Art, ageing and keeping it creative – PART 2




In PART 1 I explained why getting older can help keep your brain active. Now in PART 2 it’s time to do something about it!

Doing is better than looking

In a recent study researchers gathered together 14 men and 14 women and randomly engaged half of them in a hands-on art class and the other half in an art appreciation course.

Those enrolled in the hands-on art workshop attended one weekly, two-hour class in which they learned painting and drawing techniques and produced their own original art.

Those enrolled in the appreciation course learned from an art historian how to analyse paintings and took part in group critiques.

The study lasted for a period of 10 weeks, in which scientists at the University Hospital Erlangen tested the participants twice – once before classes began and once at the end –using fMRI technology and a scale meant to measure emotional resilience.

After comparing the before-and-after tests, the team observed “a significant improvement in psychological resilience” as well increased levels of “functional connectivity” in the brain amongst participants of the visual art production group. The art-appreciation group fared worse on both.

We looked into it here in Australia too…
Listen to what the experts had to say at the 2018 Sydney ideas conference.

Art and neuroplasticity 

Audio runs 53 mins


Putting it into action

One of the major elements that comes through many of the studies is the positive impact art can have on our Mental Health. There are a number of positives that art can provide to improve your mental health.

1. Creating art relieves stress

Activities like painting, sculpting, drawing, and photography are relaxing and rewarding hobbies that can lower your stress levels and leave you feeling mentally clear and calm. Creating art provides a distraction, giving your brain a break from your usual thoughts.

The average person has 60,000 thoughts per day and 95% of them are exactly the same day in, day out!

When you get totally immersed in a creative endeavour, you may find yourself in what’s known as “the zone” or in a state of “flow.” This meditative-like state focuses your mind and temporarily pushes aside all your worries.

Leonardo da Vinci noticed…

“Painting embraces all the ten functions of the eye; that is to say, darkness, light, body and color, shape and location, distance and closeness, motion and rest.”

Creating art trains you to concentrate on details and pay more attention to your environment. In this way, it acts like meditation.

A popular art trend for stress relief is adult colouring books. This idea was first popularised in France, a country that’s number one in per capita consumption of antidepressants, tranquilisers, and sleeping pills. Some colouring books are created with stress relief in mind and have become an acceptable adult form of artistic expression. Many art therapists are supportive of the movement and would like to see colouring become a gateway to reach those who could benefit from art therapy. So far, this has worked to gently transition veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) into art therapy. See video from PART 1  It is also used as a distractor for those afraid of flying.

2. Art encourages creative thinking

Dr. Lawrence Katz is an internationally recognised pioneer in neuron regeneration research found that mental decline was due mainly to the loss of communication between brain cells, not from the death of brain cells themselves.

Dr. Katz coined the phrase “neurobics” to describe brain exercises that use your senses in new and novel ways, and creating art certainly fits this definition. The most complicated functions humans perform, such as learning a language or playing or listening to music, require whole brain thinking. Art enhances problem-solving skills. Unlike math, there is no one correct answer in art. Art encourages creative thinking and lets you come up with your own unique solutions.

Kogarah Council offers lots of creative options for seniors

3. Art boosts self-esteem and provides a sense of accomplishment

You may have once stuck your kids’ artwork on the refrigerator door to boost their self-esteem. Hanging your latest work of art on the wall can instil in you the same feeling. Creating art increases the “feel good” neurotransmitter dopamine. Dopamine has been called the “motivation molecule.” It boosts drive, focus, and concentration. It enables you to plan ahead and resist impulses so you can achieve your goals. It gives you that “I did it!” lift when you accomplish what you set out to do.

You don’t have to produce fine art. Crafting hobbies of all kinds — knitting, quilting, sewing, drawing, photography, woodworking, gardening, and do-it-yourself home repair — increases dopamine and wards off depression. Every time you engage in a new or complex activity, your brain creates new connections between brain cells. In this way, creating art has been proven to increase psychological and emotional resilience and resistance to stress.

It’s thought that intelligence depends more on the number of brain connections than the size of your brain. Einstein was onto something…


4. Viewing art increases Empathy, tolerance, and feelings of love

A study of over 10,000 students found that a one-hour trip to an art museum changed the way they thought and felt. Students who visited a museum not only showed increased critical thinking skills, they also exhibited greater empathy towards how people lived in the past and expressed greater tolerance towards people different than themselves. 


