People often choose to display art in their home for aesthetic reasons, but recent studies have shown that engaging with the visual arts can actually improve stress, memory, and empathy, whether by viewing art or creating it.
The benefits of viewing art are countless. According to a study conducted by the University of Westminster, participants who visited an art gallery on their lunch break reported feeling less stressed afterwards. They had lower concentrations of cortisol, the stress hormone, from just 35 minutes spent roaming the gallery.
Looking at art also causes people to experience joy, akin to the sensation of falling in love. Neurobiologist Semir Zeki scanned 28 volunteers’ brains as they looked at art and noticed an immediate release of dopamine, the chemical related to love and pleasure.
Additionally, visiting the gallery has been found to relieve people of mental exhaustion, the same way the outdoors can. As stated in Jan Packer’s study on the benefits of museum experiences, the four factors that contribute to mental restoration (fascination, being away, compatibility, and extent) are commonly found in both natural environments and museums, making it an ideal work break.
It’s not only adults who benefit from a trip to the art museum. A study published by the University of Arkansas found that children who viewed art displayed improved critical thinking skills and increased historical empathy, the ability to perceive what life was like for people who live in a different time and place. Ten thousand students were evaluated on observation, interpretation, evaluation, association, and problem solving skills. After a trip to the art museum, there was between a 9-18% increase reported in the students’ critical thinking skills.
In addition to viewing art, creating art also benefits one’s mental health. When people engage in complex activities, the brain creates new connections between brain cells. It also stimulates communication between the right and left hemispheres of the brain. Consequently, a study done on the effects of visual art production showed an increase in psychological resilience, an individual’s ability to adapt to conditions and disadvantages.
Making art also reduces stress and negative emotions, creating an experience akin to meditation. Similar to meditation, art draws people’s attention to details and the environment, which create a distraction from day-to-day thoughts.
Art therapy also improves the quality of life in dementia patients and eases burden for those with chronic health conditions. For dementia patients, creating art enhances cognitive abilities and memory, in addition to aiding symptoms of depression and anxiety. Physician Dr. Arnold Bresky has used art therapy to help those with dementia and Alzheimer’s, citing a 70% success rate in improving his patients’ memories.
For other health conditions, visual arts activities help patients forget about their illnesses. It also lowers their stress hormone cortisol and gives them an outlet to express their feelings and experiences.
There are various ways to benefit from art, such as attending an art show or dabbling in oil painting. Exposing ourselves to paintings, sculptures, and photographs can lead to healthier mental states. Consider adding a beautiful portrait to your home for a quick surge of dopamine at the end of a stressful day.