How Art Changes Your Brain

“I've already grown a goiter from this torture, My stomach's squashed under my chin, my beard's pointing at heaven, my brain's crushed in a casket, my breast twists like a harpy's My brush, above me all the time, dribbles paint so my face makes a fine floor for droppings! my poor ass strains to work as a counterweight, every gesture I make is blind and aimless

My skin hangs loose below me, my spine's all knotted from folding over itself My painting is dead I am not in the right place—I am not a painter” Would it surprise you if I told you that these lines were scribed by none other than Michelangelo, painter of the Sistine Chapel? We often gaze upon masterpieces so miraculous as this and imagine it as a piece born from a desire to create great art, with passion pouring from the artist’s every pore Michelangelo in fact, hated his grand epitome of human creation, finding it quite the bore

Yet over five million people flock to admire it every year Michelangelo loathed every minute of its creation, so much so that he wrote the preceding poem So then why did he do it? Well, he was being paid by the church And as we all know, enough money will make a man sell his soul, or paint a giant fresco on the Pope’s ceiling, either are just as likely ‘A picture paints a thousand words’ this well-known idiom reveals the most important aspect of artwork, that it is potentially the most powerful medium we have to record and be able to reflect on history in a visual way

Today every relevant and far more often irrelevant moment of human creation is captured in photography, frequently archived publically for the world to view When Apollo 11 landed the first two men on the moon in 1969 it was captured fantastically on film and broadcast for the world to see We can all observe in precise detail what happened in that momentous moment But until the advent of photography, we had to rely on two mediums to guide us through the triumphs and tribulations of times gone by, writing and illustration When Leonardo Da Vinci invented his flying machine he probably would have really liked to make an obnoxiously gloat-filled Instagram post, but he was thankfully resigned to drawing an impressively detailed yet beautifully artistic sketch instead

Needless to say, writing is a powerful force but only art can influence a nation with a single glance Artwork drags us from the drudgery of our pixel-perfect period in time and grants us a wonderfully dynamic perspective on the events that changed our world Artwork allows us to instantly visualise moments such as the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the invention of Gutenberg's printing press, the French revolution, the protestant reformation, the fall of the Roman Empire and that elusive period during the middle ages when the world was full of murderous giant rabbits And alike these freakishly satanic rabbits, famous pieces of artwork aren’t always historically accurate, George Washington certainly didn’t cross the Delaware like this And Napoleon definitely didn’t look as fabulous as this whilst crossing the Alps

For a start, he would have ridden a mule, not a horse, as Paul Delaroche depicted in this far more realistic envisioning of the event, painted in 1850 But, you know what? These inaccuracies don’t matter The purpose of great art is not to provide an exact recount of the event in question, we have historical textbooks for that Instead, art provides a stylised, sometimes idealised version of events that aids our imagination and with one glance transports us to that precious moment in time It is only through this spectacular visualisation of art that allows it to perforate popular culture and bring history to the masses

It is not for us to imagine the ambience of a cafe terrace in Southern France in the late evening of 1888, on this, Van Gogh has us covered Also in the late 19th century, one artist’s paintings helped all of Europe visualise a new world and caused mass migration, thus by no exaggeration, one man’s artwork built the American West More specifically, German-American painter Albert Bierstadt’s rich vistas of the living landscapes of the American West were brought back to London in 1867 and exhibited to the masses, including a private exhibition for Queen Victoria So mesmerised by the idyllic freedom depicted upon these canvases, so beautifully promised was the vast bounty of the free new world laid bare to all, that British, German and Irish people packed up their lives and migrated to America in their millions It has been said that European migration to the states was fueled by Bierstadt’s art

Art can and has been used to mobilise entire nations into mass hysteria, into war, into peace or to simply mobilise them, to colonise new lands Art doesn’t just change what we do, it changes how we think and what we think changes the type of images we prefer to look at Psychological studies have demonstrated how our personalities are reflected in the types of artwork we find pleasing to look at and thus what we choose to hang on our walls There is a very real and predictable positive correlation between conservatives and highly representational artwork In other words, people who have a more conservative outlook on life prefer traditional artwork, artwork that looks like what it seeks to represent

For instance, when 19th-century Belgian Eugène Joors set out to paint a man playing a guitar he, by some miracle of humanity, ended up painting a man with a guitar Meanwhile, at the same time in France, cubist Georges Braque attempted the same feat, to paint a man with a guitar, yet somehow painted a tear in the spacetime fabric Conversely, liberals considerably prefer abstract art forms such as cubism, surrealism and modern art Such as Banett Newman’s Onement VI, alternatively known as ‘blue square with line down the middle’, which recently sold for $438 million

