Painting and Drinking – Does alcohol make you more creative?

by | Jan 17, 2018 | Uncategorized | 0 comments

“Why is it I’m better at painting when I’ve been drinking?” We were asked this question last week during our Women, Wine, and Wood Workshop and it got us thinking. Why IS it we feel more creative when we’ve had a few drinks compared to when we are sober? Does drinking alcohol really make us more creative or does it manipulate our brains into believing we are more creative? So we opened a bottle of our favorite red blend and started reading anything and everything we could about painting and drinking and creativity. Apparently, this question is a popular one. There’s actually a lot of research done on the subject!

What is creativity and who can be called creative?

Creativity is the state and quality of being creative. Being creative is the power to use your imagination to transform transitional ideas into original and useful ones. I believe it’s something everyone has or at least once had and only got pushed back when they “grew up”. I think it’s safe to say we all remember those clay pinch bowls and handprint hearts we made when we were eight. In fact, mine are still collecting dust on my parent’s bookshelf. So how are you creative? Maybe you’re a natural at painting sunsets and anyone who sees them are instantly warmed by their glow. You have an ear for tones and pitches: the music inside your head is playing constantly melodies unknown. You can make up a story with such detail your listeners are immediately transported to some far-off land. These are all avenues of creativity so if and I could list a million more but let’s talk about how creativity and drinking are linked and why some believe they are linked, why some believe they contradict each other and some science behind it.

What unclogs your creative arteries?

We asked a few of the dubbed “creative” people we know what they do to get their creative juices flowing. Some of answers that stood out were;

  • Dreams. Dreaming as we all know can get super weird and if your one of the fortunate people that can remember your dreams, then BAM you have a brand-new painting for your portfolio.
  • Insanity. To quote Psychologist Gary Fitzgibbon “Creativity is certainly about not being constrained by rules or accepting the restrictions that society places on us. Of course the more people break the rules, the more likely they are to be perceived as ‘mentally ill’.”
  • Drugs. As we know, drugs distort your perception and alter your senses. You ingest a hallucinogen and now that bowl of fruit your painting looks more like balloons in different stages of inflation.
  • Nothing, I was just born this way. Thinking outside the box come naturally.
  • Alcohol. Most said alcohol is their quick go to creative unblocker.

I imagine these artists sitting around tensely wound up because they just can’t figure out how to get that painting finished to look like what they imagine. Wandering around their homes with a vodka tonic, picking stuff up, putting stuff down, pacing back and forth while biting their nails. Then, like a dam that has just been released they hurry back to their creative corner and feverishly begin painting those last streaks of fading sunlight as they finish their glowing sunset painting. Exhausted, they slump down on a ratty old chair and let out a winded sigh of contempt. Ahhhh.

But what really does happen when you mix drinking with creativity?

Does alcohol help get me from uncreative to a creative genius?

If you ask psychologist Jennifer Wiley and her research group at the University of Illinois at Chicago she would likely say the two, painting and drinking, are connected. That “buzzed” drinking and creativity are indeed linked and her drinking and creativity study just might prove it. In her study they took an ad out on Craigslist for social drinkers between 21 and 30 years old who wanted to be in a study and the people responded. They then split the group in two and gave half just enough alcohol to make them under the legal alcohol limit. The Dr. Wiley and her researchers then gave them the Remote Associates Test which is a series of three words that can be linked together with one other word. Think, dew/comb/bee linkable word: honey. Everyone then had a shot at guessing the linking word.

What they found was the social drinking subjects who were happily buzzed scored higher, faster, and more correctly then the social drinking subjects who were not.

Ever hear about the “Newt/Judge Experiment” Orchestrated by Dave Birass at The Drum, self-described as “a global marketing media platform and the biggest marketing website in Europe”. Well, Dave did a study to see if drinking alcohol does make you more creative. Here’s what he did. He invited 18 creative marketing team participants into the office and gave half of the teams all the alcohol they could drink and the other half none. Side note: the non-drinking half were pretty upset they didn’t get any booze and some even walked out. They were eventually persuaded by the promise of a night out at the pub to return and finish the study. After the effects of the alcohol kicked in all participants were then given the task of tackling “binge drinking” and how to market ways to not get drunk so quickly. How ironic, huh?

In a nutshell, here’s what they found out. The group drinking booze were more productive and produced more ideas: 59 ideas compared to the sober group’s 48. The drinking group also scored higher points for quality of their campaigns when judged by marketing executives not part of the “binge drinking” study. The ending results concluded that the boozers came up with four out of the five top ideas and the sober crew came out with four of the five worst ideas.

Interesting stuff huh, but, did the alcohol really jumpstart those participant’s brain’s creative thinking region? And how?

How does drinking alcohol affect your creative process?

