“If we can change the way they see, then we can change the way they think.” ~Professor David St. John
I just love this video. The eerie music grabs your attention, implying that the words being spoken are important – and they are. While the narrator, Professor David St. John, discusses the significant effect the arts – music, painting, photography, modelling – have on the human mind, we can view an amazing artistic interpretation of his words. Can I completely analyze this video, explaining the meaning behind all of the images? No, not really. Perhaps, with a lot of time and collaboration with my peers, I may be able to come up with something, but for now, my degree in Biology does not really help me understand the meaning behind some of the presented images. If I had a deeper understanding of the arts and participated in them much more, I might have been able to analyze the artistry of this video much quicker.
I’m sure you have all had a similar experience. It’s like when you go to an art museum and find yourself staring at someone’s painting for a while, unsure of what it means. Then, a more artistic person explains it to you, but you are still baffled at how so much can be implied from that piece of art. When this happens, don’t we often discredit the art world? Saying things like: “Artists are just crazy!” “This painting doesn’t mean anything and it looks like a five-year-old made it.” But why do we belittle the art world in this way? I think we are either consciously or subconsciously threatened by artists. To create and understand a form of art takes an incredibly critical and complex way of thinking, and many of us are not able to think in this way. Even the world’s best scientists might have trouble determining the meaning behind a particular artwork if he or she has rarely participated in an artistic field. There is an incredible amount of research suggesting that artistic endeavors enhance critical thinking skills and overall intellectual abilities. By 2002, there were at least sixty-two major studies supporting the idea that creative thinking through theatre, music, dance, poetry and other artistic activities enhances problem solving skills, literacy and mathematical skills (Deasy et al. 7). We all can benefit from being more critical thinkers, so we should stop depreciating the arts out of jealousy and start participating in them, so as to better ourselves.
The Arts and a Career in Healthcare
The advantages of the arts on your intellectual faculties will be helpful in many aspects of your life, especially in your career. Most careers require some type of analytical thinking, so the benefits of artistic endeavors have a plethora of applications. However, there is a particular type of profession that would greatly benefit from the arts: healthcare professionals. If healthcare professionals were active in the arts, then diagnoses could be determined more quickly and with more accuracy. There might even be fewer mistakes in treatments and surgeries. In fact, a study showed that by increasing their ability to draw, neurosurgeons were better able to think three-dimensionally, which would have a positive effect on their surgical abilities (Staricoff 7). Perhaps, if all healthcare professionals participated in the arts in one way or another, preventing and even curing diseases would be that much easier. Let’s be honest, this is an amazing possibility, and it truly is possible if we have much more appreciation and engagement in the arts. Few realize just how powerful the arts can be, but the arts have even more power to them, especially in the healthcare field.
The Therapeutic Aspects of the Arts
When I said arts and humanities could greatly enhance the healthcare field, I wasn’t kidding. There are many things art therapies can do that medication or surgery cannot. In general, art therapies provide an outlet for stress that excludes harmful side effects like those found in many medications, such as antidepressants. As a result, most people who participate in art therapies have an improved quality of life: increased happiness, optimism, sociability and ambition. For example, there is evidence that interactive music therapy enhances the mood and sociability of children undergoing cancer treatment (Barrera et al. 386, 387). Some children even felt relief from the symptoms of chemotherapy, such as nausea and body aches, suggesting that the effect art therapies have on the mind can extend to the whole body (Barrera et al. 384).
Some children even felt relief from the symptoms of chemotherapy, such as nausea and body aches, suggesting that the effect art therapies have on the mind can extend to the whole body (Barrera et al. 384). There are so many different examples suggesting the health-related benefits of art therapies.
I have even seen such benefits in my current work as a caregiver for the elderly. As a caregiver, I ensure that elderly individuals who may suffer from a variety of mental or physical ailments are properly nourished, take all of their necessary medications, exercise daily, and most importantly continue to enjoy life to the best of their abilities. Of my many patients, I have noticed that the individuals who live the longest and are the most mentally stable participate in the arts and humanities in some way. Individuals in their eighties or nineties who are still able to hold a conversation and stay current all seem to have one thing in common: they either constantly read or play an instrument. Although of course correlation does not necessarily imply causation, I find this correlation to generally hold true among individuals who vary in gender, ethnicity, build, upbringing, you name it. Whether these affects are instantaneous or not, I do notice that when one of my patients takes out his harmonica and plays a few songs in the morning, his thoughts and speech are much clearer than on mornings where he does not play. If anything, these literary and musical endeavors definitely better the quality of life of these individuals. I know this from the smiles, laughter and pure joy that arise from their wrinkled faces as they remember the funny story they read last night or play a song from their teenage years.
Research and my personal experiences suggest that art therapies are a fantastic way to improve mental health and perhaps even physical health of individuals. The healthcare system would only improve if these therapies were incorporated more and recognized more by healthcare professionals. Art and art therapies can do so much for you – the patient or the healthcare professional – so make the arts and humanities a much bigger part of your life.
Barrera, Maru E., Mary H. Rykov, and Sandra L. Doyle. “The Effects of Interactive Music Therapy on Hospitalized Children with Cancer: A Pilot Study.” Psycho-Oncology 11.5 (2002): 379-88.
Deasy, Richard, James S. Catterall, Lois Hetland, and Ellen Winner. Critical Links: Learning in the Arts and Student Academic and Social Development. Washington, DC: Arts Education Partnership, 2002.
Staricoff, Rosalia Lelchuk. Arts in Health: A Review of the Medical Literature. London: Arts Council England, 2004.