Brain Waves with Debra Rose

Capturing Wind 48x60 oil on canvas by Dalton Portella

Art and Happiness

In our current culture dominated by professions like technology and finance, it is easy to overlook the significance of incorporating the arts into our lives.  Far from an indulgent hobby or luxury pastime, prioritizing art plays a critical role in our mental health and overall well-being.

We are informed about vitamins, exercise, and environmental stressors, and are educated about sleep hygiene, nutritional standards and self-care.  Often, we neglect the simple act of observing art to also boost our happiness, a practice throughout history that is so powerful we still know the names of artists and pieces created hundreds of years ago.

Enjoying nature, music and art sparks joy when we take time to engage with what is outside of our daily routines and observations.  Pausing to view the sunset, watch lightening strike or viewing pieces of art and architecture prompts awe and wonder, shifting our mind and our mood from the concrete to the abstract.

As a result, we often feel happier.

Those viewing awe-inspiring art often report feeling a part of something bigger than themselves, feel more connected to others, think more optimistically and creatively and inspired as a result.  Research shows that blood flow to our brain increases, the way it does when we see someone that makes us happy, when we view something beautiful.  Our brain is not just figuring out the work, it is going through ‘embodied cognition,’ prompting us to feel emotions from viewing what is happening in the artwork via mirror neurons in the brain.  As you continue to view a piece of art, the more you identify with the creation, the visual scene and react to the stimuli created by the artist.

The book Visual Intelligence by Amy Herman describes how to keep your brain engaged while viewing art, noting how you can improve your problem-solving skills and observations, and spark conscious and unconscious brain power in everyday life.  Think about what the piece represents and says about the creator, discuss the work with others, describe what you are seeing and maybe not seeing, and think about how this compares to your own life experiences.

We do not have to be artists, art history experts or understand the differences in style to appreciate the beauty of art and reap the benefits, as much as we do not need to understand the mechanics of a wave to enjoy watching the sea.  The positive state we find ourselves in can reduce inflammation in the body, reduce our risk for chronic disease, and put our sympathetic nervous system at ease, according to The Surgeon General (of Montauk), Dr. Richard Firshein.  We can practically feel our blood pressure and heart rate leveling when taking time to observe artwork.

Visit a gallery and notice that you may feel less stressed, more mindful and more observant of visual details and cues in other areas of your life.  The nonverbal association we make by silently observing art taps into basic emotions that words often cannot, triggering other less used areas of the brain for a more immersive experience.

Lucky for us we not only have natural beauty in Montauk, but we also have a host of local artists that showcase their work in shows, galleries and exhibits.  Most recently we visited 484 Gallery on the harbor in Montauk, this time featuring work by Dalton Portella.  View art however and wherever you can, your body and brain will smile with appreciation.