The health benefits of observing and creating art

Vincent Van Gogh is one of the most beloved, extraordinary artists of all time. It is also well known he suffered from mental illness. He created some of his most famous and widely recognizable paintings while convalescing at an asylum, into which he voluntarily admitted himself. He often wrote to his brother of the calm, focused feelings he experienced when painting.

As noted in Vincent’s letters, creative expression is a powerful tool for well-being.  

The nonprofit group Resources to Recover defines art therapy as the application of art to treat mental health issues, including depression, anxiety, dementia, and PTSD. It can be used in conjunction with traditional mental health therapy to manage behaviors and reduce stress.

A pilot study published in Art Therapy: Journal of the American Art Therapy Association demonstrated preliminary evidence that just 45 minutes of creative activity significantly reduces stress in the body, regardless of artistic experience or talent. Nearly 75% of the study participants had lower levels of salivary cortisol, the “stress hormone,” after the art making session.

All arts and crafts hobbies seem to have the power to positively affect the brain in a fashion similar to meditation. An online survey conducted with members of a virtual knitting community about  the benefits of knitting on their personal and social well-being published in the British Journal of Occupational Therapy found a significant relationship between knitting frequency and feeling calm and happy.

Observing visual art can also reduce stress and anxiety for patients in hospitals and doctors’ offices. A study published in the International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Health and Well-being concluded, “Art contributes to creating an environment and atmosphere where patients can feel safe, socialize, maintain a connection to the world outside the hospital and support their identity.”

Whether you prefer to immerse yourself in the works of others or create your own, take advantage of healing power of art on the mind and body.