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Finding Balance Within Creative Expression and Life as a Student

Date: 04 October 2023

Crochet fiber arts piece of a moth. The moth is green, red, white and black and is set against a yellow background.

Through qualitative interview analysis, our research team uncovered several common themes across participant interviews. 

“Perfectionism. Burn-out. Alone or in front an Audience. Versatility. 

“We all struggle with creative expression sometimes. Or as artists we simply do not feel like producing art at that very moment. It is vital we take care of ourselves and our creativity/expression, by valuing our time and energy as artists and students.” 

Whether alone, painting in the late hours of the night at home, practicing with an instructor, performing on stage or crocheting in the halls in between classes, our interviewees, fine arts and non-fine arts majors alike, have discovered their creative niche. No two being the same. Hinging on creative and personal preference, our interviewees described how creative expression of all kinds mediates their mental wellbeing in some form or another.

Performance majors, Leah (vocal), and Mio (bassoon), discuss the challenges of maintaining a practice/life balance in their undergraduate study. Both students highlighted the importance of putting yourself first in the music world by knowing when you can push your limits. They also talked about knowing when to take a break from long practice hours and learn when to say no to gigs or performances that may push them over their limit or just not be what’s right for them in that moment. Mio explains,

“I wish that there was a larger talk in music schools where the number of hours you put into your instrument doesn’t matter as much as how good a practice you get. And I wish that it wasn’t so based off, run yourself dry and do a whole bunch of gigs. I wish there was a better support system in terms of allowing musicians to not have to overload themselves with everything in order to feel like they are succeeding.”

Leah calls attention to the value of knowing how to take care of your holistic wellbeing as a fine arts major by making time to be aware of how she manages her schedule, practice hours, free time, and overall physical health. She often recalls why she’s formally studying vocal performance and participating in creative expression in the first place. Leah describes,

“But for me especially, it’s just having that feeling of adrenaline, like mixed with stage fright, mixed with like pure enjoyment. I think that’s really what we’re looking for. And it’s hard because that’s like 5 minutes compared to hours and hours of work. But to me it’s worth it. And I just try to remember that… I love our voice department. Everyone builds each other up and is always there for each other. So, I would say that really helps.”

Image of a woman singing.In combination with a supportive, symbiotic learning environment, there is a beautiful relationship created between mentor/professor/instructor and student/mentee/apprentice, one where learning, personal growth and wellbeing are fostered as top priority pillars. Learning environment and facilitation can make or break a class for a student, highly influencing their wellbeing and overall ability to be creative and productive individuals.

Glimpse into the life of fine-arts student, Leah, during a vocal performance practice session, working with her instructor, Professor Heidi.


Non-fine arts majors, Kiki (psychology) and Samson (political science) highlight the great versatility creative expression holds as an emotional outlet for everyone and anyone. Kiki explains, “There are many forms of creative outlets. Don’t limit yourself to one form of art.” Samson continues: “I am a big advocate. I think everyone should do art in any way possible. Any sort of creative expression, I think that is so important in people’s lives.”

As researchers in higher education interviewing our peers, our research emphasizes the importance of remembering ‘we’re only human’ as students at a university. As wildly busy college students and young adults, we’re still learning how to best manage our schedules, take time for our physical/mental wellbeing and understand how our bodies respond to stress.

Our research showcases the endless forms of art and creative expression which spread across cultures and continue to withstand time. With special attention to how creative expression affects the lives and wellbeing of non-fine arts & fine arts majors at the University of Denver. Research supports the positive affects art and creative expression have on the wellbeing of undergraduate students.



Check out the 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. 

Photo and audio credits:
Header image: Crocheted Moth Piece by Samson
Midpost image: Credit: Bella Chavez Pictured: Leah  
Audio clip: Credit: Shadowing Interview conducted by student researcher and non-fine arts major Grace Chavez (Psychology) in collaboration with Photographer and non-fine arts major Bella Chavez (English & Psychology). 

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