This Digital Tool Kit Reveals How Art Benefits Our Brains
To stay healthy, we know that our bodies need nourishment, hygiene, and exercise. According to those who study neuroaesthetics, how the brain responds to and engages with various forms of creative expression, they need art, too. Susan Magsamen, a leader in the field (and the guest on Ep. 34 of our At a Distance podcast) who runs the International Arts + Mind Lab (IAM Lab)—an initiative at John Hopkins University’s School of Medicine that connects brain scientists with artists to fuel neuroaesthetic research—has long maintained that artistic experiences go hand in hand with mental, emotional, and social well-being. Last month, the IAM Lab teamed up with the World Health Organization (WHO) and Google Arts & Culture to create Arts + Health & Wellbeing, an immersive online tool kit that offers visitors an engaging dose of art, and consequent mental fitness, from anywhere with an internet connection. (Google and the IAM Lab previously joined forces to create a series of rooms informed by the principles of neuroaesthetics at the 2019 Salone del Mobile design and furniture fair in Milan, as discussed by Ivy Ross, Google’s VP of hardware design, on Ep. 11 of our Time Sensitive podcast.)
The project taps into a deep, varied network of cultural institutions and arts professionals, who provide activities via videos and intuitive, interactive web pages. Users can do breathwork exercises with soprano Renée Fleming, digitally color images of iconic paintings from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, wander the gardens of the Taj Mahal through Google Maps, or re-create artist Barbara Hepworth’s “Spring” (1966) sculpture using toothpicks and a potato. The pursuits are interlaced with research-backed insights from the IAM Lab and the WHO, and tackle such topics as how art can be used to combat PTSD, why listening to music may help alleviate trauma, and the healing power of dance. For those hoping to get their creative juices flowing—or simply looking for five minutes of calm—this resource might be just what the doctor ordered.