Photo by Jared Sluyter.
Being creative isn’t easy, even for artists. At times, the ability to summon creativity can feel daunting, while other times, the ability to come up with novel ideas may come easily. But there’s plenty of research on what prompts and enhance creativity, and also how creative expression itself can positively impact your health and wellness. If you’re looking to live a more creative life in 2018, here are seven ways to do just that (and you’ll feel better while you’re doing it).
1. Ditch distractions
In order to better appreciate beauty and art, find ways to get rid of distractions. A study published in May of this year found that when we’re distracted, our ability to experience beauty is diminished. The research supports the contention popularized by philosopher Immanuel Kant, that processing beauty requires complex thoughts.
The same applies when looking at art. And these days, the biggest distraction at galleries and museums is very likely your cell phone. So, next time you’re heading out to see art, consider putting your phone away, or leave it at home altogether. As painful as it may be to pass up a selfie with the Mona Lisa, research has found that the mere presence of a phone in your pocket can lessen your focus.
2. Take up ceramics
If you’ve ever worked with clay, you’ll probably agree that there’s something about the medium that is inherently therapeutic. A study published this past April backs this up, indicating that making ceramic objects can help improve mood, motivation, and decision-making among adults with major depressive disorder (MDD). The finding supports the contention that clay art therapy (CAT) can help alleviate the effects of depression among adults, and thus can serve as a viable treatment option for the millions of individuals across the world suffering from depression.
3. Seek solitude
Loneliness and isolation have been linked to myriad negative health outcomes, from death to depression. But some who intentionally search out solitude tend to score higher on a measure of creativity, according to a study published in November 2017. The research found that the motivation that leads a person to avoid social interactions is crucial in understanding the effects of being alone, and not all reasons for social withdrawal are bad. Specifically, while the study found that those who were shy or anti-social were less creative, those who were able socialize but preferred not to were more creative.
4. Go for a walk
The stereotypical image of an artist is pretty different from the stock photo of an athlete. But creativity and even modest exercise are connected. A study conducted by Stanford University researchers in 2014 showed that walking improves convergent thinking, which includes skills like problem-solving, and divergent thinking, which is related to formulating original ideas. Both cognitive processes are tied to creativity. Other studies have tied exercising three or more times weekly to an improvement in convergent thinking.
José Lourenço, Let's paint...!, 2015. Courtesy of the artist and Things Organized Neatly.
You may think artistic types thriving in messy, cluttered studios is the ultimate expression of freewheeling creativity. Not so, says Marie Kondo, author of popular book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. “The depth of concentration and the respect for materials involved in creating artwork is similar to the focus and connection with belongings associated with tidying,” Kondo recently told Artsy. She shared five tips on how to declutter your creative space and thus enhance creativity, from understanding what type of environment inspires you, to parsing through your materials and letting go of the things that don’t “spark joy.”
6. Listen to happy tunes, or daydream
It turns out, a lot of the stuff you already do, when done with a specific intention, can lead to improved creativity. Take listening to music. One recent study explored how classical music impacts cognition and found that listening to “happy” classical music is associated with an increase in divergent thinking. Another study published this year found that daydreaming is linked to both intelligence and creativity. So now you have a good excuse to give your boss when you’re caught staring off into space at your desk.
Photo by Kelli Tungay.
7. Try coloring
Adult coloring books that claim to offer therapeutic benefits continue to be popular (you might even awake on Christmas morning to find one in your stocking). But are the purported benefits real? New studies suggest yes. Adult coloring books can improve mood, reduce anxiety, and redirect focus by distracting Crayola-wielding adults from the real world (drawing has also long been linked to similar health benefits). The research suggests that these books, with their black-and-white drawings waiting to be brightened up, don’t just kill time, but can also boost happiness.
Bonus: Support the arts in your community
While perhaps outside the realm of your own personal growth, the presence of arts institutions in a local community was found to have positive impacts on neighborhood welfare as a whole. An exhaustive two year study published by the School of Social Policy & Practice at the University of Pennsylvania in March found a qualitative link between the existence of cultural resources in a neighborhood and better education, security, and health outcomes compared for residents in neighborhoods with a similar economic situation, but less access to culture.