Let’s say, you arrive to a DIY workshop for your Mom’s Night Out with your hummus dip and your bottle of Pinot Noir, spirits are raised and everyone is excited to be back together again. You are all gather around the table and the toasting, de-stressing, and drinking begins. Your instructor then begins class and is demonstrating how to use the tools in the middle of the table to transform this brand new board of wood into something that looks like it’s been hanging on the side of a 100 year old barn. At first, you’re a bit reserved lightly jabbing your boards with the star-shaped screwdriver. Then poof, you’re the gal that splits their board in two because even though the instructor said, “don’t use the hammerhead dead on because it’ll split your board” somehow (this wine is so good) you blocked that out because bashing up this board feels so damn good you couldn’t help but get a tad carried away. Next you’re onto choosing a stain color for your boards. You go with a creative mix of Early American and Gray stain. Hmm, looks too Gray, you sip some wine and add more Early American, now it’s perfect! Now the instructor is demonstration how to use a drill to assemble your boards. You heard, “you’ll need a drill buddy” and “hold the backboard piece steady for your buddy” Opps! Maybe you should have held that backboard piece on a little tighter, sorry drill-buddy, but, no fear here’s more wine! Now you’re onto trying to follow instructors instructions on how how to get your stencil on. It’s a bit tricky but oh, look more wine. And, finally, comes your favorite part, painting time. You’ve been eyeing up that Nashville Skyline sunset all night and even though you though, “I’m not crafty” when you walked into the shop two hours ago now you’re ready to give it a whirl.

But what changed? Was it your painting and drinking combination? What was added in those past two hours that made you go from “painting that sunset is way outta my comfort zone” to “squeeze me out some Burnt Orange, I have a sunset to finish”?

Oh yeah, you’re relaxed, you’re confident, you’re surrounded by your friends and … your drinking wine.

Did drinking the wine make you more creative? Or maybe the effect that sipping that wine had on your pleasure sensor in your brain, chilled your nerves and made that tricky painting process feel like a walk on the beach? Was it the specific combination of painting and drinking feed your creativity level?

Drinking alcohol boosts your confidence and feelings of well-being. When you drink alcohol, your brain releases an excess of endorphins known to cause feelings of pleasure and reward. Considering that drinking makes you feel more relaxed, there’s a higher chance for you to not question your ability. Add that with the effect alcohol has on your brain to facilitate your goal to paint that sunset and now it seems like drinking does make you more creative doesn’t it.

Flip side, drinking can also harm your creativity.

As I’m sure you know, there’s quite a few studies done on how the drinking excessively does way more harm than good. Excessive drinking increases the risk of liver disease, heart disease, sleep disorders, depression, stroke, bleeding from the stomach, sexually transmitted infections from unsafe sex, and several types of cancer. Also the list of effects it had on your brain: your very functional life support is imposing. The National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism has some interesting reads on this subject and some listed helplines if you think someone you may know would benefit.

Harris B Stratyner Ph.D. has an interesting and personal view of the negative effects drinking has on creativity and asks “why do so many young artists think that alcohol and drugs enhance their creativity”? Growing up he was surrounded by the very “creative”. His godfather was “Dizzy” a jazz musician, his godmother was the wife of legendary saxophone player Stan Getz.

He used to travel to gigs with these two and began noticing the difference in which the two geared up to head out on stage. “Dizzy had the reputation of being “very straight” and Stan was a documented heroin addict who “kicked” it in the 1950’s but spent most of the rest of his life dealing with alcoholism and a serious addiction to cigarettes, as well as dabbling with cocaine.”

I could go on to explain more of what Dr. Stratyner says about his time with these two creative geniuses but I think it reads best in his written words. Check out this Psychology Today post to learn more.

Painting and Drinking in moderation is the key to health.

Know that what we’re saying is here is that by no means is drinking is the only way you’ll ever be a painting mastermind and gulping down Chardonnay isn’t going to turn you into Bob Ross. What we’re trying to get across is that drinking alcohol in moderation is merely a way for relaxing, boosting confidence, and rejuvenating your creativity. Something we all need to take time out for. It’s been proven that time and again that taking time out for creativity is not only a giant mind boost but a healthy hobby too. Creativity alone can boost your confidence, reduce stress, reduce depression, increases and renews brain function, and helps ward off alzheimer’s to name a few. Being creative can also pull new experiences into your social life by meeting new people who share the same interests you put yourself into new life opportunities. Imagine a life where all you did was sit in a cubical, drive home, eat dinner and go to bed. Day in day out. You’re headed straight for early for early onset Alzheimer’s. Get up, get out and get creative.

There’s so many things you can do to begin. Take a cooking or dancing class, draw your cat lounging in a sunbeam, join your child as they fingerpaint. Open your mind up to all the possibilities. If you need a little boost, grab a bottle of your favorite good stuff, a friend, and join a DIY workshop. They’ll give you all the resources and guide you through the entire process.

So, to all those uncertain crafters that walk into the shop declaring to all in ear shot that they are “soooo not crafty”. We’ll always say, “everyone is crafty at Craft Love“. Which is our tactful way of saying, open that bottle of courage you brought, take a sip, relax, and Let’s Get Crafty!

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