‘The medical profession has come a long way in recognizing the healing benefits of art. My hope is that someday the arts will be considered as significant in everyone’s lives as breathing fresh air, eating clean foods, and performing physical exercise.’
– Renée Phillips

Art for Wellbeing: The Evidence Base

By Dani Chak Educator

Sandra Raponi-Saunders Clinical Psychologist

Part lI: The Impact of Art on Children’s Health and Wellbeing

‘The arts take us to another world where we can explore our thoughts and feelings free of fear of stigma or judgement. They help children and young people to express things that they sometimes cannot say in conversation, and to celebrate feelings and thoughts that previously troubled them. The creative process can also be a curative process.’ 
Professor Peter Fonagy, CEO, Anna Freud Centre

Student health and wellbeing is recognized as being paramount to their learning, so much so that curriculum frameworks are embedded in health and wellbeing training for students and teachers (Belonging, Being, Becoming, 2009 & The Victorian Curriculum 2013). Art Friends are interested in the visual arts and its impact on children’s health and wellbeing. How do children feel when they make art? Is making visual arts outside the school setting beneficial to children? What happens to the brain during art making? Is there neurological evidence that making art is good for children?

In a study of 20 Spanish children, aged 6 to 12 years old, participants were invited to a series of art workshops designed to teach emotion and creativity skills through art making and art appreciation activities. In five of the six sessions, children observed multiple representations of one of the following emotions – happy, sad, angry, afraid or calm. This was followed by an exploration of a new set of art materials to express the target emotion. Afterwards, they shared their artworks and participated in a discussion.

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Regardless of ability level, ‘engaging in any sort of visual expression results in the reward pathways of the brain being activated, which means that you feel good, and it’s perceived as a pleasurable experience’, says Professor Girija Kaimal, of Drexel University and president of the American Art Therapy Association (Kaimal, 2019). Christianne Strang, professor of neuroscience at the University of Alabama Birmingham and the former president of the American Art Therapy Association, supports using art for health. She says, ‘Creativity in and of itself is important for remaining healthy, remaining connected to yourself and connected to the world.’ (Strang). For optimal health and wellbeing, artistic pursuits are a rich source of engagement for adults and children alike.

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