What’s the evidence for the benefits of Arts and Health?

A desire to raise awareness of the health benefits of arts and creativity and to encourage creative practices prompted me to start this blog in 2013. My first posts on the topic were Where health and creativity intersect and The healing power of creativity, with later ones on What are the synergies between mindfulness and creativity? and Committing to creativity.

To those of you who have shown an interest in this topic (and you are many!), and especially to those who share a passion for seeing more recognition of creativity and the arts in health, my heartfelt thanks.

Artwork by Frank Pinder

Life for me did what it does, and got in the way of regular blogging. While juggling family and work commitments, my writing priority has been the (seemingly endless and time-draining) task of revising my most recent novel manuscript, “The Taste of Red Dust”, which very excitingly has led to me being awarded a place on Fremantle Press’ Four Centres Emerging Writers Program 2019-2020.

However, I have stayed active in the Arts and Health space in my work roles and on social media, keeping an eye on the Arts and Health literature, aided by some dedicated colleagues–special thanks to Deborah Pearson (Chair, WA Arts and Health Consortium & Group Coordinator Arts and Health, St John of God Health Care) and Dr Christina Davies, Research Fellow, School of Allied Health, University of Western Australia (UWA).

The good news? Some excellent reports have been released while I’ve been neglecting my blog, and the Arts and Health evidence and applications continue to grow!

Key Arts and Health Reports 2017–2019

Transformative: Impacts of Culture and Creativity (November 2019) from the ‘Australian Academy of the Humanities’:

“The evidence is clear: when people engage in cultural or creative activities, they generally have better educational outcomes, are less lonely, are healthier both physically and mentally, and enjoy a happier and healthier life in old age.”

The proven impacts of cultural and creative activities are summarised in response to the challenges facing Australia under the domains of Society and place, Economy, Innovation, Health and wellbeing, Education and learning, International engagement and Culture.

Under Health and wellbeing, the research is examined under the following statements:

    • Better health outcomes are clearly linked to engagement with, and access to, creative and cultural activities.
    • Arts and culture play a critical role in the treatment of illness and injuries.
    • Arts and culture help with recovery and rehabilitation following an illness or injury.
    • Arts and culture help the elderly and people with ongoing illness or injury to live healthier lives.

How powerful are the following questions the report asks on page 56?

“How could Australia be transformed if we…

      • Promoted the health benefits of arts and cultural activities to the general public in a similar vein to the promotions of physical activity (such as ‘Find 30 [minutes of exercise] every day’), and developed new and innovative health programs that incorporate arts and culture in government run health care facilities?

      • Invested in effective creative programs for older Australians, with the understanding that arts and culture has been shown to raise quality of life for the elderly and may play a critical role in preventing dementia?”

Arguing that there is insufficient recognition of the potential benefits of the arts, with no mapping against policy portfolios or strategic investment, options to ensure a strategic and coordinated approach are presented.

Quill and Inkpot by Frank Pinder

What is the evidence on the role of the arts in improving health and well-being? A scoping review (2019)

This impressive Health Evidence Network synthesis report from the WHO was authored by Daisy Fancourt and Saoirse Finn.

Notably, “over 900 publications were included in this report, of which there were over 200 reviews, systematic reviews, meta-analyses and meta-syntheses covering over3000 studies, and over 700 further individual studies.”

The conclusion?

“This report found evidence from a wide variety of disciplinary approaches and methodologies for the potential value of the arts in contributing to core determinants of health; playing a critical role in health promotion; helping to prevent the onset of mental illness and age-related physical decline; supporting the treatment or management of mental illness, non-communicable diseases and neurological disorders; and assisting in acute and end-of-life care.”

The report contains an excellent summary of interventions that may be useful to specific cohorts, conditions and/or speciality areas. Particularly pertinent for health services given the funding environment: A third theme was that the evidence base did not just show efficacy of arts interventions but also showed economic benefits, with some arts interventions showing equivalent or greater cost-effectiveness to possible health interventions.” (3.2 page 53).

Interesting is the statement that “much of the prevention research has focused on primary or secondary prevention. There is very limited research considering specifically tertiary prevention, such as whether the arts could help in reducing the risk of comorbidities in individuals with either mental or physical illness.” (3.2.1 page 53). As comorbidities are so common in chronic conditions, it would be great to see this gap studied further.

The policy considerations derived from the evidence map a tangible way forward. (see page viii-ix or 3.3 page 55-56)

This BMJ opinion piece on The role of the arts within health (Nov 11, 2019) also provides an excellent overview of where this study sits in the research landscape.

Paint and Brushes by Frank Pinder

The All Party Parliamentary Group Inquiry (UK) Creative Health: The Arts for Health and Wellbeing Report (July 2017)

The forward (page 4) provides a succinct overview:

“It is time to recognise the powerful contribution the arts can make to health and wellbeing. There are now many examples and much evidence of the beneficial impact they can have. We have three key messages in this report:

      • The arts can help keep us well, aid our recovery and support longer lives better lived.

