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Positive Art: Artistic Expression and Appreciation as an Exemplary Vehicle for Flourishing



The relevance of the arts to wellbeing has been recognised within clinical fields, as reflected in therapeutic forms based on various art modalities, from music to drama therapy. However, there has hitherto been little appreciation in fields such as positive psychology of the broader potential of the arts as a vehicle for flourishing and fulfilment. As such, this paper proposes the creation of ‘positive art’ as a field encompassing theory and research concerning the wellbeing value of art. To show the scope and possibilities of this proposed field, the paper provides an indicative summary of literature pertaining to four major art forms: visual art, music, literature and drama. Moreover, the paper identifies five main positive outcomes that are consistently found in the literature across all these forms: sense-making, enriching experience, aesthetic appreciation, entertainment, and bonding. The paper aims to encourage a greater focus on the arts in fields like positive psychology, enabling science to more fully understand and appreciate the positive power of the arts.
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Positive art:
Artistic expression and appreciation as an exemplary vehicle for flourishing
Dr. Tim Lomas, University of East London, School of Psychology,
Note: This article may not exactly replicate the final published version. It is not the copy of record.
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The relevance of the arts to wellbeing has been recognised within clinical fields, as reflected
in therapeutic forms based on various art modalities, from music to drama therapy. However,
there has hitherto been little appreciation in fields such as positive psychology of the broader
potential of the arts as a vehicle for flourishing and fulfilment. As such, this paper proposes
the creation of ‘positive art’ as a field encompassing theory and research concerning the
wellbeing value of art. To show the scope and possibilities of this proposed field, the paper
provides an indicative summary of literature pertaining to four major art forms: visual art,
music, literature and drama. Moreover, the paper identifies five main positive outcomes that
are consistently found in the literature across all these forms: sense-making, enriching
experience, aesthetic appreciation, entertainment, and bonding. The paper aims to encourage
a greater focus on the arts in fields like positive psychology, enabling science to more fully
understand and appreciate the positive power of the arts.
Keywords: art; drama; literature; music; wellbeing; flourishing
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Since positive psychology was inaugurated in 1998, numerous subfields have emerged
focusing on particular aspects of flourishing. These include applied fields such as positive
education (Seligman et al., 2009), physiological disciplines like positive neuroscience (Urry
et al., 2004), therapeutic paradigms such as positive clinical psychology (Wood & Tarrier,
2010), and socially-focused concerns like positive social psychology (Lomas, 2015).
However, among all this cross-disciplinary innovation, relatively little attention has been paid
to an aspect of life that is intimately connected to flourishing: the arts. As Tarnas (1991)
elucidates, artistic expression and appreciation have been a constant throughout human
history, valued for reasons ranging from the facilitation of emotional ecstasy, to the creation
of narratives that give meaning to existence. Indeed, Tarnas argues that religious and spiritual
traditions which have addressed humanity’s deepest existential needs over recent millennia
have been thoroughly meditated through art forms, from literary parables to iconographic
paintings. Furthermore, since the gradual secularisation of Western societies from the 17th
Century onwards, Tarnas suggests it has increasingly fallen to art alone to meet these deep
existential and spiritual needs.
As such, this paper advocates for the creation of a subfield of ‘positive arts,’ focusing
on the relevance of the arts to flourishing. Of course, there is already a great deal of relevant
work dispersed throughout various academic fields. However, the value of forging a specific
‘positive arts’ paradigm is that it can provide an interdisciplinary conceptual space where
research and theory relating to the positive impact of the arts can be considered as a whole.
Indeed, the rationale for, and value of, the creation of this paradigm arguably mirrors that of
positive psychology more generally. When Martin Seligman inaugurated the field in 1998, it
was based on his contention that ‘psychology as usual’ had generally been preoccupied with
disorder and dysfunction, and had not focused on topics such as happiness in a systematic,
empirical way (Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2000). However, this claim was subsequently
challenged, not least by humanistic psychologists (e.g., Bohart & Greening, 2001), who
argued that such topics had been investigated empirically for years by scholars working
across different sub-fields within psychology. As such, positive psychology was accused of
carving a professional niche for itself, by overlooking prior research, and by promulgating a
‘separatist’ agenda (Held, 2004).
However, while there may have been some validity to these claims, the subsequent
rise to prominence of positive psychology indicates that it did fulfil some professional and
conceptual need within psychology. In terms of professional needs, Linley and Joseph (2004,
p.4) suggested that the field, while not a new speciality per se, offered a ‘collective identity’
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unifying researchers interested in ‘the brighter sides of human nature.’ Likewise, while topics
such as hope and optimism had been studied previously by scholars in disparate fields, part of
the appeal of positive psychology was that it created a conceptual space where these diverse
topics all of which shared the ‘family resemblance’ (Wittgenstein, 1953) of pertaining to
wellbeing in some way could be brought together and analysed collectively. Arguably,
then, the proposed paradigm of ‘positive arts’ may serve a similar value. It can potentially
offer a professional identity (or one particular strand of identity) for researchers interested in
exploring the intersection between the arts and wellbeing. Likewise, it can provide a
conceptual space where diverse empirical and theoretical work at this intersection which of
course has already been on-going for years can be fruitfully integrated.
There are many existing areas of research to draw on. For instance, most artistic
modalities have been harnessed in therapeutic contexts, helping to ameliorate physical and
mental illness, spanning art therapy (Reynolds et al., 2000), music therapy (Ruud, 2008),
singing therapy (Olderog Millard & Smith, 1989), dance/movement therapy (Loman, 2005),
bibliotherapy (Gregory et al., 2004), writing therapy (Pizarro, 2004), poetry therapy
(Connolly Baker & Mazza, 2004), drama therapy (Schnee, 1996), and even comedy therapy
(Crawford & Caltabiano, 2011). Work within these areas is certainly encompassed by
positive art. However, the proposed field is not limited to the use of artistic modalities in
treating disorder and distress. As per the ethos of positive psychology generally, positive art
includes analysis of the role of artistic expression and appreciation in flourishing which is
not the same as an absence of pathology (Keyes, 2005) and its potential in helping people
lead more fulfilling lives.
The paper will focus on four broad areas of the arts: visual art; music; literature; and
drama. In order to gather the material for this paper, a quasi-systematic review of relevant
literature was conducted (cf. Lomas, 2016). It was quasi-systematic in that one could not
hope to systematically review every relevant paper, since this would have been impractical
and unmanageable. Nevertheless, there was some systematisation to the process. Firstly, in
terms of collating relevant material, a rigorous search was conducted using Google scholar.
Three separate searches were conducted for each of the four art forms (art, music, literature,
and drama), in each case pairing the word (e.g., ‘music’) with three different search terms
(‘wellbeing,’ ‘happiness,’ and ‘flourishing’). As such, 12 separate searches were conducted in
total. For each of these 12 searches, the abstracts of the first 50 items (i.e., the first 5 pages of
the search result) were read in detail, as were the papers themselves (if accessible). As such,
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around 300 abstracts were reviewed (as many papers were duplicated across the 12 searches),
and about 170 papers.