The  ABC TV series – Everyone’s a Critic is a great example showcasing how art can activate our brains, start a conversation and help us reflect on our own lives. The 9 part series, which visits some of the nation’s art galleries, captures the reactions of ordinary Aussies to art.

Professor Semir Zeki, a neurobiologist at the University College London, discovered that simply the act of viewing art gives pleasure, much like falling in love. Brain scans revealed that looking at works of art trigger a surge of dopamine into the same area of the brain that registers romantic love.

You don’t have to go to a gallery you can look up a picture on google or in a book.

5. Art enhances cognitive abilities and memory, even for people with serious brain disorders.

Creating Art Improves Quality of Life for Dementia Patients

Dementia is mainly thought of as a memory loss problem, but patients also experience symptoms such as agitation, aggression, anxiety, depression, and insomnia. Drug treatment for dementia symptoms is generally not very successful. When dementia patients are encouraged to create visual art, they derive obvious pleasure from it. It also improved their social behaviour and self-esteem, and reduces psychiatric symptoms.

He has seen a 70% success rate in improvement of his patients’ memories. By drawing and painting, patients are increasing connectivity between the right and left hemispheres of the brain and growing new brain cells.



Get his book: 

The Secret for Caregiver Success (Dr. Bresky’s 9 Pt. Brain Tune Up System, Book 1)



6. Art Eases the burden of chronic health conditions

Millions of people deal with chronic health conditions and the stress, anxiety, and depression that accompanies them.
In The Connection Between Art, Healing, and Public Health: A Review of Current Literature,researchers analysed and reported on the findings of over 100 studies done on the effects of art on physical and psychological health.

They found that music and visual arts affected patients in these positive ways:
Art let patients forget about their illness for a while, allowing them to focus on positive life experiences.

– Creating art enabled them to maintain the identity of who they were before they got sick.
– Creative pursuits gave them a sense of achievement.
– Art helped them express their feelings.
– Art reduced stress by lowering levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

Dr. John Graham-Pole is a retired pediatric oncologist who wrote poetry to process some of the grim realities he faced working at a hospital.  He developed informal art workshops to help both patients and staff cope better with whatever was happening to them through writing and painting.

He believes that

“Art is a social determinant of our health. It doesn’t cure a particular disease, but benefits whatever ails you.”



Get his book:

Illness and the Art of Creative Self-Expression: Stories and Exercises from the Arts for Those With Chronic Illness





Art for self improvement

Making art or being creative just might be the cheapest medication you can take. You don’t need a prescription and you can get a fix with simple materials like a piece of paper and a pencil. It doesn’t even need to be displayed.

” The arts are a great way to bring people outside of the routine or the normal or the everyday, and to find the exceptional qualities within themselves.”
Peter Burroughs – Teaching Artist

Here is a beautiful story about how the arts can transform your life! PS. You don’t have to wait to be a senior to start!

VIDEO:  Increasing longevity  Come Alive 3.44mins


What do you do to ‘find your flow?’

In PART 3 of ART, AGEING & KEEPING IT CREATIVE I’ll look at how some of the Master Artist’s didn’t let their ailments and ageing get in the way of creating.

Missed PART 1 of ART AGEING & KEEPING IT CREATIVE? Read it here >


This blog focuses on my art teaching experience. I have been lucky enough to help extend others love for art and art making through my art classes, art events and workshops. They say that those that can’t do, teach. I disagree. Teaching art is a great way to improve your focus and momentum.

Albert Einstein said “If you can’t explain it to a six year old, you don’t understand it yourself.” He was right. Teaching art to others helps you crystallise your concepts and translate your directions. This blog is part of my translation. It will highlight the joys and frustrations I encounter in teaching art to others. I hope it offers insights for why I am so passionate about integrating art and creativity into everyone’s lives. Art Education can teach us all how to see, comprehend and create in new and exciting ways. This blog is my stand for Art Education. Being creative matters. It is the place where fresh ideas and innovations grow. It teaches us to experiment and trust ourselves. Adding more art and creativity into your life will always count, sometimes we just need a little help getting started!


The perfect way to kick start your creativity?
Join me in Fiji  on my annual Art Retreat where you can relax, rejuvenate and create in paradise!

Special thanks to all the amazing students I have had the pleasure to teach along the way. I am a better artist and teacher for having met you!
Creativity Counts is a monthly blog, written and produced by Visual Artist and Arts Educator, Kristine Ballard on 
© Kristine Ballard 2018.