What Art Does for Your Brain | Greater Good – Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley
One of my favorite sayings comes from David Thoreau: “My life has been the poem I would have writ / But I could not both live and utter it.” It speaks to the way that life and art are intertwined, and how we gain so much from living life with a sense of beauty and aesthetics in mind.
There are many ways art infuses my own life—from singing and playing guitar to reading novels and attending plays, which all help to improve my mood and enhance my sense of wonder with the world. Probably, many of you feel the same way. Some of you may have felt you’ve even been saved by art.
Now, a new book, Your Brain on Art, by Susan Magsamen and Ivy Ross, helps explain why that might be the case. By focusing in on the science of “neuroaesthetics”—how our brains respond to aesthetic and artistic experiences—the authors make the case that art is good for our physical and mental health, and that we should all incorporate more of it into our lives.
What art does for our brains and bodies
It may seem a mystery that we make or enjoy art at all. But art has been part of every culture on the planet, for tens of thousands of years. This means art is central to our survival somehow, perhaps helping us to make new intuitive leaps and innovate and to help bind us to one another.
As the authors explain, appreciating or making art involves using many parts of our brain—from those that process our senses to those involved in emotion, memory, and cognition. We are drawn to experiencing art, because doing so lights up the pleasure centers of our brains, creating a warm feeling that encourages us to want more of the same—much the way our brains respond to fulfilling basic needs, like food and sex.
“When you experience virtual reality, read poetry or fiction, see a film or listen to a piece of music, or move your body to dance, to name a few of the many arts, you are biologically changed,” write Magsamen and Ross. “There is a neurochemical exchange that can lead to what Aristotle called catharsis, or a release of emotion that leaves you feeling more connected to yourself and others.”
There is ample evidence that engaging in the arts improves well-being. For example, one study involving more than 23,000 British participants found that those who either made art at least once a week or attended cultural events at least once or twice a year were happier and had better mental health than those who didn’t. This was independent of their age, marital status, income, health behaviors, social support, and more.
Though it’s hard to know in large survey studies whether art makes people happier or happier people are more likely to make art (or respond to it), at least one study points toward the former. A longitudinal study in Japan also showed that people who engaged in artistic activities, like crafts or painting, at one point in time had less cognitive impairment later than those who didn’t, which again supports a direct effect of art on well-being.
These kinds of studies make a case for making art a regular part of our lives, say the authors.
“Like exercise and good nutrition, the arts on a routine basis will support your health,” they write.
How art can heal us
Not only can art improve general well-being, it can also be used to prevent or heal us from physical and mental illness. Art therapy is a growing field, useful for many ailments and situations, including when therapists work with people who may have difficulties communicating directly about their inner experience, like children suffering from trauma or people with autism.
<img alt=”Your Brain on Art: How the Arts Transform Us (Random House, 2023, 304 pages)” src=”https://ggsc.s3.amazonaws.com/images/made/images/uploads/Your_Brain_on_Art_200_303_int_c1-1x.jpg” srcset=”https://ggsc.s3.amazonaws.com/images/made/images/uploads/Your_Brain_on_Art_200_303_int_c1-1x.jpg 1x, https://ggsc.s3.amazonaws.com/images/made/images/uploads/Your_Brain_on_Art_329_499_int_c1-2x.jpg 2x” sizes=”(min-width: 1041px) 1170px, 100vw”>
“The arts are being used in at least six distinct ways to heal the body: as preventative medicine; as symptom relief for everyday health issues; as treatment or intervention for illness, developmental issues, and accidents; as psychological support; as a tool for successfully living with chronic issues; and at the end of life to provide solace and meaning,” the authors write.
Probably, the most robust research on art and healing has been done with music. Listening to music or playing or singing music has been tied to things like reduced stress and pain and a better immune function. Singing has also been shown to help women overcome postpartum depression more quickly, while listening to music can reduce symptoms in people suffering from migraines. A 2020 National Endowment for the Arts report that reviewed 116 studies on music therapy for opioid users found that listening to music helped soothe their pain, reduce their need for medication, and encourage them to seek treatment for addiction.
