Art has been a form of human expression since prehistoric times, and has been an integral part of human culture for thousands of years. Visual art, in particular, has a unique way of engaging the human brain and can have numerous benefits for mental health, cognitive functioning, and overall well-being. This article will explore some of the ways that visual art can positively impact the brain and draw on a range of sources to support these claims.
One of the most significant benefits of visual art is its potential to reduce stress and improve mood. A study published in the Journal of Health Psychology found that creating art can reduce cortisol levels in the body, which is a hormone associated with stress (Stuckey & Nobel, 2010). Another study published in the International Journal of Art Therapy found that participants who engaged in art-making reported lower levels of anxiety and depression (Monti et al., 2006). These findings suggest that engaging in visual art can be a powerful tool for managing stress and improving mental health.
In addition to reducing stress and improving mood, visual art has been shown to enhance cognitive functioning in a number of ways. One way is through the development of visual-spatial skills. Visual-spatial skills refer to the ability to mentally manipulate visual images and perceive relationships between them (Uttal et al., 2013). Creating and viewing visual art requires the use of these skills, and research has shown that engaging in visual art can improve visual-spatial processing (Winner & Hetland, 2000). In a study published in the journal Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, researchers found that high school students who took a visual arts course showed significant improvements in visual-spatial processing compared to students who did not take the course (Chamberlain et al., 2014). This suggests that visual art can be an effective way to enhance cognitive functioning in young people.
Another way that visual art can enhance cognitive functioning is through the development of creative problem-solving skills. Visual art requires individuals to engage in creative problem-solving, as they must make decisions about composition, color, and form (Root-Bernstein & Root-Bernstein, 2001). Engaging in this type of problem-solving can improve overall creativity and lead to improvements in problem-solving skills in other areas of life (Winner & Hetland, 2000). In a study published in the journal Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, researchers found that students who engaged in visual art activities showed improvements in creative problem-solving compared to students who did not engage in these activities (Chamberlain et al., 2014). This suggests that visual art can be a powerful tool for developing creative problem-solving skills.
Visual art can also have benefits for individuals with neurological disorders. Research has shown that engaging in visual art can improve cognitive functioning in individuals with conditions such as dementia and Parkinson's disease (Grainger et al., 2014; Windle et al., 2014). In a study published in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease, researchers found that engaging in visual art activities improved cognitive functioning in individuals with dementia (Grainger et al., 2014). Similarly, a study published in the Journal of Parkinson's Disease found that engaging in visual art activities improved fine motor skills and overall quality of life in individuals with Parkinson's disease (Windle et al., 2014). These findings suggest that visual art can be a valuable tool for improving cognitive functioning and quality of life in individuals with neurological disorders.
Art has been used for centuries as a form of creative expression, but its ability to reduce stress is only now being widely recognized. Visual art has the potential to help people de-stress by providing an outlet for emotions, allowing them to focus their attention on something productive and creative, and helping them to gain perspective on difficult situations.