7 science-backed reasons you should make art, even if you're bad at it

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Art is intrinsically linked to humanity.

We've been making it for about as long as we've been called humans, and few would argue against its value as culturally enriching as well as emotionally and often intellectually rewarding. Making art for art's sake is plenty. 

Yet as scientific research has shown, our minds seem built to enjoy and analyze art deeply, and creating it, no matter your skill level, is good for you.

Painting, sculpting, dancing, making music, and all the other artistic pursuits have benefits that go far beyond pure enjoyment or cultural creation — these activities can also strengthen your brain and improve your mood. Here are seven reasons to give yourself time to make art, even if you think you're bad at it.

1. Making art may reduce stress and anxiety.

In one recent study in the journal Art Therapy, researchers found that after just 45 minutes of art-making, levels of the hormone cortisol — which is associated with stress — were reduced in participants' saliva, regardless of their prior art skills. 

Another small study found that spending 30 minutes creating art, especially free-form painting, was associated with reduced anxiety levels in first-year college students preparing for their final exams. Art classes also reduced stress and anxiety in people caring for ailing family members.

While the calming effect of art-making is not universal and larger studies are needed, for many stressed out people, it may be just the ticket. "After about five minutes, I felt less anxious," said one participant in the Art Therapy study. "Doing art allowed me to put things into perspective."

2. Creating visual art improves connections in the brain.

Art's benefits have been observed at a neural level, too.

One 2014 study published in the the journalPLOS ONE found that making visual art can improve connections throughout the brain known as the default mode network.

This system is associated with the brain's state during wakeful rest, like daydreaming, but it's also active when we're focusing on internal thoughts or future plans.

Scientists have previously observed that when people say they are especially "moved" by a piece of art, those feelings are linked to activity in the default mode network. While this research is in the earliest stages, it might suggest that the art people connect with deeply — likely including the art that they create — might be the result of "a certain 'harmony' between the external world and our internal representation of the self," the researchers explain.

And the PLOS ONE study concluded that making art was much more powerful than simply looking at it.

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