Then, in terms of reviewing and interpreting this material, the analytic process was
based on grounded theory (GT) (Strauss & Corbin, 1998). GT is a qualitative methodology
designed to allow theory to ‘emerge’ inductively from data, featuring three main stages: open
coding, axial coding, and selective coding. First, open coding involves examining the data
which in this study were the abstracts and papers obtained, as outlined above for emergent
themes. Thus, as I read through the papers and abstracts, I would note down themes as they
occurred to me, a process which generated around 30 separate themes. The next stage is axial
coding, in which themes are compared with each other, and clustered into categories on the
basis of conceptual similarity. As a result of this process, five main categories were
identified, each of which constituted a broad type of positive outcome relating to artistic
expression or appreciation: (a) sense-making (enabling people to comprehend existence and
find meaning in it); (b) enriching experience (facilitating new or elevated emotional states);
(c) aesthetic appreciation (enjoyment of beauty or skill); (d) entertainment (pleasure and fun);
and (e) bonding (connecting with others through art). The final GT stage is selective coding,
in which a single ‘core’ category is identified, which in this case was wellbeing. Attempts are
then made with GT to elucidate how the main categories relate to this core category, thus
telling a ‘narrative’ which makes sense of the data.
Before exploring these five categories below, it is worth noting that other scholars
may have interpreted this literature in other ways, possibly resulting in different categories.
Indeed, it would have been possible for me to have organised the analysis differently myself.
In qualitative research, there is a commitment to ‘reflexivity,’ in which scholars endeavour to
bring transparency to their methodological and analytic choices, and to reflect critically on
how these choices were influenced by their own personal bias and ‘situatedness’ (Cutcliffe,
2003). Thus, reflecting critically on my own interpretative decisions, I recognise that I could
have possibly identified other categories beyond the five included here. Indeed, in the
analytic process, two other categories did suggest themselves, but were both discounted, for
separate reasons. Firstly, there were certain themes which were suggestive of a category of
cognitive development (e.g., the cultivation of critical thought through activities such as
reading); however, I felt that this category was only tangentially and indirectly related to
wellbeing. Secondly, I contemplated a category of physical health, since there were a number
of themes relating to this, particularly in relation to modalities like music (e.g., singing) and
drama (e.g., dance); however, these themes did not stretch across all four art forms, and so
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health was also not included as a distinct category. Nevertheless, the themes that would have
comprised these two categories are still included in the analysis below, but have simply been
subsumed within the five selected categories.
The presentation below takes each art form in turn, exploring in sequence how it
relates to each of the five categories identified above. Thus, for each art form, the paper
explores the relevance of that particular modality to wellbeing, doing so by selectively
highlighting indicative research and interventions. One must preface the presentation with the
caveat that not all people find art rewarding, a ‘condition’ that has been operationalised as
‘physical anhedonia’ (Nusbaum et al., 2015). Nevertheless, most people can arguably derive
at least some value from art (in one form or another), as this paper hopes to show. While it is
clearly beyond the scope of any paper to comprehensively cover all relevant work, this paper
nevertheless shows the scope of possibilities afforded by the arts, highlighting their
considerable potential in facilitating flourishing.
Visual art
Visual art is used here to cover the multitude of forms of visual expression that people have
created over the centuries, from painting to photography. The urge towards self-expression
using visual media is a constant in human history, with the earliest works of art dating back at
least 40,000 years (Than, 2012). Speculations on the significance of such art range from these
being petitionary representations of desired outcomes, e.g., fertility (Prins & Hall, 1994), to
vehicles for shamanic mystical experience (Lewis-Williams, 1995). Subsequently, visual art
has been integral to human culture, particularly in providing a potent medium through which
religious/spiritual traditions have communicated their teachings and inspired their adherents
(Jensen, 2013). In more recent centuries, as religiosity has waned in parts of the world, visual
art has continued to be culturally vital, including as a vehicle for some of the existential and
spiritual yearnings that were previously channeled through religion (Tarnas, 1991). Indeed,
De Botton and Armstrong (2013) argue that galleries and museums are the new ‘cathedrals’
of the secular age: awe-inspiring buildings that facilitate collective ‘worship’ of objects that
are sources of reverence, value and meaning. The value of visual art is manifold, and the five
main positive outcomes identified as relating to art sense-making, enriching experience,
aesthetic appreciation, entertainment, and bonding certainly apply here.
Beginning with sense-making, this refers to the way art can help people process and
understand their existence (Proulx & Inzlicht, 2012). As with all artistic modalities here, we
can approach sense-making from two perspectives: appreciation and expression. First, even if
one does not create art oneself, its contemplation can facilitate sense-makings efforts. It has
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been argued that the power of great art resides partly in its ability to articulate messages of
existential importance and provide an opportunity to reflect on these (Silvia, 2005). Consider,
for example, the role played by religious iconography in propagating religious teachings,
providing a visual articulation of theological doctrine (Jensen, 2013). Alternatively, more
recently, people have found symbolic meaning albeit dark and disturbing in the fractured
portraits of Picasso, which have reflected the chaos and fragmentation of the 20th Century
(Tarnas, 1991). The ‘effort after meaning’ theory holds that the reward of viewing art stems
precisely from the act of trying to interpret and decode it (Russell, 2003). The potential for
sense-making is perhaps even stronger in self-created art. This is a key premise of art therapy,
in which art creation is used to help people process distress (e.g., trauma), and perhaps to
even find some meaning in their suffering (Reynolds & Lim, 2007). This mode of self-
exploration is particularly valuable for people who may struggle to express themselves in
language, such as older adults with dementia (Jonas-Simpons & Mitchell, 2005).
These sense-making qualities of art are augmented by the second main positive
outcome, enriching experience. This refers to the potential for art to add new depth, texture,
and colour to reality, to open new emotional and existential vistas. Perhaps the most famous
example is the 1968 ‘Earthrise’ photograph, taken by Apollo 8 astronauts Frank Borman and
William Anders. In showing earth as a ‘fragile oasis’ in the vastness of space, and moreover a
‘biosphere of immense diversity,’ the photo is credited with raising humanity’s consciousness
of their precarious and contingent existence, fueling the fledgling environmental movement
(Henry & Taylor, 2009, p.194); as such, Williamson (2006, p.11) suggests this single shot is
‘the most significant legacy of the Space Age.’ The power of visual art in this regard is not
limited to epochal moments like Earthrise. Indeed, the emergence of new technologies such
as the smartphone have democratized art production, enabling the general population to
explore and document aspects of their lives that may have hitherto gone unnoticed and/or
forgotten, using photo and video. These technologies have been used by researchers and
clinicians to help people explore and understand issues relating to their lived experience, such
as adolescents with chronic health problems (Rich et al., 2000).
The third main value of art concerns aesthetic appreciation. The potential for beauty
to evoke positive mental states explored in depth by the philosophical field of aesthetics is
beginning to be recognized in positive psychology, with ‘appreciation of beauty and
excellence’ being one of the character strengths in Peterson and Seligman’s (2004) ‘values-
in-action’ taxonomy. Indeed, art can be a powerful route to some of the more elevated states
of wellbeing. For example, Keltner and Haidt (2003) discuss the significance of the complex
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emotional state of awe, in which one can be moved profoundly by experiences that challenge
one’s understanding of the world. They argue that works of art have the power to induce this
state, and thus can facilitate transformative experiences. At a less rarified level, the appeal of
aesthetics is attested to by the popularity of galleries the National Gallery in London alone
attracted nearly 600,000 visits in 2014-2015, for instance (Department for Culture, Media &
Sport, 2015) and by the ubiquity of phenomena like home decoration (Melchionne, 1998),
and the prevalence of blogs devoted to aesthetic appreciation (e.g.,
Similarly, the value of aesthetics to wellbeing is beginning to be recognized in occupational
settings (see e.g., Dalke et al. (2006) on the impact of colour schemes in a hospital on the
wellbeing of staff and patients).
