Over 14 million American households visit art museums every year, with many top museums and galleries across the nation receiving thousands of visits a day. Art therapy is used in a variety of mental health settings – including centers for substance abuse, eating disorder recovery, and PTSD – with studies showing that an activity as simple as creating art freely, can significantly lower stress levels. Art therapy is a wide concept that can also embrace viewing art. Both creation and appreciation have beneficial effects we should all take advantage of.
Cultural Participation Boosts Our Health
Cultural participation – visiting museums, creating art, or attending a musical concert – are all linked to better health, according to a study published in the Journal of Epidemiology Community Health. The study, which involved over 50,000 participants, found that both receptive (art or culture appreciation) and active (artistic creation) involvement in the arts was linked to lower levels of anxiety and depression, and greater life satisfaction. Other studies have shown that taking part in structured art and cultural events can improve the cognitive abilities of children and youth.
Art, Stress, and Pain
If you visit a gallery and find that you are inspired by the work of particular artists, why not emulate their style and try to create your own works at home? A study by scientists at Northwestern Memorial Hospital found that working on an art project for just an hour significantly reduced pain, anxiety, depression, drowsiness, and lack of appetite in cancer patients. While working alongside a specialist is common in some art therapy settings, everyday people can take advantage of art’s stress busting effects, both by visiting art galleries and by learning to draw simple shapes like flowers, trees, and landscapes, or by trying their hand at sculpting, photography, and any other art form they are naturally drawn to.
How is Art Used in Professional Settings?
Art therapy is used to work with a variety of groups, including those seeking recovery from substance abuse, PTSD, eating disorders, traumatic experiences, etc. In these settings, the therapist usually guides the patient on the production of an artwork. After this, patients are encouraged to use their work to identify and discuss symbols of their feelings and thoughts. In addiction, for instance, patients are often encouraged to identify the ambiguous feelings they may have about quitting substances. That is, quitting is not so simple; when those in recovery decide to take a new path in life, there are experiences and people they may leave behind, and this is never easy. Artistic creation puts patients into a more open mind, and allows them to discuss as much as they are comfortable with, without feeling defensive.
People often describe visiting an art gallery as a peaceful, enriching experience. Art is ‘food for the soul’.Its purpose, as noted by Pablo Picasso, was to “wash the dust of daily life from our souls.” Art therapy does just that, whether under the guiding hand of a psychotherapist, or as a simply result of enjoying or creating art. Visiting art galleries allow us to be inspired by those we admire, and to understand how fully rich our internal worlds are.