There’s a new study out of Italy, the birthplace of the Renaissance and a country steeped in art history. Researchers set out to explore if admiring art can have measurable health benefits. They took saliva samples from 100 volunteers to test cortisol levels before and after participants viewed an expansive fresco on the ceiling of a famous basilica. After viewing the artwork for a couple of hours, researchers found that cortisol levels, which often increase in response to stress, had drastically dropped in participants.

This single study probably cannot prove a causal relationship as the drop in cortisol levels may have been the result of natural fluctuations that occur throughout the day (cortisol peaks in the morning and falls throughout the day) or the fact that study volunteers climbed 240 steps to the top of the church to view the masterpiece (exercise reduces cortisol). However, anyone who has visited an art museum has likely experienced the effect art can have. A serene scene depicted in an impressionist painting can have a calming effect, while a provocative painting can cause distress. This is important to keep in mind as you create a space for your workforce. The artwork you choose may be capable of ushering a positive physical response and should be consistent with the mood you want to elicit in employees.

Actually engaging in the artistic process also has many psychological and physiological benefits. The science thus far supports that active participation has more powerful effects than simply viewing artwork. Some health experts believe the creative process is as important a wellness practice as eating a balanced diet, exercising regularly and practicing mindfulness through meditation or other thoughtful techniques. Creative expression can have a positive impact on one’s overall health and wellbeing. It can decrease stress and depression while improving immune function; it also promotes the healing process.

A recent study out of the Mayo Clinic found engaging in art activities may delay cognitive decline and have a protective effect on neurons. Artistic expression can involve music, writing, painting, sculpting, dancing and many other forms. As we’ve mentioned in a past post, novel experiences like this can boost brainpower. The key to reaping the benefits stated above is engaging in the act of creation, rather than simply painting by numbers.

Here are a few ideas to spark art appreciation and the creative process in your workplace:

  • Choose artwork for the office that elicits a positive mood. Better yet, let employees be part of the selection process. If you’re buying a piece to hang where the IT department sits, let them decide since they’ll be looking at it every day. Narrow down the options and have team members vote for their favorite.
  • Be mindful of the colors you choose for your office; blues, greens and cooler tones are soothing while warm, brighter tones have an energizing effect.
  • Spearhead a campaign that informs your employees of the benefits of artistic expression and promote it as an important aspect of professional development. Research has found extracurricular creative activity can lead to relaxation and enhance job performance. Take the lead on this by hosting on-site events such as a painting workshops.
  • Visit an art museum as a team or buy your employees admission tickets to go on their own time. According to one study, museums foster an aesthetic experience. This suggests the context in which a person explores art matters. So skip the screensavers and savor the real deal instead.
  • Keep pads of paper and colorful pens around the office so employees can freewrite or doodle to gain inspiration.
  • Create collages. Collages can foster artistic expression and help visualize goals. Host a meeting where employees can create a collage that illustrates their individual professional goals. You can also have your team design a compilation that illustrates its collective goals. Hang it in the team’s workspace for daily inspiration.

Get creative in finding ways to incorporate artistic expression in your workplace.