Arts for Health: creativity & coronavirus

14th May 2020

Author: Paul Crawford, Professor of Health Humanities, Institution: University of Nottingham

As Covid-19 drives people into their homes in enforced isolation and social distancing, alone or with family or friends, creativity has flourished in new and surprising ways. People have been singing or playing musical instruments from their windows or balconies, dancing in the middle of streets or in mass, online disco events, generously sharing short films, photographs and other artwork through social media. They have been turning to diverse other creative outlets from writing and reading to joining virtual choirs and improvised theatrical performance.

As creative as Covid-19 has been in its contagion, so have people around the world fought back through recognising and demonstrating the value of individual and shared creative life. Those cut off from society have been self-comforting through the arts during long periods of isolation that bring to mind Robinson Crusoe, cabin fever and going stir crazy (the popular notion of mental affliction for those who are imprisoned). Families have revisited home learning and risen to the challenge of how to occupy children in limited spaces through creative play and activities. Even the Queen in her speech to people in the UK and Commonwealth on 5th April gave special notice to the painting of rainbows by children as a sign of hope.

Creative practices counter social isolation and provide opportunities for exploring our thoughts and emotions, to find purpose and to build positive identities. Over the last 15 years, there has been increasing body of research and policy supporting this view and offering new resources for improving people’s physical and mental health. There are too many creative activities to list them all but substantial evidence underpins their value. When people pick up a good book, dance to a favourite song, sing in the shower, watch an uplifting film or simply doodle away, they are doing their health the world of good. We may do such creative things on our own or share our activities with others.

In effect, creative arts help advance resilient individuals and communities, enhancing social connectedness or ‘mutual recovery’ (Crawford et al, 2018). Just a few publications suffice to mark the seriousness of arts as a public health intervention (See APPG, 2017; Arts Council, 2010; BOP Consulting, 2017; Crawford, 2015; Crawford et al, 2020; Department for Culture, Media and Sport, 2016; Fancourt & Finn, 2019; Fujiwara & MacKerron, 2015; Royal Society of Arts and Arts Council England, 2013).

In the Arts for Health series, we bring together leading researchers to write individual volumes on topics including reading, film, singing, music, dancing, painting, storytelling, theatre and drawing. Each book will provide: an overview of the importance of the art form or creative activity; the current evidence for this benefiting health and well-being, including mental health; cases of how such activity has helped people before and what those who read the book can do to get involved and develop new ways of looking after themselves.

Creative practices in the arts and humanities offer a fantastic, non-medical, but medically relevant way, to improve the health and wellbeing of individuals, families and communities. Intuitively, we know just how important creative activities are in maintaining or recovering our best possible lives.

As we all face the current threat of Covid-19, we can rest assured that it will not destroy our music, books or films. It will not stop us writing, reading or making art. It will not prevent our bodies from rising into song, dance and other expressive art. It will not turn the lights out on our drawing, painting and photography. True, we may have to wait a while until with can visit our favourite galleries, museums and theatres again. Yet these creative institutions are still there waiting for us to emerge from lockdown.

Learn more about the Arts for Health series