Make More Art: The Health Benefits of Creativity

In 2010, the American Journal of Public Health published a review titled, The Connection Between Art, Healing, and Public Health. You can find it here.

In that article, researchers analyzed more than 100 studies about the impact of art on your health and your ability to heal yourself. The studies included everything from music and writing to dance and the visual arts.

As an example, here are the findings from five visual arts studies mentioned in that review (visual arts includes things like painting, drawing, photography, pottery, and textiles). Each study examined more than 30 patients who were battling chronic illness and cancer.

Here’s how the researchers described the impact that visual art activities had on the patients…

  • “Art filled occupational voids, distracted thoughts of illness”
  • “Improved well–being by decreasing negative emotions and increasing positive ones”
  • “Improved medical outcomes, trends toward reduced depression”
  • “Reductions in stress and anxiety; increases in positive emotions”
  • “Reductions in distress and negative emotions”
  • “Improvements in flow and spontaneity, expression of grief, positive identity, and social networks”

I don’t know about you, but I think the benefits listed above sound like they would be great not just for patients in hospitals, but for everyone. Who wouldn’t want to reduce stress and anxiety, increase positive emotions, and reduce the likelihood of depression?

Furthermore, the benefits of art aren’t merely “in your head.”

The impact of art, music, and writing can be seen in your physical body as well. In fact, this study published in the Journal of Psychosomatic Medicine used writing as a treatment for HIV patients found that writing resulted in “improvements of CD4+ lymphocyte counts.”

That’s the fancy way of saying: the act of writing actually impacted the cells inside the patient’s body and improved their immune system.

In other words, the process of creating art doesn’t just make you feel better, it also creates real, physical changes inside your body.

Create More Than You Consume

The moral of this story is that the process of making art — whether that be writing, painting, singing, dancing, or anything in between — is good for you.

There are both physical and mental benefits from creating art, expressing yourself in a tangible way, and sharing something with the world. I’m trying to do more of it each week, and I’d encourage you to do the same.

In our always–on, always–connected world of television, social media, and on–demand everything, it can be stupidly easy to spend your entire day consuming information and simply responding to all of the inputs that bombard your life.

Art offers an outlet and a release from all of that. Take a minute to ignore all of the incoming signals and create an outgoing one instead. Produce something. Express yourself in some way. As long as you contribute rather than consume, anything you do can be a work of art.

Open a blank document and start typing. Put pen to paper and sketch a drawing. Grab your camera and take a picture. Turn up the music and dance. Start a conversation and make it a good one.

Build something. Share something. Craft something. Make more art. Your health and happiness will improve and we’ll all be better off for it.

23 Comments

  1. As a writer and a facilitator of therapeutic writing groups for women, I applaud your insight and willingness to share this breath of fresh air commentary. Thanks you.

    • Thanks Susan! Art is awesome, so I’m happy to spread the word.

      I appreciate you taking the time to read and share your thoughts. It’s great to have you in our little community!

  2. James, I am completely floored by this blog post. This is so because you have articulated my experiences of 2013.

    In January, I made the (temporary) transition from being a full-time worker to full-time student. But somehow, I was so unhappy that it affected my health. I could not study, could not focus, my mind wandered, my assignments were affected by this.

    Then, in May, I had a turnaround: I picked up my camera, started taking photos again; I bought a $0.90 notebook and made some lovely sketches of some older parts of the city where I now live. Thereafter, my blood sugar levels have dropped. My cholesterol is more under control. I am sleeping better.

    And now, my class performance has also improved. My focus is coming back. I feel my creative work has helped me emerge from the tunnel.

    Thank you for your really insightful post.

    • Geetali — thanks for sharing your experiences! It’s crazy how powerful the artistic process can be. I’m glad it’s been helpful for you.

      Keep up the good work. It’s great to have you in our little community!

  3. Awesome post, James. You covered the list of outputs via art pretty extensively. A parallel I draw to the perceived benefits of creative creation is the act of meditation. Since meditating requires the practitioner to focus more intently on the present (as opposed to the past or future), this may be why many of the benefits you highlight are identical to frequent meditators. This post nicely provides a solution to those that complain they are unable to sit still and meditate. I hope everyone will tell these people the act of picking up a pen or camera can potentially mirror the benefits many frequent meditators claim.

    • Kiyan, my man! Thanks for sharing. You bring up a great point.

