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Artful Living: Examining the Relationship between Artistic Practice and Subjective Wellbeing Across Three National Surveys

April 25, 201825 April 2018

Social benefits of culture

The Curb Center for Art, Enterprise & Public Policy at Vanderbilt University


Stephen Tepper

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This report is intended as “an initial exploration of the thesis that the arts are essential to a high quality of life”, based on three American datasets (surveys of adult consumers’ attitudes, university students, and arts program graduates). The researchers “focused explicitly on ‘artistic practice’ – making art – as opposed to attending arts events”. For the most part, the datasets relate to amateur rather than professional arts practice, including “fine arts, video, music, theater, dance, crafts, gardening, artful cooking, creative writing, designing clothes and composing music”.

The report indicates that there is “strong support that artistic practice is associated with higher levels of life satisfaction, a more positive self image, less anxiety about change, a more tolerant and open approach to diverse others, and, in some cases, less focus on materialistic values and the acquisition of goods”.

The dataset of arts program graduates allowed the researchers to pinpoint professional artists. The researchers found “that arts graduates who are professional artists report much higher life satisfaction than arts graduates who stopped being professional artists or who were never professional artists”. Regarding arts program graduates who are not professional artists, the researchers found that “former arts students are happier when they continue to do their artistic work outside of their regular jobs, but only when they feel they have adequate time to do that work at the desired level”.

Other key findings in the report include:

  • Increased frequency of participation appears to strengthen the “relationship between artistic practice and wellbeing”.
  • “Historically disadvantaged social groups (non-whites and women) who participate in the arts see even greater increases in wellbeing compared to whites and men respectively”.
  • “Not all forms of artistic practice are equally related to wellbeing. We find that making fine arts and crafts are consistently related to wellbeing, music is related to wellbeing for some groups and not others, and participating in theater seems unrelated to wellbeing in our data.”

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