Art can heal us, inspire us, and alter our brain chemistry
With so much talk about the evidence of the positive effects of yoga and meditation, you might be surprised at what scientific research also says about how art effects the brain. Long before modern neuroscience, artists were creating works to inspire people and today complex brain imaging scans can show us just how art changes the physiology of our brains. Contemplation, observing, and taking in beauty all stimulate pleasure centers within the brain while increasing blood flow by up to 10% in the medial orbitofrontal cortex. This can lead to an elevated state of consciousness, wellbeing, and better emotional health.
“The blood flow increased for a beautiful painting just as it increases when you look at somebody you love. It tells us art induces a feel good sensation direct to the brain.”
– Professor Semir Zeki, chair in neuroaesthetics at University College London
Mirror Neurons are neurons that fire both when a person acts and when the person observes the same action performed by another. This brings us back to a very basic concept in human evolution which involves modeling. When you observe a profound piece of art you are potentially firing the same neurons as the artist did when they created it thus making new neural pathways and stimulating a state of inspiration. This sense of being drawn into a painting is called “embodied cognition”.
“Art accesses some of the most advanced processes of human intuitive analysis and expressivity and a key form of aesthetic appreciation is through embodied cognition, the ability to project oneself as an agent in the depicted scene”
– Christopher Tyler, director of the Smith-Kettlewell Brain Imaging Center
Detail of Banks of the Siene at Jenfosse by Claude Monet
This explains why we might feel like we are dreaming when we look at impressionists like Claude Monet, or having an ecstatic vision while looking at a painting by Alex Grey. The ability of art, combined with our own imagination, to transport us to other realms is astounding. Artists have the ability to show us new worlds but we shouldn’t put them on a pedestal because each of us is an artist.
“Making art activates the whole brain and can foster integration of emotional, cognitive, and sensory processes.”
– Joan French MA NCC LCPC
Detail of Arise by Amanda Sage
The act of creating art is also therapeutic which has been the impetus for the art therapy movement. Every one of us lived like artists as children and we have the ability to bring back this powerful form of expression and self-healing if we allow ourselves to. You don’t need to be an expert to enjoy smearing paint on a canvas and letting your pleasure centers light up like a child!
“Art therapy, sometimes called expressive art or art psychology, encourages self-discovery and emotional growth. It is a two-part process, involving both the creation of art and the discovery of its meaning.”
– Paula Ford-Martin
Modern Visionary Artists are applying the idea that art inspires community, is educational, and has the capacity to elicit spiritual revelations. Painting together in groups and painting live at musical events, these artists are allowing participants in on their creative process. Seeing and understanding that even the finest pieces of art have many moments when the artist isn’t satisfied or needs to paint over something is revealing for each of us on our spiritual journey.
Artist Alex Grey has opened Cosm in New York which is being called a Chapel of Sacred Mirrors. Within the Visionary Art Movement is the idea that creativity itself is a path to the divine. This includes creating art, gathering around/celebrating art and creating communities that foster creative expression in all of its forms. Creativity may be one of the greatest things about being human and art can be a great teacher for us on this evolutionary journey.
“To awaken and catalyze the spiritual path of each person by providing access to the highest mystic truth through art and creative action”.
– Cosm Core Value
We are surrounded by billboards and advertisements which utilize art to persuade us to purchase things that we usually don’t need. There is currently a large movement towards beautifying public places with murals that contain cultural and community relevance. Imagine how we might create a more peaceful, vibrant world by surrounding ourselves with beautiful art…
Sound of Flight Mural, Flagstaff, Az.
I’d like to see a world where scientists, politicians, and spiritual practitioners gathered around art to learn and share with each other towards creating a better world. Visual art can heal us, inspire us, and alter our brain chemistry leaving us filled with inspiration and love. We don’t need science to prove this to us but now that it has what are some ways that you will invoke art and creativity for your own spiritual journey?