From developing our brains to keeping us healthy: the positive effects of art
09.02.2024 - 12:46
While the positive effects of exercise on our mental health have long been known, the benefits of art are only starting to be fully appreciated. Research by the Mental Health Foundation suggests that art helps boost confidence, making us feel more engaged and resilient. It can also alleviate anxiety, depression and stress.
Art Fund, a charity that supports museums and galleries financially, recently conducted the Calm and collected study, which found that while 63% of respondents had visited a museum or gallery to de-stress at some point, only 6% go regularly. It seems that while most people have experienced the positive impact of art first-hand, it’s not something they think they need habitually like physical exercise.
“In our lives, arts are marginalised and seen as a nice-to-have. We don’t realise we are wired to these experiences,” says Susan Magsamen, co-author of Your Brain on Art: How the Arts Transform Us. “We talk about meditation and mindfulness as a way to make us feel better; the arts also allow us to change our state of mind. We are born with 100bn neurons, which we need to connect to each other. The more salient art is, the greater it contributes to the strengthening of synapse connections.”
While many of these connections are forged in early childhood, art can be beneficial throughout your life. “It’s never too late to take advantage of aesthetic experiences, to build development and get a brain that’s stronger,” says Magsamen. “Art destigmatises complex human emotions that we often can’t understand because the world is so complex.”
While we are only starting to understand the impact of art on our actual brain structure, its positive effects overall are being recognised. In 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) identified art as a contributing factor in reducing mental illness, loneliness and even ageing. A study of deprived communities in London found that, of the people who engaged with the arts, 79% ate more healthily and 82% enjoyed greater wellbeing. The government estimates that arts participation has saved the NHS £168m due to a reduction in GP visits, while, last winter, many galleries and museums were used as warm banks where people could go to get out of the cold.
But galleries and museums are far more than just physical spaces. “They are inspirational places in every community, which are open to everyone,” says Jenny Waldman, director of Art Fund. “You can discover art and ideas, meet people and find out more about what you are interested in. Studies show that these are spaces where you can discuss major societal issues in a neutral space and open up ideas, inviting you to explore and promote a sense of wellbeing.”
The mixture of the quiet, calm atmosphere, alongside