The fourth key positive outcome is entertainment, i.e., pleasure or interest through
appreciating or expressing art. Engaging with visual art may be enjoyable for diverse reasons,
from a pleasant distraction, to an engrossing intellectual experience (Funch, 1997). The
wellbeing value of appreciation was highlighted by Clow and Fredhoi (2006), who found that
visits to galleries can help reduce cortisol and self-reported stress. The creative act can be
enjoyable too. For instance, artistic pursuits are effective at engendering flow, a state of
mental absorption identified by Csikszentmihalyi (1990) that is consistently rated by people
as among their most valued life experiences. Similarly, creative self-expression can satisfy
other key psychological needs, such freedom and autonomy (Reynolds, 2010). Moreover, the
benefits of creativity are not only within reach of people who self-identify as being ‘artists’;
in addition to the volumous literature on the value of art therapy in treating mental illness
(Reynolds et al., 2000), there are emergent art-based interventions for use in the community
to promote wellbeing, like Swindells et al.’s (2013) initiative for older adults. Moreover, such
interventions can impact on other aspects of wellbeing, particularly in at-risk populations:
Renton et al. (2012) found that an art intervention with people from lower socioeconomic
groups (who tend to have less engagement with the arts) had positive changes in other areas
of life (e.g., health behaviours).
Finally, the fifth main positive outcome is bonding with others. This can occur at
varying levels of scale, from a general sense of interconnectedness to intimate relationships
forged through shared expereinces of art. With the former, the power of art to crystallise
some sense of shared humanity ranges from the kind of global connection sparked by the
Earthrise picture (Henry & Taylor, 2009), to more local instances of artists contributing to a
national or regional identity, e.g., as Andy Worhol did in New York (Currid, 2007). At a
more intimate level, art offers opportunities for interaction: for instance, Reynolds (2010)
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reports that an art-making intervention for older adults was highly valued for facilitating
rewarding relationships. We might also mention the emergent intersection of creative arts and
social media, as highlighted by the rise of art-based (e.g., photography) platforms such as
Instagram, the world’s fastest growing social media site in 2015 (Mander, 2015). Also
relevant is the rise in social computer gaming, such as ‘massively multiplayer online games’;
these involve interactive immersion in a ‘rich, textured graphical framework,’ and so are an
example of relationships being forged through engagement in art (Thomas & Brown, 2009).
The latter examples also illustrate how visual arts not only continue to be relevant in the 21st
Century, but actually help spearhead the emergence of new technologies and phenomena.
As with visual art, music is intrinsic to the history of humankind. Following Darwin’s (1871)
speculations on the topic, ethnomusicologists have noted the common evolutionary links
between music and language, referred to as ‘musilanguage’ theory; for instance, Morley
(2002) suggests this muscial protolanguage emerged from tonal affective primate calls
between 1.6 million and 50,000 years ago. Over subsequent millenia, while evolving into its
own branch of communication, separate from conventional language, music has remained at
the heart of culture. It has served as a vehicle for preserving and transmitting oral histories
and cultural folk memories (Berry, 1988). It has been central to many religious/spiritual
traditions, with functions ranging from bonding people together in song, to facilitating
‘altered’ states of spiritual ecstasy (Sylvan, 2002). It has figured in esoterical philosophies,
e.g., the Pythagorean school, which connected harmonic properties to mathematical ratios
that structure the universe (Tarnas, 1991). It has played a key symbolic and ceremonial role
in civic institutions and processes, from protest songs inspiring progressive movements, to
the significance of the national anthem in the creation of nation states (Gilboa & Bodner,
2009). Finally, music matters to many people on a personal level today, with a majority of
adults deeming it ‘important’ in their lives (Bonneville-Roussy et al., 2013).
Starting with sense-making, as with visual art, music can serve as a prism through
which complex life events can be digested and interpreted. In religious contexts, inchoate
spiritual feelings can be given voice though song, enabling worshippers to articulate the
emotional currents flowing through them (Sylvan, 2002). Similarly, most cultures have used
song to create foundational myths and stories; indeed, before written language, such songs
were essential to these being passed through the generations (Berry, 1988). In a related way
today, national anthems can be powerful vehicles in forging a sense of national identity
(Gilboa & Bodner, 2009). The potential of music in helping people make sense of who they
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are is perhaps even more pervasive and powerful on a personal level, particularly for younger
age groups. Analyses of youth culture highlight the intense importance music can play at this
age, where factors like affiliation to musical subcultures and activities like gig attendence
play a central role in the formation of identity (Bennett, 2000). Similarly, many people draw
on songs to help them understand their own emotional dynamics and make sense of their
lived experience (North et al., 2000). As with the other art forms, creating music oneself can
be particularly helpful in this regard; indeed, this is one premise of music therapy, especially
resource-oriented therapy, in which patients are helped to write songs (thus drawing on their
own ‘resources’) to help them process their issues (Ruud, 2008).
Music is especially potent with regard to the second main postive outcome: enriching
experience. Indeed, it has been argued that, of all art forms, music is particularly powerful at
inducing intense emotions and elevating listeners to spiritual/existential peaks. In philosophy,
Nietzsche (1872) argued in The Birth of Tragedy from the Spirit of Music that through music
modern humans could reattain the balance (lost since Classical Greece) of the Apollonian and
Dionysian aspects of life. Music has likewise been deployed by religious/spiritual traditions
to help people enter rarefied or unusual states of trance and ecstasy (Leuba, 2013). Here there
is often an emphasis on rhythmic music, accompanied by dance, in which the body is aligned
with the music as a vehicle for self-transcendence (Highwater, 1992). From a more
contemporary perspective, there is an emergent psychobiological literature on why music is
able to elicit the ‘chills’ (shivers down the spine); this work tends to focus on neuroaffective
circuitry involved in pleasure/reward, e.g., endorphin bursts combined with the type of
galvanic skin response prompted by emotional stimuli (Panksepp & Bernatzky, 2002). From
a musicology perspective, the chills are seen as being elicited by phenomena such as
‘enharmonic change,’ i.e., when a note stays constant, but is re-contextualised harmonically
(Sloboda, 1991). The potency of music to evoke strong emotions, often in somewhat
forseeable ways, means that people often use it strategically to alleviate dysphoric moods and
more generally self-regulate thir emotions, which Ruud (2008) refers to as ‘musical self-
medication’ (p.50).
Our third key outcome, aesthetic appreciation, refers to enjoyment of beauty (in the
music) and/or skill (in the composers or players). The value of musical appreciation has been
recognised in liberal arts education, where it is seen as a gateway to more general aesthetic
appreciation (Goolsby, 1984). Its value in other developmental respects is also beginning to
be acknowledged. For instance, since Rauscher et al. (1993) found that students who listened
to a Mozart sonata performed better on cognitive tasks, there has been interest in the so-called
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‘Mozart effect’ (the impact of music listening on cognitive development). While the potential
of music in this regard may be somewhat overhyped (Črnčec et al., 2006), meta-analyses
suggest there may be some validity to the idea (Hetland, 2000). Likewise, an enriched sound
environment via music exposure can assist neurological cognitive rehabilitation following a
stroke (Särkämö et al., 2008). Given the value of music appreciation, there are efforts to
create interventions to enhance aesthetic responses, such as through mindfulness meditation
(Diaz, 2013). Aesthetic appreciation has also been harnessed in clinical settings: for instance,
Baker et al. (2007) used music therapy for substance use disorder, where music was used to
elicit the kinds of positive emotions that patients would normally seek through substance use.
Music appreciation extends to accompanying factors such as lyricism, which is where music
intersects with the third great art form here, literature. Indeed, there are scholars who deem
the very best lyric writers to be equal to the literary greats, such as Christopher Ricks (2011),
who argues that Bob Dylan’s lyricism is on a par with the poetry of John Keats.
