Why Art Is A Mood Booster – The Effect Of Art On The Brain

In a society that seems to value STEM subjects more than any of the creative subjects, the proportion of students taking Art for GCSEs or A-levels is falling. But new studies have found that creating art – regardless of the level - can have an immensely positive impact on our brain, our mental health and wellbeing. Are we too quick in ditching Art at GSCE or A-Level?

Artistic expression can have a wonderful, freeing impact on our lives. Creating art boosts self-esteem, improves concentration, and provides a sense of accomplishment, producing dopamine. And dopamine, importantly, is our ‘motivation molecule’. Expressing creativity in doing an art subject (at school or outside it) uses a different part of the brain and therefore is the perfect activity to offset other, purely academic, subjects. Going to the art block at school after a biology lesson, for example, will relax the brain. Researchers even go further in saying that the production of visual art is like exercise for the brain (much like music) and helps to keep our brain sharp.

Recent studies completed as part of a new field of research, called neuroesthetics, have been looking at how the brain responds to art. For example, biofeedback is used to study the effects of visual arts on neural circuits and neuroendocrine markers in the brain to find biological evidence that visual art promotes (brain) health, wellness and helps to deal with stress. These studies found that there is indeed scientific evidence that the arts engage the mind in novel ways. Have you ever felt that rush of joy making art or seeing a beautiful painting or listening to wonderful music? Well, this rush is real: your brain responds to art by lighting up like fireworks as more blood flows to the brain and invigorates it.

Besides this, the cognitive-reflective aspects of the arts make them especially effective as a tool for mindfulness. Laurence Vandenborre, a certified art therapist and life coach, talks about the power of art therapy in her Ted Talk. With many teens experiencing mental health issues, art therapy is increasingly being used as a reliable method to improve teen mental health. It can help deal with emotional issues and thoughts that can’t quite be expressed in words. The Italian actor and author, Dario Fo, once aptly said that “while drawing I discover what I really want to say”.

You don’t need to choose Art at GCSE or A-level to experience the positive therapeutic effects of making art. If you incorporate it into your extra-curricular activities, you may find that being creative as well as seeing art (paintings, sculptures) improves your mental health naturally and fires up those braincells!

But if people tell you that Art is not a ‘real’ subject you could reply – truthfully – that in fact it is your brain’s exercise and mood-booster. Who can argue with that? Time then to explore that amazing art block at school.

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