Art appreciation can do a lot to deepen our intellectual abilities and improve our quality of life, but learning and making art can actually change our brains for the better. To test this idea, a German research study randomly split 14 men and 14 women into two art classes. Half went to a hands-on art class to learn art techniques and produce their own original artworks, and the other half went to an arts appreciation course where they learned from an art historian how to analyze paintings and take part in art critiques.
After 10 weeks of classes, the researchers tested the individuals and discovered that the group from the hands-on arts class showed “a significant improvement in psychological resilience” and increased levels of “functional connectivity.” The group from the art appreciation class performed worse in both categories.
As the study illustrates, you don’t need an official arts education to reap the cognitive benefits of art. You simply need to dive in and do it. If you’re not already involved in the arts, here are four artistic disciplines to try that can help you in your business and career:
Drawing and painting
Leonardo da Vinci once observed that “Painting embraces all the ten functions of the eye; that is to say, darkness, light, body and color, shape and location, distance and closeness, motion and rest.” Simply put, the act of drawing and painting makes us more observant and pay closer attention to detail. It can also help us improve memory and problem-solving skills, and is also a great stress reliever.
Get started: New York City offers myriad adult art classes for drawing or painting, from beginner levels to advanced. If you want to paint casually without the pressure of an official “class,” try the BYOB paint workshops of places like the Painting Lounge. Interested in group activities? The Art Studio NY offers corporate creativity events that feature art instruction mixed with team building and creative problem solving.
There’s more to improv training than creating a funny comedy sketch. Improv is also great business training; the principles used in improvisation (particularly the famous “yes, and”) can help you to improve communication skills, become more adaptable in high-pressure situations, and lessen the anxiety of public speaking or presenting. Plus you’ll be able to deliver a killer joke on the spot.
Get started: Upright Citizens Brigade and Improvolution offer both intensive training and workshops here in New York for those interested in serious improv theater (and you’ll likely make a lot of great friends along the way). But for those who want to stay professionally focused, The Engaging Educator offers classes such as “Improv for Professionals” and “Improv(e) Your Presentation Skills” in both Manhattan and Brooklyn, as well as corporate program and coaching.
Listening to music at work—provided it’s the right genre of music at the right volume—can help with productivity (especially for repetitive tasks), but learning how to create or play music has even better benefits. You’ll become a better listener, have more discipline (practice makes perfect!), and also collaborate better with others.
Get started: CourseHorse offers a great variety of music classes in NYC for just about every taste, whether it’s piano and classical music or banjo and bluegrass. If you’re looking to get your entire company singing and playing, companies like Song Division offer music-based programs and workshops for corporate team building. Try out their Song Slam when it comes to NYC; your team will work with musicians such as Prince, David Bowie, Billy Joel, and Lady Gaga to compete in a battle-of-the-bands-like showdown.
You don’t have to be working on the next great American novel to be a creative writer; all you have to do is write regularly. Writing, no matter what the form, can help you to become a more effective communicator. You’ll gain a better vocabulary, master the art of storytelling and persuasion, and be able to communicate complex ideas more clearly. Writing regularly also can be meditative and sometimes even therapeutic.
Get started: Whether it’s keeping a personal journal or maintaining your own blog, creative writing is easy to do on your own—the minimum requirement is a pen and paper (or laptop) and the discipline to write regularly. However, if you want to go deeper or enjoy having a community of other writers for feedback, Gotham Writers Workshop offers a large selection of classes as well as community events. Try out their Friday evening “Write-In,” a casual writing event designed to inspire creativity and spontaneity.