Aesthetics are a component of the fourth main outcome, entertainment, which also
encompasses other pleasures associated with music. Here we might take the opportunity to
highlight the unique value of dancing. As an expressive outlet intrinsically allied to music,
dancing also taps into the positive factors outlined above. It has a role in sense-making,
including as a vehicle for realizing and expressing one’s cultural/personal identity (Grau &
Jordan, 2002), and in a clinical context (i.e., dance/movement therapy) as a way for people to
process trauma (Loman, 2005). It can enrich experience, e.g., eliciting rarefied states as part
of religious/spiritual rituals (Highwater, 1992), and it can evoke aesthetic appreciation, as
exemplified by the appeal of forms such as ballet (Bond, 1987). Additionally, perhaps of all
the art forms, dance has direct physical health benefits as a form of exercise, e.g., increasing
cardiovascular fitness (Burkhardt & Brennan, 2012). However, of particular relevance here is
dance’s particular ‘fun factor’; indeed, Lindqvist (2001) suggests dance is the closest many
adults come to recapturing the freedom and joys that characterize childhood play. This fun
factor means dance can appeal to hard-to-reach or at-risk populations, such as adolescent
females, who may resist other forms of art and sport (Burkhardt & Rhodes, 2012). Dance is
also a potent vehicle for experiencing flow (Hefferon & Ollis, 2006), as is listening to and
playing music more generally (Bakker, 2005).
Finally, music is a powerful source of bonding. As noted above, music is a resource
around which people can form valued collective identities, e.g., via affiliation to musical
‘scenes,’ not only in adolescence (Bennett, 2000), but throughout life (Bennett, 2006). The
bonding opportunities offered by music is particularly potent at live performances. The
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potential for music to evoke collective emotionality, e.g., euphoria, came to prominence in
the 1960s with ‘Beatlemania, which was sometime euphemised as ‘adolescent enthusiasm’
(Taylor, 1966). From political perspective, Dowdy (2007) draws on Arendt’s (1958) notion
of ‘acting in concert’ to suggest that hip-hop shows enable the co-creation (by performers and
audience) of ‘a space of interactive engagement’ in which ‘co-ordinated political practice’
(e.g., contesting dominant cultural values) becomes possible (p.75). The potential for
collective bonding is perhaps even stronger in playing music. Lutz (2009) argues that playing
music together can facilitate ‘collective flow,’ also known as ‘participatory consciousness.’
Likewise, Tonneijck et al. (2008) show that choral singing is valued in part for engendering a
state of intersubjective ‘wholeness’ that is conducive to wellbeing.
Our third great art form here is literature, an overarching term covering all language-based
‘text,’ from oral tales to religious scripture to poetry to the novel. As with visual art and
music, literature has been integral to the development of humanity. The earliest extant works
of literature hail from around 4,000 years ago, such as the Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh, in
which stories possibly dating back to the Third Dynasty of Ur (circa 2,100 BC) were brought
together as a single narrative and engraved on tablets around 1,800 BC (Maier, 1997). Even
after this point, literature continued to mostly be transmitted orally, such as the Vedas (the
founding texts of Hinduism), which were composed between 1,500 and 500 BC but took
written form around 500 BC (Dyrness & kärkkäinen, 2008). These examples attest to the
cultural importance of literature, which has served many vital functions over the millennia,
from a repository of folk memory to the codification of moral schemas (Finnegan, 1980). On
a more personal level, literature has played a key role in shaping subjectivities. For instance,
the novel which came to prominence as a literary form in the 18th Century (Moore, 2013)
has been credited with helping create modern modes of (self) consciousness (Lodge, 2002).
Thus, while not all people ‘consume’ literature, it is scarcely possible for people to escape its
Turning first to sense-making, arguably of all the art forms considered here, literature
is the most efficacious in this regard, given its inherently discursive nature. Psychological
theories of meaning and of the importance of finding a sense of meaning in life highlight
the importance of narrative, i.e., stories that help us make sense of experience (Singer, 2004).
This applies both in a macro sense (explanations of life in general) and a micro sense (one’s
own life in particular). With the former, it is suggested that one of the main functions of
religion is providing people with an overarching narrative for existence, a meaningful story of
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how and why life exists (Berger & Luckmann, 1966). With the latter, it is argued that
personal meaning in life is dependent upon constructing a story that provides a context for
one’s actions and endows one’s own life with coherence and significance (Singer, 2004).
Thus, it is relevant here that literature can play a role in creating meaning, providing people
with macro and/or micro narratives. It can also help people make sense of social reality; for
instance, part of the power of novels is that they provide explanations for charactersactions,
which readers can then apply to their own social existence (Mar & Oatley, 2008). Creative
writing can also be powerful in helping people process and understand their own lives
(Bolton, 1999). As such, we have seen the emergence of writing therapy in clinical settings
(Pizarro, 2004), as well as general writing-based interventions for wellbeing (Pennebaker &
Seagal, 1999).
Literature is equally potent in terms of enriching experience, both in terms of drawing
attention to dimensions of reality that had previously gone unnoticed, as well as creating new
realities.’ With the former, a prominent example is how reading can help foster empathy,
giving people insight into other people’s lives. Even if novels ‘only’ portray fictional
characters, studies show that exposure to their lives can enhance readers’ ‘theory of mind,’
i.e., their ability to take another person’s perspective (Kidd & Castano, 2013). People can
also be helped to discover concealed dimensions of their own lives. For instance, Joseph
Campbell (1970) argued that mythological literature contains archetypal themes that have
ongoing existential relevance to readers, such as the ‘hero’s journey,’ which captures the
journey to find one’s ‘true’ self. Worth (2015) suggests that part of the appeal of modern
epics, from Lord of the Rings to Harry Potter, is that readers are empowered to realise that
they too are on an existential journey, allowing them to see their lives in a new and more
significant light. Literature also allows people to explore new realities, giving glimpses into
other times and places. A quote on the blog articulates this
well, ‘I have only one life to live. But in books I can live one thousand lives.’ Likewise, part
of the power of creative writing is that people can create new narratives for their lives ones
that may be more enriching or sustaining which indeed is one way in writing therapy exerts
its benefits (Pizarro, 2004).
The third positive outcome is aesthetic appreciation, which encapsulates the respect
and even reverence that quality literature can evoke. Here we might pay particular attention
to poetry, often esteemed as among the most aesthetically considered forms of literature,
famously defined by Coleridge (1827) as ‘the best words in the best order.’ By way of
example, consider the Japanese poetry form haiku. While being highly regarded in Japanese
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culture generally, it has achieved particular significance within Zen Buddhism, where the best
poems are regarded as ‘vital expressions of, and ways towards, spiritual experience’ (Bai,
2002, p.12). Among the complex richness of Zen is a valorisation of certain expressive
‘moods’ that Zen deems to be particularly important and reflective of reality (Watts, 1957).
These include mono no aware (pathos at the impermanence of life), wabi-sabi (desolate, aged
beauty), and yūgen (profound, mysterious grace). Japan’s greatest poets are consequently
revered for being able to articulate these moods using the sparse haiku template. Widely
regarded as pre-eminent among these is Matsuo Bashō (1644-1694), whose haiku capturing
these moods mono no aware (Summer grasses –; the only remains; of warriors’ dreams),
wabi-sabi (Solitary now ; Standing amidst the blossoms; Is a cypress tree), and yūgen (On
a withered branch; A crow is perched; In the autumn evening) are among the most revered
works in all Japanese literature (Watts, 1957). Moreover, these haiku are seen as powerful
sources of spiritual illumination for people who reflect upon them (Bai, 2002).
Turning to entertainment, there is an emergent body of work on ‘ludic reading,’ i.e.,
reading for pleasure (ludic derives from Latin, via French, and means spontaneously playful).
