Can a work of art a day keep the doctor away? Here are 5 ways scientists say art can make you happier and healthier

“Beauty promises happiness”, wrote Friedrich Nietzsche, channeling the 19th century French writer Stendhal.

It may surprise students of art history – who know of many examples of depressed artists, many of whom committed suicide – that the research repeatedly confirms a link between art and joy, and offers a host of insights. other mental and physical health benefits.

Recent studies suggest that engaging with the can help alleviate depression, addiction, antisocial behavior, and more. But very few people take advantage of these life-changing benefits.

The Pew Research Center Spring 2021 survey of 19,000 adults in 17 countries found that only 10 percent of US respondents said they found meaning in ‘hobbies and hobbies’, including going ‘to museums or just having fun in general’. The figure rose to 22% among Britons, 19% among Swedes and 18% among Australians.

Here are five reasons why the fun-averse majority may consider picking up a paintbrush or visiting a gallery once in a while – for their well-being, if not the love of art.

AcroYoga performs a Warrior Bridge at the 2016 chashama gala. Courtesy of photographer Joe Schildhorn/BFA.

Artistic engagement leads to better health

Jess Boneresearcher in epidemiology and statistics at University College London, has conducted extensive research with colleagues on the arts and wellbeing.

“I think people are widely aware that there could be benefits to engaging in the arts, but I think they don’t always consider how widespread the impacts could be,” she said. declared. Artnet News.

The list of areas that art consumption can improve or lessen is staggering:life satisfaction, life purpose, positive and negative affect, fulfillment, loneliness, social support, self-esteem, depression, cognitive decline, dementia, other health-related behaviors, childhood adjustment, emotion regulation, pain chronic, frailty and premature mortality,” says Bone.

It is associated with a decrease in substance use

In another twist on a common stereotype, cultural engagement is associated with lower alcohol and tobacco — but not marijuana — use among 12- to 17-year-olds, Bone and colleagues recently found, at least in the short term. The study “confirms associations between artistic and cultural engagement and population-level substance use among adolescents in the United States,” they wrote.

They warned that over time, however, the gap narrowed and then completely disappeared. “Whether sustained engagement in these activities differentially influences risk for substance use requires further investigation,” they wrote.

Another report, from the National Endowment for the Arts in 2020, analyzed decades of research and hundreds of studies on the arts and addiction, recovery and pain management. “Research indicates that engagement in the arts has significant positive effects on physical symptoms, psychological health, and social relationships,” he said. (The report largely focused on music therapy and said more research on art therapy was needed.)

An advertisement for the Bob Ross Channel in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.  (Photo by Ben Davis.)

An advertisement for the Bob Ross Channel in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Photo by Ben Davis.

It can reduce depression in the elderly

There is new evidence that arts and cultural engagement can reduce the risk of depression, according to a 2020 study Systematic review of six studies with approximately 50,000 participants in total. Five of the six confirmed an association between artistic engagement and a decrease in depression.

However, it can be difficult to trust participants’ own memories of their mental states over a period of time, Bone said (who was speaking broadly, not about this review).

It can deter teen misbehavior

When Bone and his colleagues looked at data from more than 8,500 parents and nearly 300 schools from an earlier study, they found that teens who participated in after-school arts programs tended to do better. than those who did not, and the more of them the better. (Interestingly, this did not apply to art offerings at school.)

The 47% of parents who said their children participated in extracurricular arts activities in fifth grade said that by eighth grade, their children had improved emotional states, fewer behavior problems, as well as less hyperactivity, d inattention and difficulty in peer relationships than the other 53 percent of parents said. Schools also reported that students who practiced extracurricular arts were less likely to cut class, engage in physical confrontations, steal, vandalize, bully, or disrupt class.

“The arts can be an effective risk reduction strategy,” the authors concluded.

Acrobats descend from the rafters as part of a New Year's Eve party performance at Studio 54, New York, New York, January 1, 1978. (Photo by Allan Tannenbaum/Getty Images)

Acrobats descend from the rafters as part of a New Year’s Eve party performance at Studio 54, New York, New York, January 1, 1978. Photo by Allan Tannenbaum/Getty Images.

It can make you happier

Do the arts make you happy?asked a 2018 article. The answer, he found, was that it depends. Attending a large number of similar art events resulted in less happiness, while attending a wider range of art event types, albeit less frequently, correlated with more happiness.

Overall, there is “a relatively modest, but still significant, effect of the arts on happiness,” they concluded. Since the magnitude of artistic events played such a large role, the researchers suggest that “the effect of the arts on happiness goes beyond mere escape or temporary relief and may imply that it is the variety attendance which is important”.

Another study, dating from 2013, tried to answer the question by focusing on the artists themselves. the Danish, English and Swiss researchers have found that although European artists tend to be underemployed, underpaid and depressed, on average they show higher job satisfaction than non-artists, “mainly due to ‘greater autonomy’. (The differences were marginal in the UK, but more pronounced continent-wide.)

Korean researchers, meanwhile, discovered last year that viewing artwork Is have an impact on happiness, but it depends on one’s economic situation. People in the lowest income brackets found benefits from attending performing arts and movies, while wealthier audience members found happiness benefited from visual arts experiences.

“These results indicate that the low-income group is more likely to take advantage of arts and cultural activities that are more accessible and have lower opportunity costs, but do not require high levels of cultural capital,” the researchers wrote. .

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