Have More Art in Life. It’s Great for Your Brain.
What is the worth of art in a culture that holds productivity as its supreme goal?
Art has always been thought of as a whimsical pursuit – one that has no ‘real’ benefit, at least not as real as money or success. Science, however, would tell us otherwise. Researches in Neurology has long proclaimed the very real benefits art holds for your brain – both for those who practice it and those who simply view it for aesthetic pleasure.
Most of us have laughed at that modern art joke – you know, the one where abstract and deliberately silly shapes and objects are touted as ‘Modern Art’ and that feels so absurd. Yet seemingly unintelligible artworks can help the very qualities that make you productive – information processing, categorizing, focus, memory, and of course, the ability to interpret reality creatively.
Let’s have a look at how art influences the brain – of those that practice it, and of those that view it.
The artist’s brain on art
The process of art – in simplest terms – consists of a thought being articulated in shapes and images. The thought may precede the artwork entirely, or it may take shape in the artist’s brain as they proceed with the work.
Inside the brain, the process is not at all different from other cognitive processes. It includes memory, focus, visual and aural information processing, categorizing, decision-making, differentiation etc. In short, all the cognitive faculties that you’d need to use for writing a sales report or academic dissertation.
Practicing art is an intense workout of your executive functioning faculties, that helps keep your brain sharp and healthy.
But the fun thing about art is it’s not just executive functioning, it is also about using different articulation techniques. Art is about expressing thoughts and emotions in an unfamiliar way, and that adds additional layers of cognitive exercise than writing sales reports. You need to think out of the box, rake different areas of your brain for symbols and images, make associations between seemingly separate ideas, and devise creative solutions.
All this exercise gets your creative juices flowing, and makes you more prepared to handle everyday situations at work and in personal life more creatively. Creativity is a necessity to succeed in today’s world, whatever the field you’re working in. Practicing art gets you a focused exercise in this crucial brain function.
Ask any artist why they make art and they’ll tell you – it gives them pleasure. Making art is an immensely pleasurable activity, regardless of how ‘good’ you think the end result is. The very act of articulating thoughts in a different way gives a sense of release, and the completion of a work of art always comes with heightened dopamine and serotonin activities.
Making art has an enormous positive effect on your motivation, focus, and calmness of mind. They help with symptoms of Depression and Anxiety by regulating your mood surges, and keeps your mind healthy.
The viewers brain on art
Even if you don’t practice any art, simply viewing artworks can be super beneficial for your mind. Noted neurologist Semir Zeki documented in his 1998 essay ‘Art and the Brain’ how viewing or experiencing art can stimulate “conceptual relations” in the brain, and affect decision making processes.
Because art uses creative ways of expression, it poses a challenge to the brain that is similar to solving visual puzzles. Many art works use visual paradoxes, puns, symbols, and color codes that need to be deciphered in order to interpret them. The act of unravelling these puzzles light up several areas of your frontal lobe that deals with memory, learning, and experience. Viewing art regularly therefore improves focus and memory functions, and also consolidates learning.
Also, viewing art is a creative act in itself. In order to interpret a complex object like an artwork, the brain has to think creatively and make unusual connections. This act stimulates the viewers creative faculties and help in decision making.
So the next time you encounter a ‘modern art’, try to interpret it instead of passing over. It is quite immaterial whether you understand the intended meaning or not – all art is open to interpretation. But the very act of trying to interpret will help boost your brain power. Already handy with brushes and pastels? Maybe its time to pick them up again. Your brain will agree!