Back to blog

Creative Expression and Well-Being Among Undergraduate Students

Date: 17 July 2023

Painting of a leafy tree in front of a blue sky with clouds. There is a fence running behind the tree.

In the spring of 2023, Researchers Sofia Pineda-Velez, Jasmin Storer, Grace Chavez and Sam Searfoss conducted a qualitative, human-based research study. The research was in collaboration with the Arts Education Partnership, the Leadership Department at the University of Denver, and the Institutional Review Board. This project, named Creative Expression for Mental Health: Arts-Education Integration Research, aimed to showcase student opinions on the interconnectivity between creative expression (arts), mental wellbeing and the university setting. Each researcher interviewed or shadowed at least two undergraduate students, one being a fine-arts major and the other being a non-fine arts major, to accumulate diverse perspectives on arts as it pertains to their experiences. This blog series aims to summarize those findings, specifically the impacts and factors of art that illuminate areas of improvement as it pertains to arts education and university students’ wellbeing.  

With this research, it is important to define what constitutes as “art” because the definition of art can be interpreted in different ways. Overwhelmingly, our research shows that anything that allows a person to truly express themselves without restrictions can be considered art. Additionally, some interviewees explained that art is an experience that allows for cross-cultural learning and engagement. However, it is worth noting that a few interviewees gave examples on things they do not deem to be art, which included math, science, sports, stolen art, and propaganda, because those are restrictive or project disingenuous motives. For the purpose of this research, we considered anything art; therefore, we interviewed individuals that partake in a wide array of art media including window drawing, dancing, wood working, music composition and many others.  

The main themes brought up in many interviews which will be explored further in this series are the impacts art has on people notably students. Our research shows that art has provided positive impacts on the interviewees’ mental wellbeing and has been a point of reflection for them. However, our research also shows that the impacts of art can be complex. This series will go in-depth into the vulnerability that accompanies art, perfectionism, internalized criticism and the taxing efforts behind art. Furthermore, we will discuss different ways in which art can either be shared or hidden from others and the implications behind these decisions. Other less-discussed topics such as discrimination will also be a key point in this blog series. Finally, a consistent theme throughout these posts will be the barrier of entry to the arts in the university setting. The goal behind this research is not to deter arts educators but instead provide transparency surrounding the true experiences students have with the arts which, hopefully, will lead to better approaches to arts education in the future. 

Check out the other posts in this series:

This blog series is a summary of qualitative research study, Creative Expression and Well-Being Among Undergraduate Students, conducted at the University of Denver by undergraduate students Sofia Pineda-Velez, Jasmin Storer, Grace Chavez and Sam Searfoss through the Leadership department with the Colorado Women’s College Leadership Scholars. The study investigated arts-based education in the university setting through student interviews and the relationship between creative expression and mental well-being. 

Title: 2280 Pasos Bajo un Cielo Nublado | Artist: Hernán Jourdan | Medium: Film

When I was asked to create a work of art exploring literacy, I wanted to create a dance but I had no dancers or a studio, so I chose to use my own body in the space I had, my yard. Fluent Nature is video of micro-choreography that explores what cannot be expressed with words, how nature has its own language, and how placing the human body in nature changes the story.

Title: What Is Me and What Is Not Me | Artist: Alex Chadwell | Medium: Music

My thinking on arts and literacy centers around the concept of literacies and artmaking as both sense-making and meaning-making processes that organically and inevitably overlap, intersect, and reciprocate. Compositionally, What is me and what is not me is a sound collage of sorts (there is no notation for the piece, and I'd be hard pressed to recreate it accurately) that abstractly and aurally represents the relationships between literacies and artmaking.

Title: A Curious Honeybee | Artist: Gideon Young | Medium: Film

Offering welcome through traditional and digital elements of literacy, A Curious Honeybee provides an experiential learning environment by activating visual, musical, natural, and emotional literacies.

Title: Tercera Llamada | Artist: Karilú Forshee | Medium: Audio

La Carpa Theatre is a project that I am currently directing in the Detroit Latinx community. The project aims to strengthen and uplift youth voices through devised theatre, in the style of the Mexican Carpas. This audio was created in the theatrical environment envisioned for our project. The ways in which literacies are re-defined are at the heart of La Carpa Theatre's mission.

Title: Literaseas | Artist: MJ Robinson | Medium: Graphite and ink on paper with digital edits

Title: A Riddle | Artist: MJ Robinson | Medium: Graphite on paper with digital edits

Title: False Binaries | Artist: MJ Robinson | Medium: Graphite on paper with digital edits