Fit for Life

Study shows art isn’t just for kids, helps adults improve sense of self

By Michilea Patterson, The Mercury

It’s pretty common knowledge that regular exercise and good nutrition helps lead to a healthy life but more and more research is discovering that expressing yourself through art also has benefits. A recent study found that art can help an adult improve confidence in his or her abilities to handle life situations.

Girija Kaimal is an assistant professor for the Creative Arts Therapies Department at Drexel University in Philadelphia. She has always been interested in learning how people find art helpful and what draws them to the creative and expressive activity.

Kaimal along with Drexel University doctoral student Kendra Ray conducted a research study on how art making impacts a person’s sense of self-efficacy. Kaimal said self-efficacy is similar to self-confidence. It’s how people handle difficult situations or take charge of their life, she said.

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Pieces of fused glass art creations are displayed in the work area of Art Fusion 19464 in Pottstown.

“It’s your sense of self. Do you feel like you can handle your issues? Do you feel like if you’re faced with a problem that you will be able to come up with a solution?,” Kaimal said.

For this study, she decided to focus on the general population. She said a lot of previous art therapy research focuses on specific populations like those with mental illnesses but Kaimal wanted to learn how art benefits people in their everyday lives.

The study had 39 participants between the ages of 18 and 59. The participants made art for about 45 minutes using various tools such as clay and markers. No previous artistic skills were necessary to participate. Kaimal said each person took a questionnaire before and after the art session asking questions relating to self-efficacy and their mood.

“We were happy to discover that just in 45 minutes that someone’s sense of self can really shift,” she said.

The study, which was published in Art Health, showed that about 73 percent of participants had an increase in their sense of self-efficacy after creating art. Kaimal said the “open-ended format” of art is what allows people to improve their sense of self. She said people can create whatever they want with whatever tools they want to use.

“The art medium gives you the freedom to express yourself without words,” she said.

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Kaimal said there’s also research that shows using your hands can help a person feel better and have a better sense of control.

“These things put together really help enable us to benefit from the arts,” she said.

Kaimal has also done a study that showed art can lower levels of cortisol which is a hormone related to stress. Kaimal said through that study they found that people were basically able to “lift their spirits” after an art session no matter the mood they were in before. In the future, she will look more specifically at how art activities affect a person’s stress using other indicators than cortisol levels.

Kaimal said arts is not an activity only for children but can be beneficial for all ages. She explained that a lot of people in the self-efficacy study said they hadn’t done visual arts since elementary school.

“Which is really sad. As a society, we kind of shut down that expressive part of ourselves,” she said.

Kaimail said people can start off by just doodling in a notebook. She said whatever people create; they shouldn’t judge it but remember that it’s a form of expression.

There are programs throughout the area that provide art classes for adults using different types of tools from clay to glass.

Tracie Mellinger, of Chester Springs, is taking an introductory stained glass art class at Art Fusion 19464 in Pottstown.

“I’ve always loved stained glass,” Mellinger said adding that she wanted to learn how to create it herself.

She said art is a great way to “exercise” the brain and it helps to show her creative side.

Stained glass art instructor Carl Altman said he didn’t consider himself “artistically inclined” before he became interested in glass. He started about nine years ago and really enjoys cutting the glass into shapes as well as using the different colors.

Other studios in the area with art classes for adults include Clay on Main in Oley, the Phoenix Village Art Center in Phoenixville and Painting with a Twist in Media.

 

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