Does art make us feel better?

Recently I came across the wonderful work of artist and neurosurgeon, Dr Greg Dunn. His website is here and I encourage everyone to look at it. Dr Dunn's speciality is the brain and its processes. The most stunning piece I found was "Self Reflected", which is the brain designed to be what is happening in our minds at a neuronal level as we observe the art. Just by looking at this breathtaking piece we are looking at our own brain.

Art has long been shown to be beneficial to promoting wellbeing and being used as an intervention for dealing with mental illnesses. In a study by Davies et al (2014) which was a qualitative study to develop a thematic framework for understanding the relationship between health and the arts, the following benefits of arts engagements was found in the literature review;

  1. Clinical studies have found that arts engagement promotes relaxation and mental health by reducing patient stress, anxiety and depression
  2. For people experiencing mental health issues, arts programmes increase confidence, self-esteem and self-understanding
  3. In the general population, arts engagement improves psychological well-being and life satisfaction
  4. The arts also entail inclusive processes that act as a catalyst for creating connections between people who are similar (ie, bonding social capital) and people who are different (ie, bridging social capital) in terms of certain characteristics, for example, socioeconomic status, age. As a result, community arts programmes expand social networks and facilitate a sense of belonging
  5. The arts have also been used in urban renewal projects to encourage community cohesion, identity and the development of civically valuable behaviours such as tolerance and respect
  6. Research conducted in the UK, America and Sweden suggest that after controlling for a variety of factors, attending cultural events is positively associated with general health and longevity  

The following is an excerpt from Davies et al (2014) results in relation to their qualitative study;

Mental health is the foundation for individual well-being and the effective functioning of a community. In this study, 20 mental health subthemes were identified of which half were positive and most related to the individual. Overall, arts engagement made people feel happy, was enjoyable, satisfying and resulted in the creation of good memories. Most study participants felt the arts made them more mentally resilient. Some participants felt the arts energised them, while others suggested it was relaxing and 'reduced their stress'. Arts engagement increased participant's self-efficacy (eg, confidence, self-esteem) and was a means of self-expression and self-reflection. Participants liked that creating art sometimes resulted in compliments and recognition which in turn made them feel valued and respected, for example, It encourages you to be yourself and be happy. It makes you a more confident person, especially if you are good at what you do and then you get compliments, so you feel good about yourself. (Female, 20-29 years, Performing Arts)

On the negative side, arts engagement occasionally made participants feel marginalised for being 'arty' and sometimes led to undesirable emotions such as frustration, disappointment and anxiety.

Davis et al (2014) do a good job of highlighting the benefits of arts engagement in relation to positive mental health benefits whilst also laying the framework and direction as to arts engagement in the future. I myself have recently ordered some surrealist collage prints and also continue to employ art-based therapies when working with clients of all ages. In the future, I will endeavour to look at more specific forms of art therapies that I employ and that are also available. 




Davies, C. R., Knuiman, M., Wright, P., & Rosenberg, M. (2014). The art of being healthy: A qualitative study to develop a thematic framework for understanding the relationship between health and the arts. BMJ Open, 4(4)