No. 20 | How Does Health Affect Creativity?

art by @ksaison, model @theyoginist

art by @ksaison, model @theyoginist

I hear a lot about how being creative can improve our health. It elevates our mood, helps to express trapped emotions, improves dexterity, heightens focus, and relaxes tension. I’ve been reading a book called The Art Therapy Sourcebook by Cathy Malchiodi and she explains how the emerging field art therapy was designed to use artistic creativity as tool to improve health. But as I’ve been reading through her book, I’ve noticed that the health benefits of creativity are reciprocal. As creativity impacts our health, our health begins to impact our creativity. It made me want to take a deep dive and unpack the other side of this cycle. How does our health— physical, mental, spiritual . . . — affect our creativity?

There are so many layers to this question. What kind of health are we talking about? Mental? Physical? Does an improvement in health lead to increased creativity? To get a better understanding of how health affects creativity, I researched several famous creatives and looked into how their creativity was affected by their physical and mental health. After my deep dive, I came to the following conclusions:

Repetitive physical activity engages the creative side of our brains.

Tchaikovsky took long walks to compose his music. Ernest Hemingway hunted, adventured, and engaged in healthy physical activity to drum up inspiration for his novels. Leonardo Da Vinci regularly engaged in aerobic activity as a mind-body practice. Many prolific creatives practiced some sort of physical rituals that helped open up their imaginations, improve problem solving skills, and increase creativity.

Physical health issues don’t affect creativity as much as mental health issues do.

Frida Kahlo painted her famous self portraits as she lay in bed with painful spinal injuries. She was bed ridden for years and still continued to paint some of the most innovative and striking images of her time. Beethoven became deaf towards the end of his life and had to physically feel the vibrations of his piano in order to “hear” what his music would sound like. Even though he was deaf, he managed to compose several of his greatest works, including the Ninth Symphony. Much like many other famous creatives, Kahlo and Beethoven didn’t let physical health affect their creative productivity. However, we see time and time again how much mental health issues affect creativity. Van Gogh had severe mental issues and that were highly reflected in his work. Mozart composed carefree music to escaped his trauma and mental health problems. Amy Winehouse, Andy Warhol, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Robin Williams . . . all of these artists experienced mental issues that affected how they engaged in creativity. Mental health shows through creative work and deeply impacts how and what we create.

health impacts creativity in the same ways creativity impacts health.

Engaging in creative pursuits elevates our mood, helps to express trapped emotions, improves dexterity, heightens focus, and relaxes tension. These health benefits of creativity in turn impact how creative we are. When our mood is elevated, it motivates us to create more. As we create more, our mood continues to be elevated. Same goes for the other benefits; when our focus is heightened, we’re able to work on a creative project for longer. When we’re focusing on a project for longer, our minds are being trained to focus even longer. Of course there are other factors involved but this relationship between health and creativity is definitely cyclical.

I’m sure there are other ways health affects our creativity. This blog barely scratches the surface. But the important thing to remember as a creative is to be mindful of our health. Are we taking care of ourselves? Do we have creative block because our health is getting in the way? Is there a mental issue we need to work through that can be expressed through creativity? As I explored the health habits of these famous creatives, I noticed the ones who placed emphasis on health tended to have longer careers and were able to produce more creative works for a longer period of time. Fellow creatives, if we want to continue to nurture our creativity, we have to nurture our health as well.

Until next time,

CreativityK Saison