But this is not nearly as ridiculous as the ‘artwork’ not on display at the Museum of Non-Visible Art You heard that correctly, the Museum of Non-Visible Art is exactly that, a gallery of empty rooms and empty walls Each blank wall is accompanied by a title and description card that describes the artwork you are supposedly ‘looking at’ It is up to your mind to imagine what the art should look like I’m sorry but if I p aid to see the latest blockbuster at the cinema and I was told I have to imagine what the film looks like for 2 hours because it’s a ‘non-visible film’, it’s reasonable to say I would be beyond pissed

Yet, most incredible of all, this gallery made a sale, in 2011 a woman paid $10,000 for the piece titled ‘Fresh Air’ In return for her ten fat Gs she received a card with a description of the artwork, which she could presumably stick to an empty wall at home and have to describe to all her family and friends why there is a gaping white space in her living room and an idiotically larger space in her wallet An art magazine described the piece like so ‘A unique piece, only this one is for sale The air you are purchasing is like buying an endless tank of oxygen No matter where you are, you always have the ability to take a breath of the most delicious, clean-smelling air that the earth can produce

Every breath you take gives you endless peace and health This artwork is something to carry with you if you own it Because wherever you are, you can imagine yourself getting the most beautiful taste of air that is from the mountain tops or fields or from the ocean side; it is an endless supply’ But how does art affect us in our modern day-to-day lives? We see artwork everywhere we go, sometimes in our homes, doctor’s waiting rooms, in the workplace Whether it be a print of a beautiful renaissance fresco by Raphael looming luxuriously behind a receptionist’s head or one of those bizarre iron irrationalities of human form placed unaccountably on your mother’s coffee table because she thinks it ‘adds a touch of class to the room’

Even if we pay little conscious attention to any of these pieces positioned throughout our lives, they actually do affect us considerably and the very presence of art changes the way we think and behave Recent research by Exeter University’s School of Psychology concluded that employees who work in an office decorated with art are 17% more productive than those who work in a blank office space Other research conducted by the University of Westminster found that viewing art for a small amount of time each day reduces cortisol (stress levels), increases our empathy towards others, releases dopamine, increases our critical thinking abilities by up to 18% and it can also help to reduce mental exhaustion in the exact same way that spending time outdoors does So there you go, instead of going outside, hang a picture of a field on your wall A study in 2014 also found that creating or viewing art increases long-term physical resilience and can actually delay ageing

Art is inextricably tangled with our humanity We don’t only appreciate it when it’s done well, we have an innate need, a desire to create and look at it When our ancient hunter-gatherer ancestors crafted tools needed to survive, they took extra time to make them symmetrical and attractive For no other reason than it gave them satisfaction to use ascetically pleasing tools, rather than ugly ones, also because they had bugger all else to do Throughout modernity, in building our houses and public spaces, all civilisations the world over have spent huge amounts of extra money, time and manpower to make them visually appealing

In a YouGov poll, 77% of respondents said they prefer traditional architecture, with its ornate beauty over cold contemporary buildings, with their hostile steel and glass facades The data shows that across the UK buildings with traditional architecture and even neo-traditional architecture sell for 15 per cent more than modern housing London houses built before the first world war, you know when new builds were actually attractive still, went up in value 465 per cent over the past thirty years Whereas their newer, post-war counterparts, well their value rose by only 255 per cent in the same period People pay a huge premium for beauty and good architecture is art

Why do we pay so much more, for a few details in our brickwork and around our window frames? Because humans are hard-wired to seek out and derive pleasure from beauty The research on this is clear and substantive, living in a beautiful area, amongst beautiful houses, which one could equate to living in a piece of artwork, makes us happier, less stressed and healthier And bringing that beauty into your home, whether its a painting that brings you joy or a sculpture you admire, will only increase these effects So why don’t you seek to bring happiness to others and change the world by creating your own art to be admired by society Whether your dream is to paint, illustrate stories or comics, create sculptures or work with clay, there is only one place on the internet I would recommend to help you fulfil these dreams, Skillshare

Skillshare is an online learning community for creators, with more than 25,000 classes in design, art, illustration and much more Premium Membership gives you unlimited access, so you can join the classes and communities that are just right for you You may want to fuel your curiosity, creativity, or even career, whichever it is Skillshare is the perfect place to keep you learning and thriving If you’re thinking about picking up fine art as a new hobby I highly recommend the Skillshare course “Modern Watercolor Techniques: Beginner's Level” If illustration is more your thing, then you have to watch “Ink Drawing Techniques: Brush, Nib, and Pen Style” it’s such a fun and unique course that will give you a huge headstart

Skillshare is also super affordable: an annual subscription is less than $10 a month Over 7 million creators like you have already joined and the first 500 of my subscribers to use the link in the description will get a free 2 month trial of Skillshare Premium

About Thoughty2

Thoughty2 (Arran) is a British YouTuber and gatekeeper of useless facts. Thoughty2 creates mind-blowing factual videos, on the weirdest, wackiest and most interesting topics. Combining fascinating lists with answers to life's biggest questions.

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