Whether you’re creating art or just looking at it, neuroscience shows it’s good for your brain
You don’t have to be an artist to want to create art; When it comes to your brain, it is the process, not the end product, that matters. That’s the message from Harvard Medical School, which recently conducted a large-scale study of the effects of artwork on the brain. But why is this?
Scientific evidence showing that art improves brain function
Decades of research have provided a mountain of data, enough to say without question that art affects our brain wave patterns and emotions, the nervous system, and can even raise serotonin levels significantly to have a measurable effect. The benefits range from the development of fine motor skills, the expansion of creativity and a better emotional balance.
This answers the question “Does art matter?” Research indicates that these effects are particularly pronounced in the very young and old in our society. The latest findings show that experiencing any kind of beauty, visual or musical, can literally affect the choices we make in our everyday lives.
One area of special interest is conceptual art such as that created by Yoel Benharrouche. Our brains tend to see this type of work as a puzzle, and the reaction that people have to them is very similar to when they work with a mathematical proof.
An early example of this type of work is Magritte’s betrayal of images (Ceci n’est pas une pipe), which, according to prominent neurobiologist Semir Zeki, “goes against everything the brain has seen, learned, and stored in his memory”.
Other examples, like Piet Mondrian’s paintings, stimulate areas of the brain that are happy to solve puzzles. Multiple areas of the brain are believed to work together to solve this “artistic puzzle”, creating an overall sense of satisfaction.
When this happens, the different areas of the frontal lobe join memories and experiences and try to take advantage of them with learning. The brain always seeks order, but art does not always have different objects and order.
More studies on the benefits of art
It has long been recognized that art and creativity are beneficial for brain development in children, but the benefits for older adults are only just beginning to be fully understood. Artistic activities like painting and coloring make for an engaging hobby, but they can also increase social interaction, improve cognition, and have even been shown to reduce anxiety and depression.
Most interestingly, when surveyed, adults who participated in these activities were not surprised or shocked by the study results, while those who did not regularly participate in any art form almost always dismissed the claims.
Researchers have found that creative activities often help build connections in the brain, whatever form they take. By strengthening our cognitive reserves in this way, memory loss in adulthood can be prevented. Some of the other effects are even easier to measure, such as the improvement in fine motor skills seen in the previous study.
More difficult to quantify are the emotional benefits. For many people, especially older generations, expressing themselves can be difficult. Art offers an outlet through which to create a visual representation of thoughts and feelings, which can be an easier way to communicate than speaking out loud. Communicating with others reduces feelings of loneliness and isolation, so it makes sense that art can benefit people in this way.
The American Association for Retired Persons (AARP) says that doing the arts and crafts you did as a child can help you connect with positive childhood memories. Their surveys found that people over the age of 85 were significantly less likely to develop cognitive impairment if they continued to participate in some form of art or craft activity.
With so many studies agreeing on the benefits of art, it seems indisputable that art is actually good for the brain. Maintaining an interest in art throughout your life could be the most beneficial path of all. Think about this the next time you’re wandering around a gallery or art fair and ask yourself, “Is this good for me?” I think we will all agree with our answer.