THE HEALING POWER OF ART
Whilst the coronavirus pandemic has caused museums to close and concerts to be canceled, many individuals have turned to art, emphatically showing “its power to unite and connect in times of crisis” (United Nations, 2020). With mental illness affecting nearly half of the population by the age of 40 (CMHA, 2013) and the current stressors that COVID-19 has brought like managing mental well-being and fear in times of uncertainty, it is undeniably time that we learn how to engage our minds more positively.
Eric Jensen (2004) wrote that “The systems [arts] nourish, which include our integrated sensory, attentional, cognitive, emotional, and motor capacities, are, in fact, the driving forces behind all other learning”. The relationship between how the arts and the brain work together has been continuously further established. Beerse et al (2019) demonstrated biological evidence through the use of neural circuits and neuroendocrine markers that visual art stimulates health and wellness, and promotes an effective stress response. Furthermore, cortisol, a marker for stress, was found to decrease after creating art, in addition to the induced positive mental states such as feeling relaxed and discovering new aspects about themselves (Kaimal et al., 2016). Through the use of neuroesthetics, there was established scientific evidence proven how the arts engage our brain, tapping into our emotions and making us feel good.
Did you know that visual art production is related to psychological resilience, such as stress resistance in adulthood? (Bolwerk et al., 2014)
Stress is one of the world's largest health risks, resulting in burnouts, compromised immune system, exhaustion, and even organ damage. Prolonged stress is a large risk factor for numerous illnesses, such as depression, anxiety disorders, cardiovascular, and autoimmune disorders. By utilising art as a therapeutic approach, it relieves your stress by distracting you from your stressor. Science also points in this direction, with research showing that 50 minutes of art therapy ameliorates mood and decreases pain and anxiety when offered to patients at their bedside during acute hospital treatment (Shella, 2018). Stress can also stem as a result of trauma, like abuse or witnessing violence. Due to the great amount of distress experienced, these events are often not processed properly or recalled coherently. Those who suffer from extreme trauma can struggle to verbalise their experiences, and can sometimes lead to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Support has been found that art therapy can help individuals to express and release their buried emotions in order to heal from their traumatic experience(s) (Schouten et al., 2018).
Arts, creativity, and well-being have also been linked to flow, a psychological state of optimal engagement, and attention (Chilton, 2013). The ability for arts to generate optimal conditions by accessing and engaging different parts of our brain through conscious efforts of shifting our mental states, allows individuals to reap the physiological benefits of art.
Arts allow us to delve into our imagination and express our creativity, consequently discovering our identity and establishing our reservoir of healing. By better understanding the relationship between healing and creative expression, we can ascertain the healing power of art.
Beerse, M., Van Lith, T., Pickett, S., & Stanwood, G. (2019). Biobehavioral utility of mindfulness-based art therapy: Neurobiological underpinnings and mental health impacts. Experimental Biology And Medicine, 245(2), 122-130. https://doi.org/10.1177/1535370219883634
Bolwerk, A., Mack-Andrick, J., Lang, F., Dörfler, A., & Maihöfner, C. (2014). How Art Changes Your Brain: Differential Effects of Visual Art Production and Cognitive Art Evaluation on Functional Brain Connectivity. Plos ONE, 9(12), e116548. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0116548
Chilton, G. (2013). Art Therapy and Flow: A Review of the Literature and Applications. Art Therapy, 30(2), 64-70. https://doi.org/10.1080/07421656.2013.787211
CMHA. (2013). Fast Facts about Mental Illness - CMHA National. CMHA National. Retrieved 15 January 2021, from https://cmha.ca/fast-facts-about-mental-illness.
Jensen, E. (2004). Arts with the brain in mind. Hawker Brownlow Education.
Kaimal, G., Ray, K., & Muniz, J. (2016). Reduction of Cortisol Levels and Participants' Responses Following Art Making. Art Therapy, 33(2), 74-80. https://doi.org/10.1080/07421656.2016.1166832
Schouten, K., van Hooren, S., Knipscheer, J., Kleber, R., & Hutschemaekers, G. (2018). Trauma-Focused Art Therapy in the Treatment of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: A Pilot Study. Journal Of Trauma & Dissociation, 20(1), 114-130. https://doi.org/10.1080/15299732.2018.1502712
Shella, T. (2018). Art therapy improves mood, and reduces pain and anxiety when offered at bedside during acute hospital treatment. The Arts In Psychotherapy, 57, 59-64. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.aip.2017.10.003
United Nations. (2020). Even during COVID-19, art ‘brings us closer together than ever’ – UN cultural agency. UN News. Retrieved 15 January 2021, from https://news.un.org/en/story/2020/04/1061802.