      • The arts can help meet major challenges facing health and social care: ageing, long-term conditions, loneliness and mental health.

      • The arts can help save money in the health service and social care.”

Again the recommendations plot some next steps and although mostly UK-based, could be modified to suit an Australian or other context.

Special mention to the fabulous drawings on the website by artist, David Shrigley – my favourite image (by a close margin) is THE ARTS ARE LIKE GLUE.

Musical Instruments by Frank Pinder

What else?

Rather than covering every individual report that might be helpful, I’ve focused on a few recent releases that have significantly contributed to the literature in this space.

Have I missed something important? If there are others worth looking at, please share the details in the comments and we can all benefit!

Or is there something you’d like to highlight from these reports or share from your own experience?

Brain by Frank Pinder

Where to from here?

Fostering change takes time and can feel daunting. This is an important area that needs more attention, but admittedly there are many other demands and priorities in front of our governments and health services.

Is there one thing you can do to help?

Not all of these will be relevant for everyone, but some ideas are:

  • Could you share this post to raise awareness of the importance of Arts and Health?
  • Can you add your voice to the topic locally or online?
  • Where might the Arts and Health might be relevant in your circles? Can you prompt a discussion to get others thinking?
  • Could you suggest that future health-related conferences or meetings include an Arts and Health component? (There’s usually a spot on the evaluations to suggest future topics … or if you are contributing to developing the program, even better!)
  • Could you encourage those who might benefit to get involved in an Arts and Health program?
  • Are there grant or research opportunities that could help you and your colleagues get more involved in building the evidence and/or what’s available?
  • Or do you have other suggestions? Please feel free to share your ideas in the comments.

Little actions that we take together can build momentum.

With best wishes for your creative health and that of our community.


P.S. If you’d like to be sure to catch my next post, please sign up to follow by email (your email address will be kept private and will not be spammed). You can also follow me on Twitter (@JacquieGS) and Facebook.


© 2020 Jacquie Garton-Smith; Art © Frank Pinder (with my thanks for producing these and permission to use)

Learning from the creative inspiration around us

The remarkable breadth and richness of creative influences in the world around us continually amaze me, be it the pleasure (or the pain) derived from a single sensory experience, hearing other peoples’ stories, appreciating the work of other creatives or receiving creative ideas or advice from others, or many other possibilities.

Consequently, the theme for my blog posts for this year will revolve around what we can learn from the world around us and the characters within it, what inspires or heightens our creativity and how we can harness these influences.

IMG_1106 - small (800x600)

Inspiration from an early morning walk © 2015 Jacquie Garton-Smith

When I start to think about by the magnitude of trying to take on board everything around me, I nearly hyperventilate, overwhelmed by possibility. But appreciation of the stimuli around us is not about generating creative overload! It is about honing our creative receptivity to help us make the most of the wonderful opportunities that surround us.

I have written before about the link between mindfulness and creativity. Experiencing the world mindfully and observing how it influences us is extraordinarily valuable. How can we write it, draw it, paint it, photograph it, sing it, dance it or in other way create it, if we live in a vacuum? While we creatives can be reclusive, experiencing life and translating that, directly or indirectly, to a creative form is valuable fuel for the creative fire.

And for many of us, creativity is intricately interwoven with wellness. I have summarised the evidence on the intersection between health and creativity a couple of years ago and have written about my personal experience of the healing power of creativity. I am especially excited to see increasing attention and research in this area. For example, Dr Christina Davies and her team at the University of Western Australia have recently shown that just two hours a week of arts engagement enhances mental wellness . I have no doubt that further research will continue to demonstrate health benefits from creativity for both mental and physical health.

The time I devote to my creativity takes time away from doctoring, mothering, family and friends, and at times, I do feel guilty about that. But I am convinced that I am a healthier, happier and more balanced person, doctor, mother, wife, relative and friend for allowing myself to also be my creative self. If I am not, who would know? I am who I am.

If you’d like to join me as I explore these issues further this year, please sign up to follow by email (your email address will be kept private and will not be spammed). You can also follow me on Twitter (@JacquieGS) and Facebook.

In the meantime, I’d love you to think about and, if you feel so inclined, to share in the comments:

  • What do you think are your most powerful creative influences and how do you learn from them?
  • Are there creative inputs you may be overlooking and could be harnessing better?

Thanks for reading this post! Some of my other posts include:

With best wishes for your creative health and that of our community.



© 2016 Jacquie Garton-Smith

The healing power of creativity

The research demonstrating the health benefits of being creative was touched upon in my last post. We could continue to talk science but for me it is very personal story.

During the mid to late 1990s, my family experienced the losses of a number of loved ones mostly due to cancer. I was lucky in lots of ways. I have a loving husband and family. I had a few years of my career as a doctor under my belt, I worked with people who were supportive and I had worked previously with a palliative care team. I was well-armed to process information about what was happening and to help my family. It did get me to wondering how people manage to navigate the health system without a health professional background but perhaps that’s a topic for another time.


