Author: Kat Warren : Photographer
It’s long been known that the act of creating art is beneficial to our brains. Painting, taking photos, playing music, and many other art forms help stimulate the brain and help keep our brains young as we age. Many of us have fond memories of elementary school art projects, high school band camp, creative writing classes in college, and jobs where our creativity was valued and encouraged by our employers. And art as a form of therapy has been a growing field for decades, used as a therapeutic tool to help treat people with everything from anxiety and trauma to eating disorders.
Though the benefits of creating art have long been studied and documented, the idea that viewing art is good for us is now becoming mainstream knowledge. Ask frequent visitors to art galleries, concert goers, or even nature lovers, and you’ll find a common thread that runs through anyone who enjoys and appreciates art. It’s a place where they find joy, calm, exhilaration, and general feelings of well being.
Embodied cognition, a concept that has been discussed for hundreds of years, can best explain our connection to viewing a photo, painting, sculpture, and other forms of artwork that “move” us in ways sometimes even we can’t explain. Wikipedia defines Embodied cognition as, “the theory that many features of cognition, whether human or otherwise, are shaped by aspects of the entire body of the organism. The features of cognition include high level mental constructs (such as concepts and categories) and performance on various cognitive tasks (such as reasoning or judgment).” All of this is basically a way to describe how the human brain is capable of looking at a static image or other form of artwork and being transported through memory and/or a desire to be one with the art. There have even been studies to show that just looking at a piece of art can increase blood flow to the brain, and some researchers describe it as having the same impact as staring at someone we love.
Neurologists, philosophers, computer scientists, artists, designers, anthropologists, and a whole host of other disciplines are now coming together to study how art shapes our world. This may seem like a no-brainer to the creatives of the world, but it has sometimes been hard to convince others of the benefits and importance of both artwork and art education to the mainstream business world where art is often considered an afterthought.
Happily, the importance placed on art is changing and art is now taking the forefront in design. Hospitals, corporate office spaces, senior living/memory care, and the hospitality industry have all begun to embrace and celebrate the healing and well-being benefits of beautiful art. Whether it’s a spa experience at a high end resort, or a memory care setting where large scale beautiful artwork can provide calm and even serve as a way for people to better navigate their environment, art is finding its place as an integral part of any environment. Beautification of cities through large murals help residents feel better in the same way that anxiety felt while waiting in a hospital or doctor’s office can be reduced through the intelligent use of paintings, sculpture, and photography.
Art brings people together. It’s a way to create collective memory, stimulate our brains or bring them calm and respite from a hectic world. Next time you’re out at a restaurant, visiting a loved one at a healthcare facility, walking through an airport terminal or entering the lobby of a hotel, stop a moment and think about how the art is making you feel. Beautiful and impactful artwork can transport us to far flung places we hope to one day visit, or take us back to a place from years gone by. Whatever reaction you have when looking at artwork, art makes us feel, and that’s a good thing.