Study: Art Improves Mental Health, Even If You Suck At It

MANA LISA Andrea Schmidt, Vancouver, Canada 12"x16", oil on canvas Donated by the artist, January, 2002 MOBA #370 A cross-gender interpretation of the daVinci classic. Mana Lisa’s nose strikes nimbly, offsetting the dialogue between the foreground and profoundly varnished background. Further, by deciphering this work’s title, perhaps we can contribute to the growing body of Leonardo's anagrammatic discourse: MAN ALIAS I AM NASAL A SAIL MAN AS ANIMAL AM A SNAIL MAIL NASA From—Museum of Bad Art: Masterworks by Michael Frank and Louise Reilly Sacco

Not all of us are artists. But all of us can paint, sculpt, draw, sketch, and do some forms of an artsy thing, on varying levels. Some of us are just naturally more gifted than others, but it doesn’t matter. If you enjoy it, do it. You really don’t have to make a living out of it, and if you are unsure as to whether you might enjoy it, still do it. Not only is there a possibility that you might like it, but also a possibility of making you mentally healthier. Yes, you heard it – mentally healthier. Research has shown:

  1. Music and art may have a positive effect on physiological states.
    Art can improve the well-being of breast cancer patients. In a study, art reduced negative emotions and improved positive ones.
  2. Art can improve overall health and well-being, by offering a form of distraction, improving self-identity and providing a social network to those with chronic illness.
  3. And a recent study in 2016, by Kaimal et al, entitled:Reduction of Cortisol Levels and Participants’ Responses Following Art Making found that making art can significantly reduce stress levels, regardless of artistic talent or experience.

This was a finding that was and wasn’t surprising. Girija Kaimal, EdD, mentions to Drexel Now:

“It wasn’t surprising because that’s the core idea in art therapy: Everyone is creative and can be expressive in the visual arts when working in a supportive setting. That said, I did expect that perhaps the effects would be stronger for those with prior experience.”

The Experiment

39 Students (33 women and 6 men), between the ages of 18-59 were included as part of the study. There was a diverse representation of race: 18 students reported limited prior experience with art making, 13 some experience, and 8 extensive experience.

READ  The Burn Out Generation: Does This Sound Familiar?

The study involved an hour session of which 15 minutes were used for consent and data collection prior and after the session. The remaining 45 minutes were used for art-making. Creative expression took the form of collages, clay modelling, and/or markers.

Using the three mediums (separately or combined), the participants created an imagery of choice. An art therapist was in the room to handle any questions. Saliva samples were taken before and after to test Cortisol Levels. Cortisol is a biological indicator linked to stress. The higher the level, the higher the stress and vice versa.

Not only was a statistical analysis done, but participants were then asked to provide a brief written description of their experience. One 38-year-old African-American woman said the following after the experience:

“It was very relaxing. After about 5 minutes, I felt less anxious. I was able to obsess less about things that I had not done or need[ed] to get done. Doing art allowed me to put things into perspective.”

 

The Results

Cortisol levels were significantly lower following the session. In fact, 75% of people demonstrated lower Cortisol levels. Cortisol levels didn’t differ based on prior experience with art-making, media choice, race, and gender. There were differences (only slightly) in levels based on age and time of day.

Younger individuals displayed a greater reduction in stress levels than older people after art-making. Kaimal provides an explanation for this:

“I think one reason might be that younger people are developmentally still figuring out ways to deal with stress and challenges, while older individuals — just from having lived life and being older — might have more strategies to problem-solve and manage stress more effectively.”

In terms of the time of day – the research continues to point to stress levels being higher in the morning and tapering off over the course of the day. This could be explained by the fact that people ready themselves for a busy day and are engaged in all sorts of activities and then towards the end they unwind in preparation for bed.

READ  School Changes Dress Code A Week Before Prom, Students React

Kaimal plans to take this research further exploring the link between the reduction in stress levels and creative self-expression in a therapeutic environment. She also plans to look at the effect of the visual arts on the elderly and their caregivers.

So whilst some of us may be naturally more gifted than others, it really doesn’t matter. Create art for the enjoyment and realize it’s many benefits.

I’m a writer based out of East Village, Manhattan. I work from my condo and local coffee shops (and a few restaurants with menus that are more unhealthy than licking a subway railing), meeting friends who have boats or boat access, touring the zoo for the zoo to visit my ex-boyfriends, and forcing my political beliefs on others at social events (kidding, don’t be one of those people.