Four Ways Making Art Helps You Succeed—No Matter Your Career

In a article that he recently wrote for Inc.com, Samuel Bacharach, a well-known professor at Cornell University, explained why he makes a point to take the entrepreneurial students in his leadership seminar to New York’s Museum of Modern Art.

“The most impactful experience for me is taking high-potential leaders and entrepreneurs to the MoMa. They are expecting an irrelevant and somewhat eccentric two hours of browsing through art,” Bacharach says, noting that some are familiar with the bigger names like Pollack, but are “taken aback” by pieces like Oldenburg's Floor Cone, and other less-known pieces. “They all seem to question what we’re doing here, until I ask them to figure out how this art got to the MoMA” he says, adding that it’s in that moment when “the conversation turns to innovation, entrepreneurship, and how to push ideas through complex systems.”

While Bacharach’s lesson in leadership might seem unorthodox, there’s actually science behind what, and how, he’s teaching his students. Researchers suggest that being exposed to art can help increase memory, reduce stress and produce a myriad of other benefits for anyone, anywhere. It turns out though, that if you really want to up the ante, you have to be the one making art yourself. Creating like an artist helps you think like an artist, which in turn, science says, helps you to be more innovative, entrepreneurial, and more creative in your wider life. Even if your everyday gig isn’t a creative one, making art in your off-time will help you be more successful at work - and beyond.

 Making art can make you stronger and more successful at your job ( image source )

Making art can make you stronger and more successful at your job (image source)

1. Making Art Reduces Stress

Everyone feels stress—sometimes so much that it’s difficult to concentrate at work. In a 2014 report, Bensinger, DuPont & Associates found that stress affects the performance of almost half of all employees in the workplace, and costs “American businesses up to $300 billion annually.” According to a study in Art Therapy, though, if those employees made art more regularly, they might be better at doing their jobs.

In the 2016 study, researchers measured how art reduces stress by asking 39 adults, aged 18 to 59, to create whatever they liked with markers, paper, clay, and collage materials. When they tested cortisol levels before and after the exercise, the researchers found that approximately 75% of participants showed lower levels of cortisol after making art. Just 45 minutes of creativity had significantly reduced participants’ stress, no matter how much experience they had with (or talent for) making art.

 This subject might be stressed, but the artist that painted him isn’t ( image source )

This subject might be stressed, but the artist that painted him isn’t (image source)

The takeaway? Take time to practice art (any art at any level!) and you’ll be better prepared for a productive workweek, no matter what you have to juggle.

2. Making Art Unlocks Your Brain

Despite the common misconception that people are either right-brained creative types or left-brained logicians, a 2017 Harvard Health article suggests that in fact, “there has been little or no evidence supporting a resident in one area of the brain.” Everyone has access to the creative or rational sides of their brain, which means that anyone can reap the benefits of tapping into an area that they might have ignored.

One way to unlock the right side of your brain is to practice art. A study recently reported in The American Association for the Advancement of Science used fMRI scans to capture what happens in the brain when people who have been blind since birth begin to draw. After spending just week learning to draw, the visual centers of participants’ brain scans went from the typical, total darkness to brightly activated, proving that the brain is capable of rapid neuroplasticity and that art can play an important role in helping to unlock new ways of thinking.

 Go on, explore different sides of your brain ( image source )

Go on, explore different sides of your brain (image source)

The lesson? If you want to unlock inactive parts of your brain, generate new ideas or learn new skills, making art can help move you in the right direction.

3. Making Art Makes You Healthier

According to an article published by the Harvard Women’s Health Watch, “creative activities can...aid communication and help to arrest cognitive decline.” That is to say, art helps you stay sharp in two areas that are central to most people’s work. The big caveat? You have to create art, not just admire it. “Recent research suggests that to stave off cognitive decline, doing creative activities may be more effective that merely appreciating creative works” the study says.

The good news is that you can still reap the benefits of making art no matter form or medium your art takes. A 2007 neurological study found that “music, drawing, meditation, reading, arts and crafts, and home repairs” can all enhance a person’s health and overall well-being by stimulating the neurological system in important, beneficial ways.

 It doesn’t matter what kind of art you make, what matters is that you make it ( image source )

It doesn’t matter what kind of art you make, what matters is that you make it (image source)

The bottom line? Even if you aren’t a fine artist or want to play the piano instead, making art will help stimulate health and wellness benefits that boost your brain and make for a stronger job performance over the long run.

4. Making Art Helps Your Memory

Who wouldn’t do better at their job if they could only remember a little bit more everyday? It turns out that doodling at work and at home might be the secret to success. In a study published in Applied Cognitive Psychology, researchers found that found that doodling kept people focused, attentive, and likely to increase their memory skills by as much as 29%.

 Doodling is “egg-celent” for strengthening your memory ( image source )

Doodling is “egg-celent” for strengthening your memory (image source)

What does this mean for you? Making art doesn’t have to be a formal process in order to help you succeed. Doodle during meetings and you’ll be likelier to listen better -- and remember more.  

As any creative person can tell you, art is about so much more than just having fun or expressing yourself. It can also benefit you in unexpected ways, sometimes well outside the creative realm. No matter who you are, where you work, or what art you like to create, science agrees: start a habit of making art today, and you’re sure to find more success—now and into the future.


Want to start a creative habit that will help you succeed? Check out Skillshare’s creativity classes for inspiration, tools and tips to get you started.