It seems like almost every week there’s another study about the benefits of the arts. It’s a long-running trope that feeds the need of arts people to justify the worth of the arts. The arts make us better people, help build communities, make us smarter, more empathetic, reduce stress, help our memories, promote learning skills, help the economy… The most famous of these studies is probably the Mozart Effect, which suggested that listening to Mozart stimulated the brain and made us smarter.
Whether the benefits are psychological, sociological, physical or economic, we’ve bought into the idea that art needs to have some measurable result beyond its intrinsic value. This as opposed to listening to music or looking at paintings because we like to. As recent efforts by Arts Council England to create standardized measures of “accomplishments” of the arts it funds have shown, trying to assign relative value to arts impact is a very tricky slope indeed.
The people at Createquity have compiled a list of all the the arts studies they could find that purported to measure the value of the arts under the heading of how the arts improve lives. The studies are organized into four main categories: physical and mental health, education and personal development, economic impact, and social cohesion.
There’s lots here, but:
This review likewise highlights where additional investments in research would be especially productive. Experimental and quasi-experimental designs are extremely rare in the research on the economic and social impacts of the arts; initiatives to fill this gap, though likely expensive and difficult to implement, would prove enormously helpful in resolving many of the causation vs. correlation conundrums that currently pervade this literature. Even in the health and education areas where these techniques are more common, however, there remains considerable room for further research and greater methodological ambition. There is a strong need in these areas for studies that examine the effects of arts participation over a long period of time, and for randomized controlled trials that use larger sample sizes.