      Perhaps both meditation and art pull the mind into a “flow state” … and that’s why the benefits are so similar.

      Either way, they are both wonderful ways to spend time. Thanks for reading buddy! It’s great to have you in our little community.

  4. Thanks, again, James. Your words do more than inspire- they get me out of my chair! Reading your posts continually touch me and are helping me put things into focus for action!

    • I love to hear that, Deidre! Ultimately, knowledge is useless without action, so my goal is always to break things down into practical ideas that we can actually use.

      Keep up the great work and thanks for reading!

    • Thank You! I’m glad you enjoy it, Jill. I need to do a better job of sharing more of it.

      Thanks for taking the time to read and comment. Your thoughts are always welcome here. It’s great to have you in our little community!

  5. Hey James,

    This articles aligns nicely with what I came to realize last year. Consume less + create more = amazing results (for you and everyone else). I won’t go into the full back story here, but I spent my first month-and-a-half as an entrepreneur consuming. Books. Blogs. Videos. More…more… more. There was so much I needed to learn and know!

    And then I thought: “You’ve been spending all this time consuming and no time creating. Is this why you left your cushy corporate gig to become a values-based entrepreneur?”

    So I created this thing I call the Continuous Creation Challenge and had your research and experience validated first-hand. Other people have tried it and – although it’s anecdotal – it convinces me even more to consume less and create more. If you want to read up on the experiences of people on a temporary hard-core consumption diet and creation binge, check this out: http://valueofsimple.com/continuous-creation-challenge-experiences

    Thanks for helping to spread the mission on making more art (or wherever your creativity takes you)!

    P.S. Is your blog post title inspired by the video “Neil Gaiman Addresses the University of the Arts Class of 2012?” http://vimeo.com/42372767. It’s an *awesome* one.

    • Joel — great to hear from you! I’m glad you’ve found the power of creating rather than consuming! (Sounds like you’ve built an awesome challenge too!)

      I love that Neil Gaiman speech. It’s a winner.

      Keep up the good work! It’s great to have you in our little community!

  6. I try to bring this philosophy to pursuits outside of the art world. As someone who was an active photographer in college, it’s helpful to apply this philosophy of creation to current professions as well. Thanks for this.

    • You bet, Mike! I’m happy to share it with you. Thanks for taking the time to read and share your experiences as well.

      Keep up the good work!

    • Awesome! Art is great. I tried my hand a pottery. It was a pretty lopsided affair (literally). Definitely a lot of fun though!

      Thanks for reading, Zoe! Your thoughts are always welcome in our little community!

  7. As an integrative psychotherapist for the past 20+ years, I have used expressive arts, SoulCollage and craft making often as therapeutic “assignments”. The healing power of creativity is often overlooked. The only thing better? To have a supportive group you meet with regularly. (I ran SoulCollage groups for years. I’m just now proofing The Creativity & Camaraderie Club Handbook) I’ve just linked to your post in my blog post Twelve Signs That You May Be Creatively Wounded.

  8. Thank you for this, James. As an indie author, I’m always looking for new ways to express creativity and share it. The internet has been amazing for all of us as both artists and students. I feel so optimistic about the “collective” creativity and where it’s heading. What a great time to be alive!

  9. I concur with these:

    • “Improved well–being by decreasing negative emotions and increasing positive ones”
    • “Improved medical outcomes, trends toward reduced depression”
    • “Reductions in stress and anxiety; increases in positive emotions”
    • “Reductions in distress and negative emotions”
    • “Improvements in flow and spontaneity, expression of grief, positive identity, and social networks”

    I instinctively knew them to be true, but it’s always validating to see other references that prove the facts.

    This was beautiful. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this, and now I’m off to create some more.

  10. I work for a bank, a pretty progressive bank though, in that they have a daily motivational activity that another employee leads on a rotating basis. So for my motivational activity I am encouraging them to use the right side of their brain and be creative by drawing to help counter balance all of the left brain activity we do for our work. This article greatly benefits my research for my “assignment” so thank you! I’m going to get these bankers to draw!

  11. Love your clear, concise writing. I am about to start a small creative studio with the simple goal of getting everyday people to realize they have an artist within, and encourage them to be creative. In order to start this, I will need to do a small crowdfunding…may I use some of your quotes to promote this idea of the value of art?

    • Hi Lois. Yes, feel free to quote my work (thanks for sharing!) and good luck building your studio!

      Thanks for reading.