For instance, Nell (1988) highlights the capacity for readers to be ‘entranced’ by reading, a
quality of absorption akin to flow. Moreover, Nell argues that literature does not need to be
aesthetically beautiful or intellectually stimulating to facilitate ludic reading; in fact, even
‘sophisticated’ readers can gain pleasure from works that might be regarded culturally as
poor quality, e.g., as a way of ‘switching off’ that is relaxing and mentally restorative. Efforts
have been made to understand how to foster ludic reading, since if reading is experienced as
pleasurable, people are more likely to read and consequently to experience the benefits
outlined above. For instance, Senechal (2006) highlights the positive impact of ‘storybook
exposure’ in infancy (i.e., parents reading to them) on the likelihood of children subsequently
reading for pleasure (and on other cognitive skills, e.g., comprehension). There are also
efforts to promote enjoyment of writing, as this is associated with positive outcomes in
written endeavours, such as higher grades for college assignments (Larson, 1990). For
instance, Dwyer et al. (2012) outline successful efforts to promote enjoyment of writing
among early career academics through writing groups.
In discussing the value of writing groups, Dwyer et al. (2012) also highlight their
importance as a ‘platform of social and emotional support’ (p.129), which pertains to our
final positive outcome: bonding. The popularity of book clubs and reading groups is
testament to the potential of literature in this regard (Daniels, 2002). Such groups have a long
history; for instance, the first known literature circle in America was founded in 1634 as a
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women’s Bible study group (Wu, 2011). However, they appear to be increasingly popular in
recent years; according to Daniels (2002), while there were around 50,000 book clubs in the
U.S. in 1990, by 2000, this had doubled to at least 100,000. This popularity has been boosted
by prominent cultural figures like Oprah Winfrey, who started her book club in 1995, and
which now has over 2 million members (Wu, 2011). As Daniels (2002) outlines, such clubs
take reading beyond being a primarily solitary activity, and instead harness it as an occasion
for social engagement and ‘plural reflection’ (Turner, 1979), i.e., collective sense-making.
Reading is used as the basis for shared enquiry into important life themes, as well as simply a
good excuse for socialising. We must also highlight communal bonding around dramatic
performances of literature, from theatre to spoken word (Fisher, 2003); much like music
concerts, assembly around literary performance is an opportunity for what Lutz (2009) called
‘collective flow’ or ‘participatory consciousness.’ And, it is to these types of dramatic art
forms that we turn in the final section.
Our final broad area is drama, an all-encompassing term for a range of dramatic performance
modalities. This not only includes obvious examples, like theatre, but also comedy, magic,
the circus, and even sporting events (which Real (1975, p.31) referred to as a form of mythic
spectacle’). We can again begin by briefly noting the significance of drama to humanity
throughout its history. Arguably pre-eminent in this regard is drama as public ritual, which
has been central to religious/spiritual traditions over the millennia (Rappaport, 1999).
Appreciation of the pivotal role of ritual in religion, and in culture generally, came to
prominence through the analyses of Durkheim (1912), who referred to the ‘effervescence’ of
ritual experience in helping people join a shared collective existence and internalise group
codes. Such rituals brought to life the kinds of oral narratives highlighted above which are
central to the formation of collective identity allowing group members to vividly participate
in these stories (Rappaport, 1999). The value of ritual in this way continues today, from
religious adherents partaking in rituals like the Christian eucharist, to military personal
engaging in acts of patriotism like parading the flag (Schilbrack, 2004). More generally,
public forms of drama, such as plays, enable cultures to engage in plural reflection or
reflexivity;’ as Turner (1979, p.465) puts it, such artforms are one of the main ways a group
‘communicates to itself,’ enabling it to ‘portray, understand, then act on itself,’ shining a light
on its values, issues, and concerns.
As the last sentence indicates, dramatic art forms offer powerful vehicles for sense-
making, enabling a culture ‘... to hold, as ’twere, the mirror up to nature,’ as Shakespeare
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phrases it in Hamlet (III, ii, 2122). In this respect, dramatic arts carry a similar sense-making
potential to literature, as outlined above; indeed, many people would characterise dramatic
works like plays as a form of literature. Moreover, as Snow et al. (2003) point out, their
potential in this regard is heightened by their vividness and immedicy as a spectacle, bringing
the literature to life in front of people’s very eyes. However well Shakespeare may articulate
the viccisitudes of existence on the page, the power of his written word is magnified by
seeing these embodied by the dramatic skills of the finest stage actors. Furthermore, drama
can be more accessible than literature; a recent poll found that 75% of men prefer to watch a
film adaption of a book than read the original text (The Reading Agency, 2014). Indeed, the
availability of drama through media such as film and TV has accelerated over recent years.
These art forms have been credited with providing culture-shaping narratives that have
influenced how people have interpreted their world. In America, for instance, influential
reflections on society, and on the problematic notion of the ‘American Dream,’ have been
provided by a succession of great dramas across evolving platform, from the plays of Arthur
Miller (e.g., Death of a Salesman in 1949), to the films of Martin Scorsese (e.g., Taxi Driver
in 1976), to the great works of TV’s post-millennial ‘golden age’ (e.g., David Simon’s The
Wire). As Martin (2013) elucidates, surpassing mere entertainment, these works have held up
a mirror to America, facilitating a powerful form of cultural introspection and sense-making.
Dramatic performance is likewise a powerful means of enriching experience. Indeed,
one of the key functions of ritual, the proto-typical drama, was to enable people to access
valued states of trance or ecstasy (Leuba, 2013). Modern dramatic forms can also facilitate
complex emotional experiences. For example, films like Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space
Odyssey have been credited with provoking ‘transpersonal’ experiences through their
experimentation with altered realities and immersive viewer perspectives (Kaplan, 2005).
Less conventional dramatic forms are also capable of eliciting potent experiences. For
instance, magic has been found to engender sought-after emotions among viewers, like
curiosity and wonder; as such, magic has been harnessed as a therapeutic intervention,
particularly in paediatric settings (Hart & Walton, 2010). Likewise, the attraction of the
circus has been partly attributed to its ability to foster awe through daring acts (Loring, 2007).
Finally, there is a persuasive case that no other dramatic form is as capable at eliciting
overwhelming passion and fervour as great sporting events: indeed, sociologists have argued
that for committed fans, immersion in their team’s fortunes fulfils many functions of religion,
including participatory consciousness, tribal identity, and engagement with a narrative of
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‘good versus evil’ (us versus them) that is rendered all the more dramatic for being unscripted
(Edge, 2012).
Thirdly, dramatic spectacles are potent sources of aesthetic appreciation, with many
people luxuriating in the beauty and skill of the performers and the art-form. Indeed, it has
been argued that today’s screen idols fulfil similar functions to that held by religious gods in
past eras, from being revered as ‘superhuman’ exemplars, to offering inspiration (Alexander,
2010). While this kind of celebrity ‘worship’ may be problematic e.g., fostering unrealistic
expectations (such as in relation to body image) that can be damaging to self-esteem (Maltby
et al., 2005) it does highlight the powerful aesthetic appeal of drama. In a more benign way,
this aesthetic appeal is exemplified in the way people savour the performances of sporting
greats (aside from any partisan team allegiances), such as the respectful reverence afforded to
icons such as Lionel Messi (Brach, 2012). Beyond the protagonists, the ability of sporting
spectacles like football to capture the interest of people, particularly those who may be less
likely to engage with traditional dramatic forms, like adolescent boys, is well-documented
(Skelton, 2000). While there may be many factors driving this, such as gendered peer
pressure, the aesthetics of football e.g., appreciation of spectacular goals is an integral
element of its popularity. Of course, much attention has also been paid to the aesthetic appeal
of more conventional dramatic art-forms, such as theatre and cinema (Mitry & King, 1997).