Music is not the only art that heals. One study found that coloring and drawing reduced people’s heart rate and increased their respiratory sinus arrhythmia (a marker of good cardiovascular health) while making them feel less anxious. Sculpting with clay has been found to change wave patterns in our brains in ways that reflect a relaxed, meditative state. There is evidence that listening to poetry can have similar effects on the brain as listening to music can, giving us peak emotional experiences.
The authors go through many examples of how people turn to art when they need to heal from acute or chronic trauma—for example, first responders, war veterans suffering post-traumatic stress disorder, or people of color facing ongoing discrimination. They also highlight programs using art therapy to help folks in their recovery and research labs studying healing through art, such as the National Endowment for the Arts Creative Forces program for vets and the Drama Therapy Theater and Health Lab at New York University.
Some of the connections between art and healing offered in the book seem a bit wild, though. For example, the authors point to the work of John Beaulieu, who has used various sound patterns to aid people suffering from trauma or other mental health disorders. Though evidence for the effectiveness of this treatment may be thin, it’s intriguing to consider the possibilities for sound healing, given that some experiments have found sound waves can cause heart cells to move and form new tissue and protect us from the harmful effects of Alzheimer’s disease.
Art in everyday life
What does all of this point to? Though the research may be relatively young, there’s enough to say that we should all consider making time for art and aesthetic experiences in our everyday life. Enjoying art seems to contribute to our flourishing, say Magsamen and Ross, helping us to stay healthier and happier.
To that end, they argue that the arts belong in schools, where they help augment both learning and well-being in children. And they encourage adults to engage in art, whether that means painting, composing, cooking, or dancing, or it means listening to music, walking in nature, watching a play, or sitting inside a cathedral. That’s because art does so much good for our minds and bodies, helping us to cultivate our curiosity, stay open to our emotions, experience surprise or novelty, think differently about life, embrace ambiguity, engage the senses, feel awe, and more. It may even help heal your soul.
“The arts can transform you like nothing else. They can help move you from sickness to health, stress to calm, or sadness to joy, and they enable you to flourish and thrive,” write the authors. “Are you ready? The world, and its beauty, are there waiting for you.”
Françoise Gilot, Whose Art Transcended Her Relationship With Picasso, Dies at 101 – Smithsonian Magazine
Françoise Gilot, a lauded French artist who wrote candidly about her volatile relationship with Pablo Picasso, died this week at age 101.
“She was an extremely talented artist, and we will be working on her legacy and the incredible paintings and works she is leaving us with,” says her daughter, Aurelia Engel, to Jocelyn Noveck of the Associated Press (AP).
New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art and Museum of Modern Art, as well as the Centre Pompidou in Paris, are some of the museums that have displayed Gilot’s art. While Picasso may have influenced her work, her artistic career began before the two met, and the unique style she created was hers alone.
Born in a suburb of Paris in 1921, Gilot developed an interest in painting as a child. Her mother—who had studied art history, ceramics and watercolor painting—was her first tutor, per the New York Times’ Alan Riding. Later, she took lessons with the Hungarian-French painter Endre Rozsda. Rozsda was Jewish, and he fled Paris in 1943.
The Guardian’s Charles Darwent recounts a prophetic final exchange between the student and her teacher:
“As his train steamed out of the station, the 21-year-old Gilot wailed: ‘But what am I to do?’ Her teacher, laughing, shouted: ‘Don’t worry! Who knows? Three months from now, you may meet Picasso!’”
Gilot met Picasso when she was 21; Picasso was 61 and already a famous, established artist. Their relationship began in 1944. Gilot later recalled good memories from this early period, and Picasso’s art from this time affirms this.
But Picasso, a notorious adulterer known for his abusive behavior toward women, quickly began mistreating her. Physical violence and blatant extramarital affairs were common during their relationship, even as the couple had two children together.
