Pretty soon, your pharmacist might be stuffing paper and pencils into those amber-colored bottles.

We’re kidding, of course! But art therapy IS big news. It turns out that people who make art have less stress, are able to focus more deeply, have more emotional resilience, and feel more hopeful about their future than people who do not make art. Some recent studies back up those statements.

One of the studies involved a small group of recently retired seniors in Germany in 2014. Half of them participated in hands-on art workshop twice a week for ten weeks. The other half took an art appreciation course as a control. Both groups were tested for emotional resilience using fMRI technology both before and after the program.

The researchers found a significant improvement in psychological resilience and “functional connectivity” (the way that parts of your brain talk to each other) in the art-making group, but not in the control group. One of the conclusions of the study was that making art might “delay or even negate age-related decline of certain brain functions,” according to Katherine Brooks, who reported on the story for The Huffington Post.

Many artists do some of their best work in the last third of their lives. For instance, Picasso kept on breaking new ground with his artwork until his death at 91. And Henri Matisse, when he became bedridden in his later years and thus unable to paint, asked for colored paper and scissors and began to create the paper collages that turned out to be some of his most creative and lyrical artworks. He died at 84. Claude Monet, the famous Impressionist, lived to 86, and painted even through failing eyesight due to cataracts.

Many researchers have argued that art is a basic human need. The drawings in dark caves in southern France, made with red clay and chalk tens of thousands of years ago by firelight, show how strong the urge to create is. Anthropologist Ellen Dissanayake wrote, in her book Homo Aestheticus, that even nomadic people, who carry few possessions, take the time to make decorations and adornments for their surroundings.

Creativity is important for many aspects of health and human relationships. Girija Kaimal, a professor at Drexel University and an art therapy researcher, says, "Anything that engages your creative mind—the ability to make connections between unrelated things and imagine new ways to communicate—is good for you." She works with victims of traumatic brain injury, among others.


  1. Art helps us imagine a hopeful future. The more you draw, paint, doodle, sculpt, or collage, the more you see something emerging that wasn’t there before, and the more likely you are to see it through to completion. We unconsciously extrapolate from what we’re doing with our hands to what’s happening in life. In the most basic terms, imagination is tied to possibility, and that means survival.
  2. Art activates the brain’s reward center. Research reported in 2017 in the journal “Arts in Psychotherapy” showed that there was increased blood flow to the pleasure center of the brain when participants were doodling, coloring, or free drawing. It didn’t matter whether the participants had prior art training. Conclusion: Art makes us happy—and our brain shows it!
  3. Art reduces stress. Obvious, right?! But research backs up this claim as well. Researchers measured the levels of cortisol in the blood of 39 healthy adults after 45 minutes of making art with an art therapist and found that it dropped significantly. Cortisol is one of the hormones that help the body respond to stress. There were no differences in cortisol levels between those who self-identified as experienced artists and beginners.
  4. Art nudges you toward better focus, or “flow.” Anything that improves concentration is good for you—we knew that—and art falls into that category. But art can go one better, because art-making pushes you over the edge into that wonderful state of mind called “flow,” where you are in the groove, all systems go, clear and calm, following a river of creative juices that seems to go on forever. If you are in the habit of making art now, you have probably experienced this intensely pleasurable state of super-creativity and laser focus.


The answer is – whatever you like! If you have never picked up a pencil, brush, or crayon before, take a beginning art class of some kind and experiment with all your senses open to what might appeal to you. Or perhaps music, performance, dance, or writing will be the art form that is the one for you.  

Researchers in one study found that coloring inside a shape, such as a pre-drawn mandala, was more helpful than coloring randomly on a blank piece of paper. Other researchers have found that modeling clay was very beneficial for reducing anxiety and stress because it involved more of the senses.

But any type of creation is helpful in some way. The point is, try something. If it’s not your cup of tea, try something else!


Gharib, Malaka, “Feeling Artsy? Here’s How Making Art Helps Your Brain,” npr.org, Jan.11, 2020

Brooks, Katherine, “Study Says Making Art Is Good for Your Brain, and We Say You Should Listen,” huffpost.com, updated Dec. 6, 2017

Martin, Brittany Harker, “Cutting-Edge Research Shows That Making Art Benefits the Brain,” inverse.com, June 14, 2020


Written by Patricia Rockwood, Instructor and Staff Writer.