The dramatic art forms above are also rich in entertainment value. Indeed, film and
TV are arguably the dominant cultural form of entertainment worldwide; for instance, in the
USA, TV watching is the leisure activity on which citizens spend the most time, at an average
of 2.5 hours per day (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2015). However, as an exemplar of play and
fun, we might highlight the wellbeing value of comedy, and of laughter more generally. Of
course, comedy is not simply about pleasure and entertainment, but can be a mirror for
uncomfortable truths; indeed, recent years have seen the emergence of darker forms of
comedy, like Ricky Gervais’ The Office, an almost nihilistic commentary on the anomie of
modern work (Soper, 2009). Nevertheless, researches have attempted to understand the way
in which comedy can facilitate laughter. Such analyses explore questions like what makes
certain phenomena and jokes funny (e.g., the detection and resolution of incongruity; Bartolo
et al., 2006), and what purpose laughter serves (e.g., its evolutionary function as a form of
social bonding; Gervais & Wilson, 2005). Moreover, there is an emergent body of work on
the wellbeing benefits of laughter. For instance, Berk et al. (1989) found that it modified
neuroendocrine hormones involved in the stress response. Consequently, laughter has been
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harnessed in clinical settings (Penson et al., 2005), and we are even seeing the development
of comedy-related wellbeing interventions (Crawford & Caltabiano, 2011).
Finally, dramatic arts are effective vehicles for social bonding, whether as a spectator
or as a participant. I have already highlighted the way drama facilitates ‘plural reflection,’
offering ways for cultures to self-reflect and cohere around common concerns (Turner, 1979,
p465). Likewise, the type of intense group connectivity and identity afforded by phenomena
like sports spectatorship is well documented, even if this does also have problematic aspects,
such as hostility and even violence towards other groups (Dunning, 2000). At a less extreme
level, engagement with drama-related events such as local theatre offer regular and reliable
opportunities for socialising with like-minded people (Chan & Goldthorpe, 2005). Similarly,
actually participating in acting oneself (e.g., joining an amateur dramatics society) can be
powerful in bringing people together and forging meaningful connections (Rearden et al.,
1999). Likewise, from a therapuetic perspective, drama therapy can help people develop
social skills, particularly those who are especially vulnerable or in need of such skills, such as
homeless mentally ill patients (Schnee, 1996) or aggressive adolescent boys (Curran, 1939).
Indeed, as the date of the latter citation shows, the benefits of drama to wellbeing have long
been noted and harnessed.
This paper has outlined the potential wellbeing value of the arts, spanning four major art
forms: visual art, music, literature and drama. These art forms were examined with respect to
five main positive outcomes found consistently across relevant academic literature: sense-
making; enriching experience; aesthetic appreciation; entertainment; and bonding. The main
purpose of the paper was to provide an indicative summary of relevant theorising and
empirical research, bringing this together under the rubric of ‘positive art.’ However, in doing
so, the paper also sets out a research agenda for the future. Currently, the wellbeing value of
arts has tended to only be recognised to any extent within clinical fields, as reflected in the
forms of therapy that have emerged based on various art forms, from music to drama therapy.
However, the broader wellbeing potential of the arts positively promoting flourishing, and
not only alleviating disorder/distress has remained relatively under-studied and under-
utilised, as least in a collective sense. That is, a considerable amount of research has accrued
over the years concerning the relevance of the arts to wellbeing. However, there has hitherto
been no explicit attempt to create a broad sub-field of psychology that could allow this work
to be brought together in an integrated way. The hope here is that the proposed paradigm of
‘positive art’ will encourage and facilitate just such an integration.
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Indeed, the analysis above suggests that there is considerable applied potential in
harnessing artistic modalities to promote wellbeing (and associated outcomes such as
cognitive development). Indeed, art-based programmes are already being harnessed to good
effect across a diverse range of settings and populations, including (but not limited to): early
education (e.g., intercultural arts education for ethnic minority children; Khudu-Petersen,
2012); adolescent education (e.g., dance classes to reduce obesity in teenage girls; Robinson
et al., 2003); at-risk youth (e.g., hip-hop’ therapy for ‘delinquent’ youth; Tyson, 2002);
vulnerable mental health groups (e.g., art in the community programmes; Clift, Argyle, &
Bolton, 2005); women who have experienced partner violence (e.g., group music activities;
Teague, Hahna, & McKinney, 2006); prisons (e.g., art-based rehabilitation programmes; Tett,
Anderson, McNeill, Overy, & Sparks, 2012); homeless people (e.g., drama therapy for those
who are mentally ill; Schnee, 1996); and older adults (e.g., visual art-based interventions in
the community; Swindells et al., 2013).
Moreover, these programmes may not only be helpful to the participants themselves,
but can be of broader benefit to society. For instance, one could envisage how initiatives to
reduce behavioural issues among at-risk youth (e.g., Tyson, 2002) would likely filter out into
positive societal outcomes, such as reduced anti-social behaviour and crime. As such, future
research would ideally conduct cost-benefit analyses on these type of interventions, thereby
highlighting their net impact. Researchers could seek to emulate recent cost-benefit analyses
of ‘positive’ interventions – not involving art specifically which have demonstrated the
value of these types of programmes. For instance, Belfield et al. (2015) report that Life Skills
Training, a classroom intervention to reduce violence and substance abuse, can offer a net
gain of $2,660 per pupil (based on a cost of only $130 each), achieved through predicted
reductions in current and future criminality. Indeed, there are a few emergent cost-benefit
analyses of art-based initiatives. For instance, Bittman et al. (2005) calculated the impact of a
6 week Recreational Music-Making course on burnout among trainee nurses. The reductions
in burnout were such that the initiative was predicted to generate annual cost savings of
$16,800 if incorporated into a typical degree nursing program, and $322,000 if implemented
within an acute care hospital. Similarly, testing the same programme with long-term care
workers, Bittman, Bruhn, Stevens, Westengard, and Umbach (2003) estimated that the
intervention could generate projected cost savings of $89,100 for a single typical 100-bed
facility, and annual potential savings to the long-term care industry in the United States of
$1.46 billion.
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These types of analyses remain few and far between, and so represent a goal to aim
for in terms of research into the positive impact of art upon wellbeing. That said, the evidence
reviewed above, such as it is, certainly points towards the merit of exploring and harnessing
art-based activities and interventions to promote wellbeing (and other desirable outcomes,
such as cognitive development). As such, it is hoped that this paper will encourage a greater
attention to the arts in fields like positive psychology, enabling science to fully understand
and appreciate the potential utility and power of positive art.
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... In supporting the relevance of body painting within the positive art framework, the article draws on a range of scholarly references. Lomas [40] discusses the concept of positive art and the potential for artistic expression and appreciation to foster flourishing. Javornik et al. [16] explore the motivations and well-being effects of using augmented reality (AR) face filters on social media, which can be considered an extension of body painting. ...
... Pursuing creative activities, in turn, has often been associated with eudaimonic experiences such as growth and self-realization (e.g., Cropley, 1990;Forgeard & Eichner, 2014). For example, creating visual artworks, music, or literature has been associated inter alia with sense-making (i.e., finding meaning for one's existence) or bonding with others (Lomas, 2016), and daily creative behavior was found to promote THEORIES ON EUDAIMONIC GAMING EXPERIENCES 21 flourishing (i.e., feeling a sense of meaning in life, engagement, and social connectedness; Conner et al., 2018). ...
