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How does art impact the brain? There is a widely-held misconception that visual art is just created for aesthetics and has no other purpose or impact. But art acts on our brains in a multi-faceted, dynamic way, according to thousands of scientific studies that have been conducted over the years by neuroscientists, psychologists, and other researchers; these studies birthed the fast-developing field of neuroaesthetics in the early 2000s.
Art stimulates the brain because the brain is hardwired to process art, even unconsciously. That is, making or contemplating art spontaneously activates certain parts of the brain, including the “reward center.” Studies like one conducted by researchers at Emory University School of Medicine have revealed that exposure to art strongly activates the reward center in the brain; the art-activated areas of our brains cause a release of hormones and neurotransmitters when stimulated, which make us feel good.
Art stimulates the brain in other beneficial ways as well. It builds greater creativity while enhancing critical thinking skills and improving focus and observation skills. Creating meaning and shaping understanding by making careful observations, deciphering patterns, speculating, clarifying, and developing opinions are skills learned when an individual engages with art, both by creating it or observing it. An intersection of creativity and critical thinking exists that makes the value of the visual arts clear in terms of thinking and learning.
Visual art has been proven to positively affect the human brain, especially in terms of fortifying overall mental health. Art is valuable because it is known to relieve stress and anxiety, which sometimes helps mitigate and resolve some mental health issues (e.g., depressive disorders, etc.). The relationship between art and stress has been researched consistently by neuroscientists and psychologists; the studies they have conducted have found that creating and/or viewing visual art can significantly reduce stress levels. A 2016 Drexel University study titled “Reduction of Cortisol Levels and Participants’ Responses Following Art Making” is one such study; researchers concluded that participants experienced a decrease in their levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, when they engaged in making art.
Understanding how art stimulates the brain is important because the brain benefits from engaging with art: art is good for the brain. The benefits that come from exposure to the visual arts are substantial. Art has the potential to improve people’s ability to learn and to be positive contributors to society.
The Naples Art District boasts the largest concentration of working artists in Southwest Florida. The unique group of over 70 visual artists with studios and galleries in the District hosts live events throughout the year to share experiences of art with the public. It gives professional artists a place to create, using a wide variety of mediums and methods, that art lovers of every age and stage can learn more about during a visit. The Naples Art District has a calendar of events and classes available online for anyone who wants to explore the fine arts; contact the organization any time for more information.