Stretching back far into our archeological records we find objects of exquisite beauty. Is the work of making something especially beautiful necessary, essential and required? We need food, water and shelter to survive. To thrive, we need much more. Art-making is a human behavior found across time and cultures because it offers us many advantages. The arts let us play, display, explore, amuse, give pleasure, innovate, transform, recognize and discover. We resolve tension, find wonder, explain, communicate, create order and unity, explore complexity, and satisfy an instinct for craftsmanship.
There are so many aspects to this one small word, art. No wonder there can be confusion about it! To add to the many questions around the subject of art, some contemporary art can be more like a branch of obscure philosophy than something with which we easily identify and recognize. Ellen Dissanayake explains that art is when things are “made special.” Art is extra-ordinary. Ordinary words become poems. Sounds become songs. Movements become dance. Marks become an image. We are more likely to thrive when we have music to get us through necessary but tedious tasks. Powerful stories help us remember what is important. These are just two examples of ways in which the arts make life a bit sweeter and a bit easier. The arts can soothe, elate and draw us together in appreciation and cooperation. Making art is evolutionarily advantageous.
For more than twenty years Art from the Heart volunteers have visited patients and caregivers with art supplies and devoted time to nurture creativity at the University of Vermont Children’s Hospital. This past fall, we participated in the Larner College of Medicine at UVM’s Public Health Project to study the effect that art-making has on participants and their caregivers.
We found patients and caregivers feel overwhelmingly calmer, more cared for, physically better, less stressed, more empowered and more playful from participating in Art from the Heart.
Why are these results so strong? Creativity is a trait that serves us well. When we are sick, art helps to activate the parts of us that are well. Art helps us reconnect with what it is to be human in some of the most playful, pleasurable and transformative ways, encouraging us in difficult times to imagine, express and create. Creating helps us feel better, be more of who we want to be and meet the challenges we face.
With these benefits it is no wonder that art and humans evolve together. Next time you are considering creating, perhaps picking up a pen to draw, write, doodle or compose – please do!
On this Valentine’s Day and every day of the year, exercise your creative license to make things special, to make the ordinary extra-ordinary and thrive.
Rebecca Schwarz is the Coordinator of Art from the Heart, a program of Burlington City Arts at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital at The UVM Medical Center.