Author Ian Tiu, EmpowART UofT Literary Representative
Art can be anything. It is a painting, it is a song, it is a dance, and it is so much more. It is welcoming and expressive. Yet, many people seem to think there is a barrier to entry. “Oh, I’m not good enough”, or “I’m not talented enough” are thoughts that often come to mind. However, that may be missing the point of what art is for. Art is a medium for self-expression, creativity, and self-discovery, not made solely to be judged “good” or “bad” by others. When used well, art can even be a power that improves a person’s health, defined as physical, mental, and social well-being (Stuckey et al., 2010).
Art can help someone understand their emotions. It is a way to express their feelings that may be hard to put into words. A review looked at several studies that investigated the use of visual arts in patients with different diseases (Stuckey et al., 2010). The act of creating art helped these patients visualize their illness and process difficult emotions associated with it (Stuckey et al., 2010). Feelings of distress, depression, and anxiety also reduced in patients whole engaged in art (Stuckey et al., 2010). Through these experiences, feelings of self-worth and identity improved by giving a sense of achievement in these activities (Stuckey et al., 2010). Another study also discovered people in retirement finding temporary relief from everyday stresses and regaining a sense of control through what and more importantly, what they choose to create (Burns et al., 2020). Other studies have also found doctors and nurses, and undergraduate students had decreased burn-out and improved mood respectively after participation, with similar effects in other age groups (Slayton et al., 2010). Art helps us understand and relieve negative emotions we may have and turn them into positive emotions.
Art can improve a person’s physical health. Although this may seem surprising, multiple studies do point to this (Stuckey et al., 2010). One of them showed art intervention led to better clinical outcomes, such as improved vital signs, lower cortisol, a stress hormone, and less medication to induce sleep (Stuckey et al., 2010). Another then showed guided imagery exercises decreasing the need for pain medication (Stuckey et al., 2010). Furthermore, a study done on long-term hemodialysis patients using the Medical Outcomes Study 36-Item Short Form Health Survey (SF-36) before and after participation in arts and found an improvement in many scores, including weight gain and reduced trend of depression (Stuckey et al., 2010).
Art helps people be social. This is especially apparent in group art sessions. A study found that many participants found them as a good way to socialize, interact, and cooperate with each other (Burns et al., 2020). These sessions also were a way to maintain and build social relationships, with many participants citing a friend attending the same class as a main reason they attended (Burns et al., 2020). This seems to link the social aspects of these sessions to their creativity in their art, as more participation leads to better social connections and more creativity in art, ultimately empowering their own social identity (Burns et al., 2020).
Art can be a universal experience that benefits everyone. It can help someone that is going through a hard time in their life, and it can help someone on their everyday journey of trying to be the best version of themselves. It can help a child learning about their responsibilities, a student stressed about their studies, an adult adding a spark to their monotonous workday, and a senior navigating retirement and trying new activities (Slayton et al., 2010). It is something that everyone should try as there is no such thing as failing as long as you put yourself on the canvas. Here at Empowart, we hold volunteer workshops to create art such as paintings with seniors, helping all of our health and wellbeing. Learn more about us at: https://linktr.ee/EmpowART_UofT
Burns, J., Oliver, S., & Karkou, V. (2020). Creativity in retirement: Psychosocial experiences of recently retired people participating in a creative arts project. Perspectives in Public Health, 141(5), 295–302. https://doi.org/10.1177/1757913920919449
Slayton, S. C., D’Archer, J., & Kaplan, F. (2010). Outcome studies on the efficacy of art therapy: A review of findings. Art Therapy, 27(3), 108–118. https://doi.org/10.1080/07421656.2010.10129660
Stuckey, H. L., & Nobel, J. (2010). The connection between art, healing, and public health: A review of current literature. American Journal of Public Health, 100(2), 254–263. https://doi.org/10.2105/ajph.2008.156497