I need art in my life.
And I’m a firm believer that you need art in your life too.
I’m fortunate. I’ve been encouraged to make art. As a result, I’ve had more chances and been given more leeway to practice and hone my skills.
But most people haven’t.
Maybe you realized early on that a classmate was much better at art than you. Or a teacher was less than impressed with your school art projects.
Whatever the reason, you’ve decided you “can’t draw.” We’ve already talked about how this mindset is a lie.
Now I’m going to give you 6 concrete reasons to make art and go into how art impacts our lives.
1. Art can help you de-stress.
Who doesn’t need to de-stress?
A 2016 study shows that spending 45 minutes making art decreases the cortisol levels in your brain. Cortisol is a hormone in the brain responsible for your “fight or flight” response. A little cortisol keeps up alert during potentially dangerous situations.
But when high cortisol levels remain in your brain for an extended period of time, it starts to have a negative effect on your health. That’s why it’s so important to have ways to de-stress.
And the great thing about this art and cortisol study?
Art reduced stress in all participants, even if they weren’t skilled artists.
You can take a look at the study’s abstract here if, like me, research is your thing.
2. Art is good for your mental health.
This is a broad statement, but it needs to be said. There are several specific ways that art improves mental health and can be a tool for managing mental illness.
Let’s get into the specifics.
3. Art helps you process traumatic experiences.
Our brains store traumatic memories as images, not words.
So art can help us access, articulate and work through difficult experiences.
Drawing an image can be the first step toward processing an event or emotion. It then works as a gateway toward being able to explain your thoughts with words.
This is why you see all those TV shows with little kids’ traumas/crimes/domestic violence revealed through their drawings.
But art isn’t just for getting over past or childhood trauma. It works for current events too.
After I read up on how art helps trauma, I found that it lined up with my experience. I’m the most driven to do art during difficult times.
In my life, this has ranged from the death of a friend to large-scale tragedies.
The Ferguson non-indictment, Charleston Emanuel AME shooting, and Pulse nightclub shooting are just a few recent examples when I felt moved to just create something.
In part, the reason I am so moved to do art during these hard times is because there’s nothing else I can do. Art gives you a sense of doing. It requires physical movement, planning, and forethought. And it presents you with something tangible when you’re done.
4. Art helps you move on and re-imagine your life.
We grieve and heal from one-time events. But some circumstances stay with us.
Several research studies examine the effects of art on cancer patients.
One of these studies was a case study on three women with cancer.
Over the course of art therapy sessions, these women used art therapy to process their illnesses and identify coping mechanisms that they would use for the duration of their treatment.
In another study, doing art reduced stress and negative emotions in a much larger group of cancer patients.
However, art hasn’t just been effective for people with cancer.
Drawing helped people with heart disease visualize their condition. This is important for the next point.
5. Art can help therapists and other health professionals tailor treatment.
Art therapy exists for a reason.
Drawing helps patients articulate themselves. And being able to explain yourself isn’t just good for your mental well-being.
It also helps art therapists or other health professionals understand how a patient perceives their illness and make changes accordingly.
In the heart disease study above, researchers concluded that seeing how patients visualized their illness could give health professionals a better understanding of the patient’s perspective.
While this might not sound like a big deal, it could help us develop more accurate and nuanced treatment for several different illnesses.
Research consistently indicates that drawing is a useful way to supplement traditional methods of collecting data and track patient progress.
6. Art can help you focus.
You don’t have to be struggling through difficult times to get any benefit from art. Just as art can help you de-stress, it also helps you focus.
We’ve all probably seen this in action.
Do you doodle during telephone calls? Long lectures? Meetings? Conferences?
It turns out, there’s a scientific reason behind this habit.
Mindless art, like doodling, helps us focus on listening especially when the content is boring. That would explain why notes from my business classes were packed with doodles, while my sociology notes remained fairly clean.
However, there is a catch. Art can help you focus on what you’re hearing, but it might actually impair your visual memory. So if you’ve been doodling during a lecture, you might have difficulty recalling visual information like graphics or images.
But doodling while talking on the phone?
Keep it up.
So, Why Do Art?
If you’re still asking, I’d honestly be a little disappointed. But if you cheated and skimmed to the end for answers, the answer is this: why not?
What do you have to lose by doing some art? You’d be taking care of yourself, letting your subconscious have free reign for a short while, and maybe even improving your focus and productivity.
So find an art form that sounds fun (or at least not too scary), and give it a try!
You might even enjoy yourself.
Other Posts in This Series: