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Monday, 13 August 2018

4 Positive effects of visual art on the brain.

Drawing and painting aren’t just merely fun pastime activities, but incredibly valuable for brain development.



Visual arts consist of a diverse spectrum of art forms that are visual in nature. These include drawing, painting, sculpture, crafts, ceramics, photography, film, architecture and design. Applied arts such as graphic design, interior design, industrial design and fashion design also fall within the category of visual arts.

From this list it is evident that we are surrounded by art. Granted, not every piece of visual art you come across in your daily life has the significance attributed to that of works you will find in a museum or gallery, but visual art, in all its forms, makes life more beautiful, interesting, entertaining and enjoyable. By creating art you’ll receive much more benefits of the brain, as well as improvement in other lifestyle qualities, than just looking at art. Though, to look at art can also be an enjoyable experience that can broaden your worldviews and influence your emotions positively.

Even though art is all around us, influences our societies and is also one of those things that is inexplicably awe-inspiring, it is not always seen as a fundamental aspect of education or in the workplace. For instance, art education won’t get placed first on the podium in an academic context when paired against science and mathematics, or even against other extracurricular activities such as sport – especially when budgets are involved. Some of these arguments are valid within reason, however there is much evidence to suggest that the benefits of art can help you on a personal level, as well as help you to connect to the world around you on a greater level. Even though these benefits cannot be expressed in the same way as standardised test results, the positive neurobiological, cognitive and psychological effects on the brain are well documented. The Renaissance man – inventor, painter, sculptor, engineer, anatomist and mathematician, among other things, Leonardo da Vinci, said the following: “Principles for the development of a complete mind: Study the science of art. Study the art of science. Develop your senses – especially learn how to see. Realise that everything connects to everything else.”

An art brush won’t necessarily save a patient’s life on the operating table, but the creative thinking skills that were fostered in art class can very well lead to medical professionals having a more unique approach to finding cures for diseases. The same is true for many other professions. The key is finding ways to incorporate art into your life that will help you to become a better version of yourself, and change the world around you for the better. Allow art to stand on its own merit for what it does for you as a person and what it does for humanity as a whole.

 In this article we discuss the following benefits of visual art on the brain:

 1. Neurobiological Benefits.2. Cognitive Benefits.3. Psychological Benefits.4. Lifestyle Quality and Performance Benefits.


1. Neurobiological Benefits.

Neurobiology refers to the biological study of the brain’s anatomy, physiology and nervous system. The brain is the most complex organ of the human body. It consists of the cerebrum (divided into two hemispheres), brainstem, cerebellum, complex organisation of grey and white matter and neurochemicals. The brain processes, coordinates and integrates information and controls most of the body’s functions.

·       Creating visual art increases brain plasticity.

Neuroplasticity, also called brain plasticity and neural plasticity, is the brain’s ability to undergo changes throughout your life. This function enables the brain to grow new or modify its connections (by means of synapses, the structures that enable neurons to pass an electrical or chemical signal to another neuron), almost as to “re-wire” itself. Plasticity determines the number of connections and how these connections are affected and how long these connections will last. Brain plasticity also allows for change in the volume of grey matter. Without plasticity it isn’t possible for the brain to develop from infancy to adulthood. Neither would the brain be able to recover from an injury.

When you engage in an unfamiliar or complex activity, your brain creates new connections between the brain cells. A German research team published an article titled ‘How ArtChanges Your Brain: Differential Effects of Visual Art Production and CognitiveArt Evaluation on Functional Brain Connectivity’ in which they compared the creation of art and the evaluation of art. Their findings concluded that when you create visual art, it stimulates communication between different regions of the brain, which forces the brain to modify or create new connections. Through fMRI, the researchers could see greater spatial improvement in functional connectivity of posterior cingulate cortex (PCC) and precuneus (preCUN) to the frontal and specific parts of the parietal cortices. Art evaluation did not yield improved results in this area.


2. Cognitive Benefits.

Cognition is the mental action or process of obtaining knowledge and understanding through thought, experience and senses. When you create art, your brain’s cognitive abilities is exercised in multiple ways, which leads to improved brain functioning.

·       Creating visual art improves memory.

The neurological benefits of creating art include the promotion of brain plasticity, which plays a big role in connectivity between the various parts of the brain, as mentioned. These connections also impact the way in which our brains take in new information, process it, retain it and the duration for how long it will last – in other words the cognitive abilities related to our memory.

The medial temporal lobes are central components in processing memory. In the same article ‘How ArtChanges Your Brain: Differential Effects of Visual Art Production and CognitiveArt Evaluation on Functional Brain Connectivity’, researchers expressed that the creative process of producing art leads to enhanced memory processing, as it requires stored information to be connected with new information. This is evidenced by the increased functional connectivity in the posterior cingulate cortex (PCC) and precuneus (preCUN) in the middle temporal gyrus (MTG) and superior temporal gyrus (STG).

·       Creating visual art improves geometric reasoning through visuospatial abilities.

Visuospatial function, also called visual spatial function, refers to the brain’s cognitive processes regarding visual perception of spatial relationships. This involves the ability to identify, integrate, and analyse space and its form, details, structure and spatial relations in more than one dimension. Such skills are required for movement, spatial navigation, and depth- and distance perception.

Art is very reliant on forms, shapes, spaces and lines. These elements are also present in geometry, albeit these serves a different function. Geometric reasoning uses critical thinking, logical argument and spatial reasoning to find relationships and solve problems. A study by Pablo Tinio, PhD, and Roni Reiter-Palmon,PhD, tested the relationship between visual art studies against drama studies to the geometric reasoning performance of children, starting in their grade 9 school year until the end of grade 10. The results showed that children that engaged in visual arts studies improved more in geometric reasoning than children engaged in drama studies. Visual art can thus be a means to improve mathematic scores in school, but also useful for other professions that heavily make use of geometry in their work.

·       Creating visual art improves your coordination.

When creating art, fine motor skills and superior hand-eye coordination are required for the use of various tools. Such as drawing with pencils, pens and crayons, or using a brush to paint, or sculpting a statue using clay etc. Art coordinates the small muscles of the fingers and hands with the eyes and promotes dexterity and precision of these skills.

·       Creating visual art correlates with higher academic performance.

A study published in 2007 by Ellen Winner andLois Hetland of the arts education program, Project Zero, at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, stated that there is no substantial evidence that engagement in visual arts, such as painting, drawing and sculpture, can directly improve academic performance. Their findings suggest that when a child struggles for instance with maths, enrolling in an art class isn’t an appropriate and effective way to solve those problems. Furthermore, their findings on the effects of art on other non-arts-related skills were also inconclusive.

Naturally they received some counteraction for their report, with some referring back to studies prior to theirs, like the report by the Arts Education Partnership, that have concluded positive academic benefits for literacy and mathematics. Some also raised concerns about the lack of replication of the outcome of their studies, stating that much research on the subject is still to be done.

Never the less, Winner and Hetland did not back away from their findings. They themselves are deeply passionate about art and said that art should garner merit on its own terms, not in relationship to other academic subjects. Just the same way science doesn’t need ‘validation’ from other disciplines (though it is influenced by and influential on others). There are many greater benefits to be obtained from arts that cannot be obtained otherwise. Such benefits also cannot be quantified through standardised test scores. These benefits can include aspects like connecting you to the larger world, as noted in the report from 2005 by Rand Corporation.

It is evident through an abundance of reports that art helps children to perform academically in a way to which the mystery has not yet been scientifically solved. TheNational Assembly of State Arts Agencies (NASAA) that took a sample of 25 000 American students with high levels of arts-learning experiences, revealed that these student earned higher grades and scored better on standardised tests compared to students with little or no involvement in the arts. Many similar assessments came to the same conclusion. TheCenter for Arts Education published in their 2009 report that there is a positive correlation between arts education and graduation rates. This means schools that offered the least amount of access to arts education had the highest dropout rates and schools that offered the most had the highest graduation rates. While there are many other variables at play here, these findings imply that integrating arts with other subjects assists with academic achievement.

·       Creating visual art improves your language and comprehension skills.

For young children that are still in their developmental stages, the act of creating art provides the opportunity to learn words for various colours, shapes, materials and actions. They will eventually start using these descriptive words to talk about their own art works, as well as being able to verbally express their feelings about artworks and other things related and non-related to art. These topics may include emotions, innovation and creativity, abstract concepts, and intelligent reasoning.

This is supported by an artstudy program called Learning Through Art that was done at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. The study involved artists teaching children about art and helping them create their own works. Their findings showed the children that took part in this program scored higher (more so in the oral exam, than the written exam) on six different categories of critical thinking and literacy skills than the children that did not take part. It is suggested that they scored higher because they learned valuable critical thinking skills during their discussions about art.


3. Psychological Benefits.

The brain is responsible for your mental states. Art can influence the psychological aspects of your mind, such as your mood and emotions, in various ways, since it can be so diverse. While art certainly doesn’t have to be only about uplifting or tranquil subjects (like rainbows and waterfalls), the actual creative process of making art can be. Creating art is intellectually stimulating as it allows for self-expression, creativity and innovation. Producing art alleviates stress and yield many other positive mental outcomes.

·       Creating visual art reduces stress.

Dr. Girija Kaimal, assistant professor at the Department of Creative Arts Therapies, Drexel University, recently published the findings of a study she led for the effects of art on stress in an article ‘Reduction of Cortisol Levels and Participants’ ResponsesFollowing Art Making’. The study concluded that 45 minutes of creating art resulted in significant lowered cortisol levels in the body.

Cortisol is a steroid hormone which regulates a range of processes. These include metabolism, blood sugar levels and immune response, as well as reduction in inflammation, and assistance with formulating memories. Cortisol is also often called the “stress hormone” due to its connection to the stress response. Higher cortisol levels correlates with higher levels of stress.

The scientific study by Dr. Girija Kaimal’s team showed that 75% of the participants had lower cortisol levels, indicating lower stress levels, after they created art. Their heart rates and blood pressure was also lower. The calming and stress-relieving effect was corroborated through written documentation by the participants themselves.

Neither the participants’ experience with creating art prior to the study nor their natural artistic talent (or lack thereof) had an effect on the outcome of the results. For some this might be great news, as it means you don’t have to be a spectacular sculptor and painter like Michelangelo to experience the stress-relieving benefits of being creative.

·       Creating visual art builds your confidence and self-esteem.

While the confidence and self-esteem are related, it is not exactly the same. Read our blog articles ‘Howto develop a healthy sense of self-esteem’ and ‘5Tips to build your confidence in and out of the classroom’ for details on the differences and how you can improve it through other means.

Creating art is a wonderful way in which you can build confidence in your own abilities and also your self-esteem. When creating art you allow yourself and others to learn more about you, though self-expression. It is a great way to expose yourself and your work. Art allows you to start conversations and engage in discussions about your art and other artworks and artists. It is a way to learn how to critically judge your work, learn what others think of it and grow in the process. You will learn that not everyone will like your work and not everyone will like or dislike every piece the same. You will learn to value their opinions – sometimes you can learn valuable things from their experiences and receive great advice. You will also learn to listen to yourself and often times go against what others say. This is how many great breakthrough-works was accomplished – by artists being unique and taking risks. Art will help you find and affirm your own identity.

4. Lifestyle Quality and Performance Benefits.

Visual arts can improve other aspects of your life and allow you to live a happy, balanced and fulfilled life.

·       Creating visual art enhances your creativity.

Creating visual arts obviously require some amount of creativity, if that wasn’t already clear. But, creativity isn’t just a skill you were born with or not. Creativity can be learned and improved, just the same way exercise improves muscle strength. Art encourages you to find out things for yourself. These skills and abilities can often only be obtained by doing it yourself, through exploration. Every artist has a unique way of thinking, working, operating etc. which contributes to the uniqueness of a piece.

Art education is a platform that allows children the opportunity to learn, grow and develop beyond the skills taught in class. The mere act of mixing different colours of paint encourages young children to take risks, which will foster a sense of curiosity to find out how far they can push boundaries to create something new. Ultimately it teaches them to push themselves in ways beyond the scope of just mixing paint. This mind-set is a great asset to have as an adult.

Being creative, inventive and innovative in society means that you will be able to find solutions to problems in ways that are unique and more effective than just following traditions and directions. These qualities allow you the ability to improve and positively contribute to society in multiple ways. Think about the ingenious inventions and services which altered our world. Many hours of hard work and a creative problem solving went into it.

Art class may very well be a valuable contributing factor whether a company decides to appoint you as their Chief Executive Officer (CEO), instead of an equally hard-working, but non-creative, employee which also opted for the same position. This statement is supported by more than 60% of 1 500 Chief Executive Officers from 60 countries and 33 industries worldwide that took part in the IBM 2010Global CEO Study. They selected creativity as the most crucial factor required for success in the future.


Through this article we hope to inspire you start creating art, by also making you aware of the many benefits of art. It is a great outlet and wonderful way to express yourself. You will discover a world in which you can find wonder, and bring back some of that wonder with you and share it with the rest of humanity.

Let us know what type of visual art you enjoy creating the most.

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