When Gilot finally left him in 1953, Picasso was shocked. He reportedly told her that she would be nothing without him; she was unmoved. Gilot recounted the harrowing relationship and its end in Life With Picasso, the memoir she published in 1964.
In it, she recalled Picasso claiming that “no woman leaves a man like me.” Her response: “I told him maybe that was the way it looked to him, but I was one woman who would, and was about to.”
The memoir angered the artist so much that he cut off contact with her and their children. He tried several times—always unsuccessfully—to prevent the memoir’s publication in France.
Gilot recounted the relationship with unrelenting honesty, remembering his “extraordinary gentleness” in her memoir while commenting frankly on his abuse. Picasso introduced her to Georges Braque, Marc Chagall and Gertrude Stein, but he disparaged her value as an artist and told her that nobody would care about her when she was no longer connected to him.
Yet Gilot’s legacy reaches far beyond Picasso, and in recent years, her work has garnered much more recognition. A 1965 portrait of her daughter sold for $1.3 million at auction in 2021, per the AP.
“To see Françoise as a muse (to Picasso) is to miss the point,” says Simon Shaw, Sotheby’s vice chairman for global fine art, to the AP. “While her work naturally entered into dialogue with his, Françoise pursued a course fiercely her own—her art, like her character, was filled with color, energy and joy.”
During her life, Gilot emphasized that she never felt trapped or controlled by Picasso. In fact, in a 2022 interview for her 100th birthday with Ruth La Ferla of the Times, Gilot said that her fierce independence informed the art she created.
“As young women, we were taught to keep silent,” she said. “We were taught early that taking second place is easier than first. You tell yourself that’s all right, but it’s not all right. It is important that we learn to express ourselves, to say what it is that we like, that we want.”
A Note to our Readers
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Flip-flop boats, 'trashion' and the Bag Monster: the art of discarded plastic – in pictures – The Guardian
A visitor poses for photographs at the eco-art exhibition Anima Mundi: Soul of the World in Bangkok, Thailand, by Indonesian artist Mulyana, August 2019. Specialising in fabulous seascapes, Mulyana uses discarded metal, fabrics and materials such as rubber and plastic in his work to raise awareness of the environment.
Photograph: Mladen Antonov/AFP/Getty Images
Unveiling the Wonders of the World's Largest Road Art Auction – Yahoo Canada Sports
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Start your collection now!
Introducing the inaugural World’s Largest Road Art Auction, a live, in-person celebration of the finest Road Art pieces globally, set to be held at Mecum Auctions’ headquarters in Walworth, Wisconsin from June 20-25. This event is the latest addition to Mecum’s annual auction schedule and is anticipated to feature over 3,000 lots, ranging from vintage soda-pop signs, classic automobilia, and antique toys to pedal cars, kiddie rides, and jukeboxes.
The picturesque venue at the Wisconsin-Illinois border peaks in its natural splendor around the summer solstice, which this year conveniently falls right after the auction kickoff on June 21. For those who’ve yet to witness the midwestern United States at this time of year, the event offers a chance to experience the vibrancy of cities, suburbs, and the countryside in full bloom.
Road Art collecting offers an extensive array of genres, presenting a rich diversity of antique treasures to explore. Be it neon signs, framed ads, pedal cars, globes, or petrol-related collectibles, there’s an artifact to spark interest for every individual with a keen eye for intriguing antiquities. The joy collectors feel when discovering a long-lost porcelain sign or a 1950s gas pump from childhood memories is truly incomparable.
While nostalgia often drives the fascination for collecting such artifacts, there are countless motivations that draw collectors to engage in this pursuit. It’s not merely the pieces collected, but the sense of community fostered through shared passion, appreciation of history, and the common bonds formed among a diverse group of enthusiasts that makes Road Art a beloved hobby.
Whether your urge to collect is to honor personal history, appreciate the style and history of items, or revel in shared interests with fellow enthusiasts, Road Art offers an appeal for all. This year, everyone is invited to participate in the first-ever World’s Largest Road Art Auction, set to take place from June 20-25 at Mecum Auctions headquarters.
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