We look at, experience, and purchase art because it makes us feel something. There is a value that goes beyond anything monetary, a value that benefits us personally, culturally, and socially. We view art to provide some form of benefit to our lives, but that benefit can come in many different ways.
Being able to appreciate art—whether a painting, a sculpture, a dance show, theatre, and more—makes us feel a part of something special. It is actually important to our health and wellbeing. Semir Zeki, a professor of Neuroesthetics at the University of College London researched how our brains react when we look at art.
Zeki says that when we look at art, there is increased activity in the pleasure and reward centres of the brain. These are similar areas of the brain that affect our feeling of love. Essentially, art has the power to make you feel good.
But this positive emotional response is not the only benefit to our bodies. Koenraad Cuypers and fellow researchers at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology conducted a study involving more than 50,000 people with questions ranging from how often they visited galleries or participated in cultural activities to their satisfaction with their lives.
In their reported findings, they discovered a strong correlation between good physical health and participating in artistic activities. Involvement with artistic or cultural activities was positively associated with better health, lower anxiety and lower occurrences of depression.
Art also can help shape our social perspective. In a study by the University of Arkansas, they found that when students visit galleries and museums, they exhibited strong critical thinking abilities and a higher understanding of historical empathy.
Art is meant to be enjoyed. Our experiences with art give us pleasure. But it does so much more. When you go to an exhibition or a gallery, you come away with a better understanding of the world around you.
And over time, that pleasure you get from art will yield benefits to your body, mind and spirit.
By Nathan Durec