Your Brain On Art

Why science says living with art is good for you

Susan Magsamen and Ivy Ross’s 2023 book, ‘Your Brain on Art’, declared something bold: art is not a luxury or an escape, it’s a birthright. Their argument stems from neuroaesthetics – a field of neuroscience that emerged in the late 1990s to study the effect of beauty, particularly art, on brain activity. According to the research, interacting with art for just twenty minutes a day can have profound positive effects on our emotional wellbeing, neuroplasticity and cognitive functioning, stimulating “whole-brain” activity. On art, our brain lights up.

The field of neuroaesthetics is controversial. Some believe it threatens to reduce art – a complex philosophical, cultural and social phenomena – into mere brain scans. Despite this, it’s gaining momentum. A subject is being taught at Harvard, doctors are prescribing visits to art museums, hospitals are putting on exhibitions and “enriched environments”, meaning those alive with art, are being shown to help mitigate age-related cognitive decline like Alzheimer's. From an evolutionary perspective, living in a beautiful environment signalled that it was safe to inhabit. Now it can help us stay healthy.

Science will never fully explain the power of art. What neuroaesthetics does however, is ground a phenomena collectors know well in its physical basis. It feels good to look at and live among art. With this in mind, the marginalising of aesthetics in the environments we inhabit is not just a shame, but a missed opportunity. Why not bring the power of art into everyday life and let it nourish you. 

“I think that what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonances with our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive.”

― Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth

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