In a recent online writing workshop Molly Caro May said:
When you are making art – any kind of art – you are naturally soothing your nervous system. Creation is really organizing for our nervous systems. Even if you’re writing about something painful, just the formation and artistry of it is really grounding.
The point is: make art. All the time.
Molly’s statement resonated with me. I feel better when I’m making art and I see the joy in others when they are (non-pandemic times) visiting and ‘playing’ in my studio. An art professor friend says taking classes, and making art is cheaper than therapy. It seems obvious, and I know this intuitively, but to hear Molly connect creativity directly to the health of our physical bodies seems to add gravitas to the statement.
There is scientific evidence that being creative (including art, craft, writing, music making, and dancing) affects our cognitive, psychosocial and physical health. In this article in Psychology Today by Dr. Cathy Malchiodi, she notes the conclusion from a review of existing literature of over 100 studies:
Most of these studies concur that participation and/or engagement in the arts have a variety of outcomes including a decrease in depressive symptoms, an increase in positive emotions, reduction in stress responses and, in some cases, even improvements in immune system functioning.
Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi named the concentrated, absorbed state displayed by artists at work as flow. In 1990, Dr. Czikszentmihalyi published Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience.
In North America (the Western world, perhaps?) we have devalued creativity in our daily lives. What used to be the norm in public schools (sewing, cooking, art, music and woodworking classes) cannot be taken for granted now. The opportunities for people to learn and enjoy simple creative endeavours are reduced; it’s all considered a luxury at best, and pointless to many.
Not surprisingly, creativity is valued when it can be commodified. Business has embraced creativity for its contribution to profitability. The Flow Genome Project self-identifies as The Official Source for Peak Performance and Culture. It advertises its collaboration with companies like Google, Nike and Goldman Sachs.
It seems obvious that we need to recapture the pleasure of creating things – not for profit, or for performative value – but for our own health and enjoyment. If ever there was a time that our nervous systems – individually and collectively – need soothing, it’s now.
Go ahead and do something creative – every day. Better still if it’s something temporary and not Instagram worthy: living room solo dancing, harmonizing with your favourite singers, making and writing in a private notebook. The writer Annie Dillard wisely said… How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.