TCU Magazine: Creativity Boosts Your Brain


Artist Alex Hughes ’12 makes block prints in her studio in Richardson. Photo by Rodger Mallison

Art helps the brain stay healthy, which leads to a thriving life.

by Trisha Spence

Eighteen years ago, Jeanette Alexander ’79 almost died. She was under hospice care with lymphoma of her central nervous system. The diagnosis threatened to ravage her brain and spinal cord and cut her life short at 59.

“The doctor told my kids — he didn’t tell me,” she said. “He gave me just days to live.”

Before the diagnosis, Alexander had been reducing her workweek so she could focus on art — a lifelong passion that had proved persistent, circling in the back of her mind while she made a living as a financial planner and stockbroker.

She had already endured a divorce, two other types of cancer and the stress of being the sole provider for four children. Fulfilling her dreams of returning to art full time seemed implausible.

Proving her medical team wrong, Alexander survived. “Once I could get out of bed, I was back to my artwork,” she said. “I really think that at that point it helped me get well.”

Now 77, Alexander is a mixed-media artist who works with acrylic paint, pastels and collage. She still lives with an indolent blood cancer, but she is otherwise thriving in Austin, Texas.

Medical researchers have determined that creativity helps cancer patients focus on positive life experiences, enhance their self-worth, maintain social identity and express feelings. Ailing people who take part in artistic interventions are more likely to experience improved clinical outcomes: better vital signs, diminished cortisol related to stress and the ability to fall asleep without sedatives.

Creativity enhances the quality of a person’s life in numerous ways: It fosters connectivity, heightens self-understanding and counters a sedentary day job.

It also changes the brain.

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