... The impact of engagement in the arts to support physical and mental health for a range of medical conditions has been widely recognized by both patients and healthcare providers (Crone et al., 2018). Growing evidence details the role of the arts and culture in promoting health and well-being throughout the life course (Lomas, 2016;All-Party Parliamentary Group on Arts, Health and Wellbeing, 2017;Hanna, 2017). Long-term, sustained arts engagement offers prolonged health benefits for older adults including higher life satisfaction and eudaimonic well-being (Tymoszuk et al., 2019). ...
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Introduction Parkinson’s disease (PD) is the second most prevalent neurodegenerative disease. Complementary and alternative therapies are increasingly utilized to address its complex multisystem symptomatology. Art therapy involves motoric action and visuospatial processing while promoting broad biopsychosocial wellness. The process involves hedonic absorption, which provides an escape from otherwise persistent and cumulative PD symptoms, refreshing internal resources. It involves the expression in nonverbal form of multilayered psychological and somatic phenomena; once these are externalized in a symbolic arts medium, they can be explored, understood, integrated, and reorganized through verbal dialogue, effecting relief and positive change. Methods 42 participants with mild to moderate PD were treated with 20 sessions of group art therapy. They were assessed before and after therapy with a novel arts-based instrument developed to match the treatment modality for maximum sensitivity. The House-Tree-Person PD Scale (HTP-PDS) assesses motoric and visuospatial processing–core PD symptoms–as well as cognition (thought and logic), affect/mood, motivation, self (including body-image, self-image, and self- efficacy), interpersonal functioning, creativity, and overall level of functioning. It was hypothesized that art therapy will ameliorate core PD symptoms and that this will correlate with improvements in all other variables. Results HTP-PDS scores across all symptoms and variables improved significantly, though causality among variables was indeterminate. Discussion Art therapy is a clinically efficacious complementary treatment for PD. Further research is warranted to disentangle causal pathways among the aforementioned variables, and additionally, to isolate and examine the multiple, discrete healing mechanisms believed to operate simultaneously in art therapy.
... 12 The ability to integrate beauty is a resource for complete self-fulfillment. Lomas 13 lists advantages, which are common for aesthetic experiences, related to various forms of art: sense-making, enriching experience, entertainment, and bonding. The conscious experience of beauty may result in a change in the way of thinking about oneself, the world and other people, teaching one how to adopt different perspectives, to understand the emotions and behaviors of oneself and others. ...
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Background: Ferrucci, a philosopher and psychotherapist, presented an original three-factor aesthetic intelligence concept in his book "Beauty and Soul" (2009). The subject of this article is the presentation of work on the construction of a scale for measuring one of the three dimensions of aesthetic intelligence, the ability to integrate beauty (AIB). This is probably the first attempt to empirically operationalize this concept. Methods: The three independent studies were carried out with a total of 604 participants. The aim of the first study was to develop the AIBS scale and to test its factor structure. During Study 2 and Study 3, we verified the AIBS structure through the confirmatory analysis and checked its convergent and discriminant validity. Results: The outcomes indicate that a one-factor, and seven-item tool is characterized by very good psychometric properties. Moreover, the results suggest that the AIB is indeed positively related to the perception of artworks (6 dimensions of an aesthetic experience), regulation of emotions through artistic creative activities, as well as to aesthetic competencies in art. The AIB is indeed positively related to the greater intensity of light triad traits (humanism, kantianism, faith in humanity) and to the development of the individual in five areas of spirituality. AIB is also only slightly related to the search for meaning and to one dimension of well-being, which is satisfaction and the sense of power.
... To the best of our knowledge, this is the rst time such an interaction has been revealed. The present results are reasonable, given the inherently positive nature of art and the heightened emotions of enjoyment that art elicits (Lomas, 2016). Meanwhile, artworks that elicit negative emotion are also enjoyed (Menninghaus et al., 2017), and the in uence of factors other than valence may be stronger. ...
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Haiku poetry, a short poem with a clear form, has the potential to elucidate many unknown aspects of linguistic art. Previous studies on haiku appreciation have shown that negative emotion and cognitive ambiguity reduce aesthetic evaluation. Considering the importance of negative emotions and ambiguity in art, it is beneficial to clarify the process of emotional and cognitive changes during aesthetic evaluation. This study examined the temporal effects of emotional and cognitive changes on aesthetic evaluation from multiple perspectives by measuring the ratings of each section of haiku, continuous emotional reports, and physiological changes in pupil diameter. The 112 students first rated the haiku at three time points on items such as beauty, valence, and ambiguity. Next, they rated the same haiku continuously for 20 seconds using a joystick for valence and arousal during which the pupil diameter was measured. The results showed that a decrease in negative emotions and ambiguity explained the beauty of the haiku. In the continuous emotion reports, positive emotions gradually increased for positive haiku and negative emotions gradually increased for negative haiku, while arousal decreased once and then gradually increased for both forms of haiku. Additionally, an increase in pupil diameter also explained the beauty. The roles of negative emotions and ambiguity were revealed by focusing on both subjective and physiological indicators of emotional and cognitive changes during haiku appreciation. This study has contributed to the advancement of our understanding of linguistic art forms by empirically exploring conscious and unconscious emotional and cognitive responses to haiku.
... In this realm for instance one might include states of awe, which Keltner and Haidt (2003) describe as "a moral, spiritual, and aesthetic emotion … on the upper reaches of pleasure and the boundary of fear" (p.297). Thus, aesthetic experiences could be deemed a distinct class of happiness experience: not merely a factor that influences it, but a form of happiness in its own right (Lomas, 2016), being a mental experience of quality concerning one's sensual perceptions. While there is currently not much work on this notion, there is certainly a substantial literature on the psychological dimensions of aesthetics such as the Desire for Aesthetic Experience Scale (Lundy et al., 2010)which could be interpreted through the lens of our definition. ...
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Recent decades have seen a surge of scientific interest in happiness. However, its theoretical conceptualization is a work in progress. Much of the literature focuses on two main forms: hedonic (encompassing life satisfaction and positive affect) and eudaimonic (encompassing phenomena such as character development and meaning in life). However, this binary has been critiqued as being incomplete, in part because it reflects a Western-centric perspective that overlooks forms emphasized in non-Western cultures. As a result, scholars have begun to highlight other forms besides hedonia and eudaimonia. This article surveys the literature to identify 16 potential forms in total, classified according to whether they primarily pertain to feelings (hedonic, contented, mature, chaironic, and vital), thought (evaluative, meaningful, intellective, aesthetic, and absorbed) or action (eudaimonic, masterful, accomplished, harmonic, nirvanic, and relational). This article thus offers a more expansive, albeit still just provisional, taxonomy of this vital and still-evolving topic.
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Over the past years, scholars have explored eudaimonic video game experiences—profound entertainment responses that include meaningfulness, reflection, and others. In a comparatively short time, a plethora of explanations for the formation of such eudaimonic gaming experiences has been developed across multiple disciplines, making it difficult to keep track of the state of theory development. Hence, we present a theoretical overview of these explanations. We first provide a working definition of eudaimonic gaming experiences (i.e., experiences that reflect human virtues and encourage players to develop their potential as human beings fully) and outline four layers of video games—agency, narrative, sociality, and aesthetics—that form the basis for theorizing. Subsequently, we provide an overview of the theoretical approaches, categorizing them based on which of the four game layers their explanation mainly rests upon. Finally, we suggest the contingency of the different theoretical approaches for explaining eudaimonic experiences by describing how their usefulness varies as a function of interactivity. As different types of games offer players various levels of interactivity, our overview suggests which theories and which game layers should be considered when examining eudaimonic experiences for specific game types.
