Eric Jensen, one of the leading translators in the world of neuroscience into education, states “The systems they (engagement in fine arts) nourish, which include our integrated sensory, attentional, cognitive, emotional, and motor capacities, are, in fact, the driving forces behind all other learning.”
With this in mind, it baffles me why Art is the first subject to be cut when schools have a budget crisis. Studies have shown that creating art enhances learning in other subjects (which they deem more important). The Board of Education always decides to remove the one subject that could help students in all other areas of academia.
What about physical benefits?
It stands to reason that these mental benefits trickle down into physical benefits. Enhanced brainwave patterns, nervous system, and increased serotonin means we feel better and function better. Creating art has helped everyone from elderly Alzheimer/dementia patients to people suffering from post-traumatic stress. Even those with developmental disabilities have benefited allowing them to express themselves in ways they might otherwise be unable to.
I’m pretty sure that most artists would tell you that the act of creating art is a release. It is in many cases therapeutic. So too for non-artists, creating art can heal in ways that other forms of therapy cannot.
Think about it this way…
We’re all aware that stress, anxiety, and depression can affect our physical health in a number of ways. Migraines are a common ailment for some. Others suffer from a lower immune system. There are also ties to gut issues, ulcers, back ache, neck ache, and insomnia to name a few. And in regard to immune systems, studies have shown that the act of creating has even improved the CD4+ lymphocyte counts (key to the functioning of the immune system) in HIV patients. How’s that for impressive?
If creating art helps to alleviate stress, anxiety, and depression, it would make sense that there is a good possibility of also reducing some of the physical ailments mentioned above. This is especially important for people with serious health issues or diagnoses. You’ve heard the saying, “he lost the will to live.” Depression can exacerbate illnesses. This is another area where creating art is beneficial.
Artist Chis Ayers was living a productive life in California as a character designer when he was hit with a health bomb. Leukemia. What do you do when you suddenly have to fight for your life? Radiation, chemotherapy, countless tests…many people would understandably give in to fear and depression. Chris turned to art. It wasn’t only to while the hours away, but to give him something to do and a goal to reach for. An animal a day for 365 days.
Thus, The Daily Zoo was created. Since then, The Daily Zoo has several more volumes and Chris is doing well, having learned that every day is a gift.
In addition, creating art has also proved beneficial in preventing cognitive decline in elderly people. And what’s interesting is that it’s the act of creating in particular that’s beneficial. A post on the Harvard Medical School website says that those who actually create benefited more than those who regularly visit museums, looked at pretty paintings, or even took art appreciation classes.
So how do you get to benefit from creating art?
Just do it! If you’re already an artist (beginning or not), keep on creating. But, the really cool part is, you don’t have to be an artist to gain the benefits of creating art. Megan Carleton, an art therapist at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital says that the benefits lie in the process, not the final product.
Many people start off by doodling or slapping paint onto a canvas haphazardly. You don’t have to have experience. Your brain will start doing all the beneficial stuff that it does the moment you start creating (even if it looks like child’s play). In the meantime, you could always search YouTube for how-to videos if you’re interested in a particular type of art. There are videos galore for you to peruse and learn from. But largely, art is experience based. You learn by doing, making mistakes, and trying again. And even though you’re making mistakes, you’re still gaining the health benefits. So don’t worry! Just keep pushing along, creating art regardless of your experience, or lack thereof.
Here’s to your health!