Five Ways Viewing Art Makes You Healthier
by Dora Knuteson June 25, 2020
I think we can all agree these are some crazy times we’re living in, and right now we’re all looking for ways to stay healthy. I did a little bit of digging, and it turns out that being an artist is actually a pretty healthy profession! Participating in creative endeavors has been proven to reduce stress, improve your mood and help fight off disease. But what if you’re not an artist? Fear not! It turns out, you don’t necessarily have to create art to receive these benefits. You can get the same results by simply viewing it. Here are five ways I learned that art improves our health and well being.
1. Art reduces stress.
Let’s face it - we’re all a little more stressed than we should be. Mother nature never intended for our fight or flight response to be constantly triggered by heavy work loads, financial worries, and a steady flow of social media. Add to that an intensely polarized political climate… oh and a global pandemic… how is one supposed to relax? Well, one option is to take a moment to admire some art! Studies have shown that viewing art decreases your stress levels. Less stress means that you might actually get more than a few hours of sleep per night, finally shed those last few pounds, and you’ll get sick less often. So I think what they’re saying is that I can skip the gym and book a virtual museum tour instead… right?
2. Art helps boost our immune systems.
You know that feeling of awe that takes your breath away when you look at something amazing? It’s helping your body fight off disease! Researchers at University of California, Berkeley say great art can boost the immune system by lowering levels of chemicals that cause inflammation. Inflammation is bad, because it can trigger things like diabetes, heart attacks and other illnesses. No thanks. In two different studies performed on more than 200 young adults they found that those who experience the most positive emotions – especially feelings of wonder and amazement – had the lowest levels of cytokine interleukin 6, which is a chemical marker of inflammation. Hurray for awesome art!
3. Art increases blood flow to the brain.
Science has shown that viewing beautiful artwork can actually cause us to experience the same physical reactions we get when we fall in love! Neurobiologist Semir Zeki set out to see what happens in our brains when we look at beautiful paintings. Participants underwent brain scans while being shown a series of works by major artists. The scientists noticed an immediate release of dopamine, the chemical related to love and pleasure. When viewing art they considered most beautiful, the participants’ blood flow increased in a certain part of their brains by as much as 10%, which is the equivalent to gazing at a loved one. Awwwww!
4. Art promotes healing.
Healthcare organizations have found that having art on the walls can aid in the healing process. Engaging artwork can spark curiosity or create a calming environment for patients, resulting in lower levels of cytokine interleukin 6 (inflammation) and cortisol (stress hormone). Research shows that patients who are exposed to art during a hospital stay heal faster and have a better overall experience!
5. Art provides relief from mental exhaustion.
Gazing at art - even just for a few minutes a day - provides a much needed opportunity to "switch off" and to give our minds a moment to pause, reflect and refresh. Ahhhhh… Another added mental health benefit: University of Arkansas researchers found that after a trip to the art museum, students displayed a 9-18% improvement in critical thinking skills and increased historical empathy - the ability to perceive what life was like for people who lived in a different time and place. Art makes us smarter!
I think a major takeaway here is my GOLDEN RULE on choosing artwork for your home: go with what you love! All too often, collectors are only concerned with matching their couch. But I say, pick the art that makes you happy. Science says it's good for you.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dora Knuteson is an artist in Naples, Florida specializing in tropical, floral and coastal themes. Her work — inspired by the sunshine and beautiful beaches of southwest Florida — is characterized by its lively brushwork and vibrant color.
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