How making art can get you out of a funk

In 2008, American researchers at Boston College published a study in Motivation and Emotion, exploring whether creating visual art can help repair mood in the short term.

The researchers randomly assigned 75 participants into one of 3 groups: venting, positive emotion, and control. All participants watched a 3.5-minute clip of a concentration camp scene in the World War II film Band of Brothers.

Following the film, the venting group were told to draw an image expressing how they felt related to the film. The positive emotion group were told to draw an image depicting happiness. The control group received a sheet with symbols and followed instructions on the sheet. Mood was measured prior to and following the exercises.

Researchers discovered that while drawing didn’t “make mood any calmer or any more intense”, it seemed to repair negative mood:

At least in the short-term, art-making is most effective as a means of repairing negative mood valence when we create content associated with positive emotion. Creating positively-valenced images in the context of a present, unpleasant reality may allow the artist to escape from the here and now into a more pleasant imagined situation.

In other words, art for art’s sake may not be enough to boost mood. If we want to use art to get out of a funk, we need to focus on creating something positive.