Photo by Mia Holton

I ran between work, which I still found rewarding, and my role as a caring relative, always wishing I had found more time to spend with my loved one before they got sick. As each illness took its course, both difficult and precious times were shared, everybody made a significant contribution and we were brought closer as a family.

Life goes on. You pull yourself together and do the needful. Days and then weeks and months pass in a blur. But grieving is painful and I couldn’t stay numb forever. In the dark days that followed one of our losses, a dear and wise friend Dionne Lew suggested that I write and told me about “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron. I was surprised that she even thought of me as a writer as I had focused so completely on my career that I had not written fiction since high school. In fact, I had read few novels since school as all my reading time was spent on medical journals.

I took her advice and wrote, at first tentatively, and gradually found that I got my right arm and my life back. Allowing myself to write let me process things differently, even when I was writing fiction. I strongly believe that when you write, you won’t go anywhere that you aren’t ready to go. Writing helped me to move on. I am also fascinated by how reading fiction, which is something I now do regularly, can help us to access our emotions, learn and better understand ourselves in a way that direct examination of our own lives might not allow. And the benefits don’t end with the written word. I also found that I enjoy painting and have found gardening to be another creative outlet.

Interestingly over the last decade I have noticed that when I don’t find the time for creative writing, I suffer terrifying nightmares. Not the kind of things I want to share or would ever write about even in fiction. It is like the creative urge is coiled up somewhere in my subconscious and needs to be given an opportunity to come out. I trudge back to my computer, start typing and they stop.

How has being creative helped you?

What are the consequences for you if you are not creative?

How you might make a change that promotes creativity and health?

I’d love to hear from you if you’d like to share your thoughts on creativity and health.

With best wishes for your creative health and that of our community.


P.S. If you’d like to be sure to catch my next post, please sign up to follow by email. You can also follow me on  Twitter (@JacquieGS) and Facebook.


© 2013 Jacquie Garton-Smith  (Photo by Mia Holton)

Where health and creativity intersect

Being a doctor and a writer, it’s probably no surprise that I am interested in how two of my passions overlap.

There are clear links between creativity and wellness:
• The benefits of appreciating the creativity of others, how it makes us feel and what we can learn from it – art, music, photography, film and literature for example.
• Fulfilling your own need to be creative – be it one of the more traditional creative pursuits, or cooking a new dish, planting a garden bed or writing a Facebook post or tweet.
• The role of creative activities contributing to a range of benefits including to aid in learning and sharing of ideas, to reduce isolation, to foster companionship, to promote improved health and well-being, and even to reduce medication use and assist healing.


Photo by Mia Holton

There are comprehensive reviews of the literature which demonstrate the evidence, particularly those by:
• Dr Rosalia Lelchuk Staricoff (Arts in health: a review of the medical literature, Arts Council England, 2004);
• Heather L. Stuckey and Jeremy Nobel (The Connection Between Art, Healing, and Public Health: A Review of Current Literature. Am J Public Health.2010 February;100(2): 254–263.);
• Dr Patricia Fenner, Dr Bruce Rumbold, Dr Jean Rumbold et al (Is there compelling evidence for using the arts in health care? 19/6/2012) and
• Christine Putland (ARTS AND HEALTH – A GUIDE TO THE EVIDENCE Background document prepared for the Arts and Health Foundation Australia, September 2012).

So the science is there with more research underway.

Strangely enough the “mad artist” seems just as common a stereotype as the “mad scientist”. Perhaps this is more about the eccentricity that others perceive when someone follows their calling to the exclusion of other pursuits. Or maybe we are all a little mad?

Ironically some of the most creative people I have met have been the best adjusted and are often multi-talented.

The things that will benefit us the most are often the ones we most actively resist. If you think you are not creative, are you the one suppressing your creativity the most?

Some will struggle to get started, to even come up with a creative pursuit they would like to try. Just try. If at first you feel that you can’t, expose your creative self to the creativity of others. For example, you could check out an art gallery, the theatre or a concert or explore poetry, art or music online. If you have kids, do something crafty together. It’s okay to play with different ideas – have some fun. If you feel blocked, try something else.

Many of us will have to grapple with our internal critic, whether just starting out or well along the creative path. Doubt is normal. Tell yourself it doesn’t matter what the quality is. If you don’t try you will have nothing to show. Start something and see how it evolves over time.

We all know to be healthy, we need to exercise and eat well. But do we understand the role that creativity plays?

Being creative is healthy and it is healthy to be creative. Encourage creativity in ourselves and in others; from the cradle to grave, in our buildings and in open spaces, in students and in professionals.

It’s almost like a marriage vow: from this day forward, for better and for worse, for richer and for poorer, in sickness and in health…

Does creativity matter to you?

What is your creative vow?

How you might make a change that promotes health and creativity ?

I’d love to hear from you if you’d like to share your thoughts on creativity and health.

With best wishes for your creative health and that of our community.


P.S. If you’d like to be sure to catch my next post, please sign up to follow by email. You can also follow me on  Twitter (@JacquieGS) and Facebook .

© 2013 Jacquie Garton-Smith  (Photo by Mia Holton)