In a recent pilot study, researchers at Drexel University explored the effects of making art on participants' cortisol levels. Cortisol is one of the hormones in our bodies most commonly used as a biomarker for stress. The researchers found that after 45 minutes of free creative self-expressive art-making, a statistically significant lowering of cortisol levels could be detected in participants' saliva.
Participants also provided written accounts of the experience, indicating that they found the art-making session to be relaxing, enjoyable, helpful for learning about new aspects of themselves, and freeing from constraints. Some commented how they noticed an evolving process of initial struggle to later resolution as they worked, or a feeling of flow: of losing themselves in the work. They also reflected that the session evoked a desire to make art in the future.
The researchers also explored secondary hypotheses, including that there might be a relationship between being an experienced artist, and levels of cortisol reduction; and also that the choice of material might make a difference. However, no significant correlations were found in this study to support these hunches. It appears you don't need to have much prior experience making art to feel the benefits; and nor does it matter what kind of art you're making.
In an interview, researcher Girija Kaimal commented on the findings: “It was surprising and it also wasn’t. It wasn’t surprising because that’s the core idea in art therapy: everyone is creative and can be expressive in the visual arts when working in a supportive setting. That said, I did expect that perhaps the effects would be stronger for those with prior experience.”
Access the research report here.