by Grant Eckert
Many people question the purpose of art. They acknowledge an aesthetic approach but ignore any possible positive benefits of a more practical nature. Contrary to popular belief, art is not purely aesthetic. It is not a product with no possible effects outside of the obvious - an "artistic" product. Art is not of less use than science in preparing individuals for the "real" world. In fact, the contrary is true. Art is very important in helping the brain reach its full potential.
How does art accomplish this? It introduces the brain to diverse cognitive skills that help us unravel intricate problems. Art activates the creative part of our brain - the part that works without words and can only express itself non-verbally. Art, in thought and through the creative processes, activates the imaginative and creative side, the spatial and intuitive side of our brain. Art jumps over the process of linear and logical thinking. It trains the brain to shift into thinking differently, of broaching old problems in new ways. This is what makes art so important. It benefits the brain by training it to think outside the box. It helps children understand concepts with greater ease. It aids children in getting better grades. In the real world, the artistic side of the brain helps engineers solve problems. It guides individuals to create solutions. Art is the property of fine artists; it is also the product of engineers, technicians and computer designers. Art, in many different ways, helps people make the world a better place.
There have been copious studies on the relationship between art and its benefits to the brain. Semir Zeki, a former professor of neurobiology at the University College, London and co-head of the Wellcome Department of Cognitive Neurology, published an article, "Artistic Creativity and the Brain," in Science Magazine, in July 2001. Zeki detailed the relationship between the development of cognitive abilities and the creative process. He stated artistic expression is the key to comprehending ourselves. He also considered art and its expression as an expansion of brain function. In other words, art helps the brain in its search for knowledge.
Teachers apply this in the classroom, helping children improve their cognitive capabilities and stretch their ability to solve difficult problems. Professional therapists have also embraced art as another tool in their arsenal of leading the brain-weary back to health. In fact, several psychiatrists and psychologists highly recommend this form of treatment. Furthermore, training is now in place to ensure the standards remain high in this developing field.
Art therapy is now a common means of helping individuals to improve and enhance the physical, mental and emotional well-being. It bases its approach on the belief that the creative process involved in artistic self-expression helps people in a number of different positive ways. It facilitates them in ending or finding a solution to various conflicts and problems. Art also aids them to manage their behavior, develop interpersonal skills, increase self-esteem and self-awareness, lessen stress and attain insight.
Professionals use art therapy with children, adults and teens, individuals and groups. It is employed regardless of age or gender. Combining the areas of human development, visual arts such as painting, drawing and sculpture, and the creative process with the various models of counseling and psychotherapy, art therapy assesses and treats the following mental problems and disorders: anxiety, depression, mental illness, substance abuse and other addictions. Art therapists address family and relationship issues, abuse and domestic violence and social and emotional difficulties related to disability and illness. Art therapy is applicable in situations of trauma and loss, physical, cognitive, and neurological problems and psychosocial difficulties related to medical illness.
So what are the benefits of art on the brain? When individuals create art and reflect on it, the processes, increase self-awareness, initiate awareness of others and help people cope with stress, and traumatic experiences. Art enhances cognitive abilities and provides individuals with the ability to enjoy the life-affirming pleasures of making art. This is what makes art so important.