What Art Has to Do with Well-Being?
Updated: May 6, 2021
Our feelings, behaviors, physical and mental well-being are influenced greatly by the home environment in which we live. A growing number of studies are investigating the affects art has on people and provide fascinating findings.
Why Engage with Art?
Research says arts engagement may have a positive impact on our physical and mental health. How is that? Northern Europe is leading in many areas of social development and population well-being is not an exception. Several studies in Sweden and Norway examined how cultural activities, such as visiting art museums, exhibits, music performances, and making art or music, impact on health and well-being. They concluded that cultural and arts participation are positively correlated with longevity, perceived health, satisfaction of life, and perceived happiness. A research in Australia confirmed a correlation between cultural attendance and mental health and found that those who engaged in the arts for 100 or more hours per year (i.e., 2 or more hours/week) reported significantly better mental well-being than those involved less frequently. These finding tell us that engaging with arts and culture even for 2 hours a week may make a difference for our well-being.
Arts Engagement Boosts Immune System
Do our emotions, feelings, and thoughts play a role in our physical and psychological health and well-being? Yes, they do. An emerging field of psycho-neuroimmunology as the name entail studies the connection between our nervous and immune system. It has been found that nervous and immune systems are connected bidirectionally. This means that our psychological state can impact the immune system and the immune system itself can lead to changes in the psychological state. Gene Cohen, an American psychiatrist, found that arts/music participation revealed an increase in the level of T cells (lymphocytes that ward off bacterial infections) and NK cells (natural killer cells combating cancer cells in the bloodstream). This research confirmed that arts and cultural participation may positively impact our immune system.
Art Trains Brain & Creates Mental Reserves
As a leading geriatric mental health researcher, Cohen also theorized that “the brain, like muscles, beneﬁts from ongoing challenge”. He suggested that by engaging in new experiences, such as arts and music, the brain enhances its reserve of neurons, synapses, improves “efﬁciency of brain cell connectedness,” thereby enhancing its reserve and resulting in health benefits. These finding have a substantial value for understanding the cognitive processes in child development and aging.
Positive Emotions Impact Health & Well-Being
Reflect for a minute and think about emotions you experience when you look at the art you enjoy. You might be surprised to know that there is a separate field of research called affective science that studies the effects of human emotion such as love, joy, gratitude, serenity, interest, hope, pride, amusement, inspiration, and awe on well-being. Activities that capitalize on positive emotions, such as cultural and arts participation, are theorized to contribute to these positive states by one of the leading scholars in affective science Barbara Fredrickson. The research suggests that positive emotions can optimize health, subjective wellbeing, and psychological resilience, and even undo the damaging impact the repeated and prolonged negative emotions can have on our health. Therefore, whatever your source of feelings of joy, gratitude, serenity, interest, inspiration, and awe is, find it and get the most out of it for your health and well-being.
Reflect & Connect with Art
Have you experienced how looking at art or listening to music may physically and mentally take us outside of the usual setting and away from everyday concerns? The important component of arts engagement is the connection we make with a hand-made product created by other people. We experience fascination, interest, attention, and engagement, which can vary in in their strength and ability to generate reflection. Art brings a whole other world to us – it tells us about human experiences and feelings we might not be familiar with. At the same, art objects connect human similarities beyond our own particular time and place, remind us about shared human situations, emotions, difficulties, and achievements expressed in artistic form. We learn about ourselves by reflecting and inquiring into those things.
Art Museums & Well-Being
It should not come as a surprise that museums are increasingly engaging in health-focused programming. Therapeutically driven museum projects target people with memory, mental health issues, and chronic illnesses. Research has revealed museums’ potential to impact both physiological and psychological indicators of stress. Studies show that art museum visit may decrease blood pressure and heart rate. People who visited art exhibition reported lower levels the level of stress hormone cortisol and decrease in the subjective level of stress and arousal. While the mechanisms of such impact are still being making art part of your space may give you additional reserves to improve your health and well-being.
References: Bygren, Konlaan, & Johansson, 1996; Cohen, 2009; Cuypers, Krokstad, Holmen, SkjeiKnudtsen, Bygren, & Holmen, 2012; Fancourt, 2017; Fredrickson 2000; Johansson, Konlaan, & Bygren, 2001; Konlaan, Bygren, & Johansson, 2000; Sapolsky, 2000; O’Neill, 2010.