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Art is Good for Your Brain

Curators’ corner

Art is Good for Your Brain

For us at Duggal, art is a way of life. We’re fortunate to help artists of all genres and backgrounds share their work with the world. We could go on and on about our dedication to customer service or the latest technology, and sometimes we do. But what really matters most is the art. That’s why we’re all here, isn’t it? Because we love art.

That perspective gets us thinking about the purpose of art. Do we seek art simply because it makes us feel good, or is there deeper reasoning? Is art a pastime, or is it essential to our emotional well-being? We think the latter, and we’ve rounded up some research to support the notion that art is actually good for your brain. We know you don’t need convincing, but here’s what we’ve found:

Making art can keep you from aging.

Well, nothing can truly keep you from aging. But if anything could, it might be art.

Very recent research out of Germany suggests that art can delay or negate age-related decline in brain functions. A small-scale study led by neurologists Anne Bolwerk and Christian Maihofner found that “the production of visual art improves effective interaction” between parts of the brain.

The experiment tested 28 people between the ages of 62 and 70, all of whom had been retired for more than three months but less than three years. For 10 weeks, half of the subjects attended a hands-on art workshop and half attended an art history course. A comparison of brain scans from before and after the research period revealed “a significant improvement in psychological resilience in the visual art production group,” but not in the art-appreciation group. Though unable to offer a conclusive reason for the gap, the researchers suggest: “The creation of visual art is a personal integrative experience –- an experience of ‘flow,’ – in which the participant is fully emerged in the creative activity.”

Similarly, a study in the U.S. links senior art programs to “true health promotion and disease prevention effects” and “a positive impact on maintaining independence and on reducing dependency.”

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Image courtesy of BBC News

Looking at beautiful art is like being in love (without the heartbreak).

You don’t have to be an artist to benefit from art. Research shows that just looking at art can get your brain firing.

In 2011, esteemed neurobiologist Semir Zeki conducted an experiment on the perception of beauty in art. Subjects viewed various works from famous painters, some of which they found to be pleasing while others were perceived as “ugly.” Zeki examined brain scans, particularly those that developed the most powerful “pleasure response,” and found that increase in blood flow was directly proportional to how well-liked a painting was.

“The blood flow increased for a beautiful painting just as it increases when you look at somebody you love,” Zeki said. “It tells us art induces a feel good sensation direct to the brain.”

So if you’re tired of getting your heart broken, really you can just find the same sensation of love by going to a museum. Art will never leave you.

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There’s a whole science dedicated to these types of findings.

Speaking of Zeki, he’s actually a pioneer of a whole field dedicated to this stuff. Neuroaesthetics, the study of connections between art and the brain, emerged at the turn of the 21st century with Zeki’s book, “Inner Vision: An Exploration of Art and the Brain.”

Today the study of neuroaesthetics continues to grow with enhanced brain-imaging techniques and the International Network for Neuroaesthetics, piquing the interest of neuroscientists, psychologists and historians around the world.

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Image courtesy of Guardian Liberty Voice

Art is good for the kids.

Most importantly, art is vital to healthy and happy children (who will later become healthy and happy adults). Scholastic offers a complete rundown of art’s positive effects on kids, including strengthened synapses between brain cells and fortified neural pathways.

Scholastic also cites Dr. Bruce Perry of the CIVITAS Healing Arts project in connecting childhood trauma and the healing effects of art:

CIVITAS research has shown that specific parts of the brain are stimulated by specific artistic enrichment modalities.  For example: the base or brain stem responds to touch; the midbrain to music-making and movement; the limbic region to dance, art, play therapy, and nature discovery; and the cortical region to art, storytelling, drama, and writing. Through artistic stimulation, children’s brains are healing and growing!”

Duggal believes that art is absolutely essential to childhood development, which is why the Duggal Big Picture Foundation recently launched its Saturdays @ Duggal program for children ages 6-12.

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And that’s all we’ve got for now. Next time you come across a study suggesting that art is good for your brain, send it our way. When we gather a few more we’ll put together another post. In the meantime, never stop creating and appreciating art.

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