Science now suggests that creative outlets might be a key to longer, healthier, happier lives.
Are you one of the growing number of “macho’ men who’s recently taken to knitting or crayons and coloring books? These popular stress-busting trends for adults point to something we’re just beginning to better understand –the positive role the arts can play in improving health.
To experience uplifting art is to find greater inspiration, ability, and beauty in our lives than would often be possible without them. As each of these spiritual qualities is felt in our experience, we may glimpse the presence of the source of creativity, the Creator, in each of us.
Realizing the positive role arts can play, even without knowing exactly why it happens, the healthcare industry is quickly incorporating a wide variety of the arts into their treatment of patients, from dementia to cancer. Nearly half of American hospitals today have arts programs of some sort. Medical Centers at Duke, Indiana University and Cleveland have spent large sums to install visual arts along the walls in order to reduce pain, anxiety, stress and discomfort in their patients.
Writing workshops are being set up in hospital and rehab centers because medical experts believe it’s therapeutic for patients to reflect on their experiences and record them. Music too is proving to be good medicine for many sufferers. According to neurologist Oliver Sacks, his Alzheimer’s patients showed improved cognition and reduced need for psychotropic drugs when they heard familiar songs, often remembering and singing the words along with the music.
But perhaps the most intriguing story comes from ballet and its impact on men’s health. Diagnosed in 2006 with early onset Parkinson’s Disease, Ballet Master and Broadway performer Alex Tressor clearly faced a daunting challenge. How could he continue a brilliant dance career with increasing tremors, imbalance and impaired motor control?
Tressor put his creativity to use developing a program of dance therapy that would slow the progression of the disease. It worked for him, and now he’s helping others with Parkinson’s Disease find new energy and excitement in their lives. He continues to teach and choreograph in Cary, North Carolina, a suburb of Raleigh.
Tressor is not entirely cured. But his remarkable discovery is found in the impact the act of being creative has on his health at any moment in time. “I want people to know that I have to constantly be creative,” he says. “When I’m doing something creative, I have no symptoms whatsoever. That is my hope for all the people whose lives I manage to touch.”
Modern medicine is increasingly exploring the actual biological and chemical effects of this relationship between creativity and improved health. We’ve known for a long time that there is an impact, however. About 3000 years ago Israel’s King Saul often called for his harpist David to play when “the evil spirit,” thought to be migraines, plagued him. Whenever David played, Saul “was refreshed and was well.”
There’s more history to this story but art therapy as a medical profession began in the mid-20th century, arising independently in English-speaking and European countries. The early therapists drew on, and were influenced by, a wide variety of fields, including psychiatry, aesthetics, and art education in their practices.
So just what is it about the experience of painting, writing, music or dance that restores health? Is it nothing more than a biological or chemical reaction? How is it that Tressor has no symptoms when he is engaged in creativity? Where is the pain and the disability during those moments when he experiences the creative impact?
It seems to me that creativity is a divine quality, and something we all have as a result of being the very image of God (as the Bible tells us.) When we experience our own or another’s creativity through the arts, we feel our connection to the Creator of all and to each other. In those moments, a more spiritual sense of well-being rises up and triumphs over a purely physical sense. Our health feels grounded in a secure foundation.
The arts are one of many resources which turn us to this more spiritual sense of our own health. So, the next time your significant other offers you tickets to an art exhibit or a musical comedy, remember that it really is for your own good. Even if your partner signs you up for ballroom dancing, just smile and say, “Thanks, honey, for thinking of my health. I’d love to go!”
Would you like to help us shatter stereotypes about men?
Receive stories from The Good Men Project, delivered to your inbox daily or weekly.
Photo: Getty Images