The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020 has brought about unprecedented challenges to the global economy and people’s daily lives. The pandemic has also triggered abundant psychological studies about crisis, creativity, innovation, and well-being. This chapter reports a qualitative study carried out among 229 Chinese (59.4% females) and 171 German (62.6% females) university students about creative activities of their own and those they observed from others during the lockdown periods of the pandemic. Six major creativity categories emerge from our data, namely Artistic Creativity, Inventions & Business Ideas, Intellectual Creativity, Social Interactions, Sports, and Challenges. In both countries, students predominantly reported being engaged in or witnessing creative activities in the Artistic Creativity domain, followed by the activities in the domains of Intellectual Creativity and Inventions & Business Ideas. German students reported significantly more creative activities in Artistic Creativity and Sports domains, whereas the Chinese students reported more creative activities in Inventions & Business Ideas as well in Intellectual Creativity. Not many differences were found between the creative activities that the students reported for themselves and those observed from others, except that the Chinese students reported more creative behaviors by others than by themselves, whereas the German students reported more creative behaviors by themselves than by others, particularly in artistic creativity. Results of the study enrich the literature about crisis, creativity, and innovation and have practical implications for crisis and change management.KeywordsCreative activitiesEveryday creativityCOVID-19 pandemicChina or ChineseGermany or German
Background: Groups at high risk of severe illness/death from COVID-19 (older people and those identified as clinically extremely vulnerable: CEV) experienced increased restrictions, poor mental health and loneliness during the first UK lockdown. Methods: Seventeen older adults, eight CEV adults, one parent of a CEV child, and two family carers of CEV adults, shared their experiences of the first UK lockdown through various media: written reflections, interviews, poetry, videos, photographs, and visual artwork. Results: Through a positive psychology lens, five themes were identified: experiencing loss; community and connection; finding joy, hope and optimism; adapting to change; and sense- and meaning-making. Conclusion: High-risk groups fostered wellbeing and flourishing and formed a sense of coherence in a time of great loss. Engagement with artistic, creative, and cultural activities facilitated this. The arts not only provided a creative means of collecting data but was also identified as a central thread in the findings.
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In certain painting unit requirements, students are expected to interpret themes and generate appropriate subject matter that ultimately expresses or depicts how they artistically interpret given themes and generate painted pictorial compositions that showcase the same. Themes are specific compartments or clusters of the description of life in its natural existence or manifestations. Themes may feature the environment, nature, manifestations, occurrences, perceptions, and philosophies that are segmented in a way that is orderly and comprehensible to human beings. Hence themes are as broad-based as the entire body of manifestations that underscore human existence, endeavours, and behaviours. Without this demarcation and description of themes, it would be difficult to understand the myriad of ways in which human beings respond to their existence. Since themes are broad and exciting from an artistic context, they are, in essence, infinite and have to be broken down into fathomable subject matter that the artist can accommodate, justify, and explain; and the audience can, subsequently, appreciate and rationalize. Fine art students are, in this regard, introduced to the importance of themes as consolidated lenses through which the world is viewed, but more importantly, the need to develop the skill of deconstructing themes into tangible subject matter or digestible content. The ability to break down themes into specific content is of importance to student artists as they learn to construct their ideas. These ideas, whether or not they bear a certain element of spontaneity, are based on some form of focused response to a given inspiration. The issue of spontaneity and precision of thematic interpretation can often be confusing to students and artists alike but while they all must be aware of the need for a thematic approach to their work, they must be at the same time mindful of the need for expressive freedom and space. This paper seeks to determine the extent to which subject matter is used by students as a strategy for expressing themselves and, further, the extent to which the content they develop within this subject matter is successfully derived from themes as a source of inspiration. The paintings featured in this paper were developed during the course of the semester at Kenyatta University and were in specific response to the derivation of subject matter from themes. The students were, however, free to interpret themes in the way they found appropriate and were not bound to depict certain contents or contexts in their work. In keeping with the general belief that paintings are themselves not necessarily based on the dogmatism or rigidity of themes in their expressiveness, and in being careful not to stifle the ability of students to express their ideas, the students were encouraged to display a level of spontaneity in their work which is a hallmark of the beauty of the painting. This paper pre-supposes, therefore, that an effective approach to the development of good paintings is found in their spontaneity just as much as it is found in the interpretation or breakdown of themes
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the landscape of television began an unprecedented transformation. While the networks continued to chase the lowest common denominator, a wave of new shows on cable channels dramatically stretched television's narrative inventiveness, emotional resonance, and artistic ambition. Combining deep reportage with cultural analysis and historical context, Brett Martin recounts the rise and inner workings of a genre that represents not only a new golden age for TV, but also a cultural watershed. Difficult Men features extensive interviews with all the major players, including David Chase, David Simon, David Milch, and Alan Ball; in addition to other writers, executives, directors and actors. Martin delivers never-before-heard story after story, revealing how cable television became a truly significant and influential part of our culture.
Roy Rappaport argues that religion is central to the continuing evolution of life, although it has been been displaced from its original position of intellectual authority by the rise of modern science. His book, which could be construed as in some degree religious as well as about religion, insists that religion can and must be reconciled with science. Combining adaptive and cognitive approaches to the study of humankind, he mounts a comprehensive analysis of religion's evolutionary significance, seeing it as co-extensive with the invention of language and hence of culture as we know it. At the same time he assembles the fullest study yet of religion's main component, ritual, which constructs the conceptions which we take to be religious and has been central in the making of humanity's adaptation. The text amounts to a manual for effective ritual, illustrated by examples drawn from anthropology, history, philosophy, comparative religion, and elsewhere.
Critical theorists have accused positive psychology of paying insufficient attention to cultural variation in the way wellbeing is constructed and experienced. While there may be some merit to this claim, the field has developed a more nuanced appreciation of culture than its critics suggest. However, it could also be argued that positive psychology has not sufficiently appreciated or absorbed the wealth of literature within cross-cultural psychology pertaining to wellbeing. This paper aims to forge a bridge between positive psychology and cross-cultural psychology by introducing the idea of ‘positive cross-cultural psychology,’ an interdisciplinary conceptual space for existing and future cross-cultural research on wellbeing. Moreover, the paper offers a meta-theoretical perspective on trends within this literature. It is suggested that cross-cultural research is underpinned by two broad orienting perspectives: a ‘universalising’ perspective, which holds that, despite apparent cultural differences, people share a common human nature; and a ‘relativising’ perspective, which argues that people are strongly shaped by their cultural context. However, the paper finally argues that most research can actually be seen as offering a synthesising perspective – labelled here as ‘universal relativism’ – which recognises universals in the ways wellbeing is sought, constructed and experienced, but allows for extensive variation in the ways these universals are shaped by culture.
In the past decade, beginning with Ultima Online, a new genre of interactive play has emerged in the form of massively multiplayer online games (MMOGs).1For recent analysis of the scope and impact of MMOGs see Edward Castronova, Synthetic Worlds: The Business and Culture of Online Games, Chicago UP, 2005, T.L Taylor, Play Between Worlds: Exploring Online Game Culture, Cambridge: MIT Press, 2006, and Julian Dibbell, Play Money: Or, How I Quit My Day Job and Made Millions Trading Virtual Loot, New York: Basic Books, 2006. These games combine the power of traditional forms of roleplaying games with a rich, textured graphical framework. The result has been the emergence of game spaces which provide players with new and unusual opportunities for learning.2 As these games become increasingly popular and as they begin to approximate large scale social systems in size and nature, they have also become spaces where play and learning have merged in fundamental ways, where players have become deeply enmeshed in the practices and cultures of interactive play, collaboration, and learning. More important is the idea that the kind of learning that happens in these spaces is fundamentally different from the learning experiences associated with standard pedagogical practice. In this paper, we examine how this new world of games has captured the imagination and how the play of imagination that it engenders yield insights into the way play, innovation, and learning are connecting for the 21st century.