Art and health have been central to the human experience from the beginning of recorded history. Visual art can be traced back to the Paleolithic era’s cave paintings, and it continues to be an integral part of people’s lives. Long recognized for its power to bridge differences and bring together people of different cultures, backgrounds, and experience, art connects individuals and communities. Thus healing communities and individuals can be connected through creative expression, too.
As an expressive language, art offers a nonthreatening form of communication over which the individual has control. The creative process of art can help reconcile conflicts and increase awareness. The art itself can provide a permanent representation of an individual’s internal states, reflect changes seen in the therapeutic progression, elicit graphic representation as opposed to verbalization, and increase expression and facilitate insight. For many, engaging with art is a transformational process, a spiritual path, and a way of being. Creating reflects the spiritual aspect of a person and brings harmony to the soul.
The use and placement of art in healing environments has grown rapidly in recent years as more individuals understand the importance of enhancing the environments in which they live and work. Art can take many forms and functions. When used effectively, it can change how people perceive, interpret, and react to the spaces around them.
Therapeutic Effects and Benefits of Art
Art and art therapy provide a way for individuals to reduce distress and negative emotions, lessen depression, express grief in a positive way, improve social networks, increase their sense of purpose, reconcile emotional conflicts, foster self-awareness and self-worth, and express unspoken and frequently unconscious concerns about their disease.
As part of the creative process, art results in:
- Decreased heart rate, blood pressure, and respiratory rate, anxiety and pain
- Increased blood to the gastrointestinal system, auditory stimulation, release of endorphins and other neurotransmitters, sense of hope and optimism, compassion
- Improved and more effective immune system function, ability to cope with debilitating problems, energy levels
- Restored emotional balance and a shift in perception to one of calmness
- Enhanced self-understanding and insight
The use of art and art therapy may be especially beneficial for individuals who need to deal with emotional conflicts and with feelings about life and death in a safe setting. Art can be a refuge from intense emotions associated with illness. With children, art therapy can be used as a diagnostic tool. Children often have difficulty talking about painful events or emotions in their lives. Art provides children with a way to relay information or emotions about traumatic times through drawings more easily than they could with conventional therapy.