How Art Can Fuel Inspiration and Improve Mental Health


With Art Basel, one of the world’s largest art festivals, kicking off right in our backyard, it’s a great time to take advantage of art as a therapeutic tool. For most of us, art is an enjoyable way to pass the time, or a good excuse for a more inspired night out, but it does a lot more for us than we usually notice.

Research has shown that when you see a piece of art you connect with, the neural pathways in your brain light up in a similar pattern to how artists’ neural pathways light up during the creative process. The American Association for the Advancement of Science refers to this as part of a more complicated process called Embodied Cognition, which also involves a more visceral understanding of another person’s intent behind their artistic process. This could indicate you could leave a great gallery or show with more creative inspiration. Inspiration can be the motivation you need to get through a challenging time at work, start a new workout routine, or start a creative process of your own.

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Engaging in art projects also provide a sense of expression that sometimes feels belabored when you attempt to express something similar in words. Even for the most verbose individuals, some emotions are better expressed via physical, artistic, or musical expression. Artistic expression can provide a release for painful emotions, or by another token, further expression of joy which can compound the uplifting chemicals in your brain. If this type of expression is received and reflected by friends or audience members, a person may feel more understood and accepted for that emotional expression which boosts self-esteem and encourages you to continue the healthy expression of emotions. Rewards for behaviors also reinforce neural pathways and encourage similar behavior in the future.

Art Mental Health

There are abundant types of events you can attend in Miami this week to test out these theories, so pick one that suits your mood. If you are in the mood for something quiet or contemplative, pick a smaller gallery with one or two artists you’ve been wanting to see or an intimate talk with limited seating. If you are craving connection, pick something interactive like a live muralist, performance artist, or gallery opening.

Your artful healing does not have to stop when Art Basel weekends, either. Creating art regularly has been shown to improve memory centers in Alzheimer’s patients and those with other cognitive deficits, so it is likely that you may see functional improvement with a regular art activity. Improved functioning can also mean that you are less overwhelmed by your daily tasks which can lessen stress. Artistic projects also allow a healthy distraction from negative thoughts and feelings or can be a replacement for negative habits you are trying to quit like drinking or smoking.

Right here in Miami, you have year-round access to the Perez Art Museum, and the Museum of Art and Design, as well as multiple galleries in Wynwood and their monthly Second Saturday Art Walks. There are also many art classes for adults at some of the following links. If you are more of a homebody, you can also catch Bob Ross on Amazon Prime for some fun painting tutorials or start with some creative DIY projects like homemade crafts for upcoming heartfelt holiday gifts.

Sarah Russ, LCSW is a mental health professional in Miami focused on practical, actionable therapeutic strategies for mental well-being in a world of overstimulation and misconceptions about what constitutes true self-care. Sarah received her Master of Social Work from NYU and has been working in mental health for seven years. She specializes in healthy coping strategies and crisis management for those with chronic illnesses, substance use, and anxiety. You can follow her @mentalhealthformillenials or schedule a session with her at Arvon & Associates in Aventura, Doral, or Virtually by calling 305-936-8000.

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