“Children, like animals, use all their senses to discover the world.
Then artists come along and discover it the same way all over again.”
“You Can Boost Your Creativity by Looking at Art” — what a refreshing and appealing promise! When I saw this headline on a story by Kevin Loria, it made perfect sense: After all, long before the written word came into being, humans created images on walls — and forty thousand years later, those images still communicate their beauty and mystery.
Exciting new research suggest that there’s a lot going on in our brains when we view visual art. A study published in the journal Brain and Cognition (June, 2014) explores the findings of neuroscientists when they scan the brains of people looking at paintings. The results? Predictably, paintings triggered activity in the parts of the brain related to visual understanding and recognizing objects. But viewing artwork also sparked activity associated with inner thoughts, emotion, and learning.
Other research indicates that viewing art can be transformative: It can change the way we view the world. For instance, after a museum visit, students display stronger critical thinking skills, and there’s growing evidence that exposure to art can help older adults remain mentally alert and resilient.
But here’s a finding with direct relevance to us as writers: Visiting a museum has the same positive power to restore and refresh as taking a break and going outdoors. According to research by the University of Queensland in Australia (which wasn’t limited to art museums), taking a stroll through a museum can relieve mental fatigue and restore the ability to focus.
By its nature, for most of us, going to a museum is what’s called a “novelty-seeking venture” — it takes us out of our ordinary rounds and signals to our brain that we’re open to learning. Not only does this have a powerful impact on our brains, it’s also connected to a personality trait most associated with creative achievement: openness to experience.
In her wonderful book, The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron suggests that having a weekly “Artist’s Date” with ourselves, in which we experience something new — art, a film, an exotic food — is a great way to refill the wellspring of our creativity and invite fresh new ideas to make their appearance. Whenever I make it a point to follow this advice, I find that it is not just refreshing, it’s fun, a creative form of play that enriches and enlivens me. What better way to prime ourselves to write dangerously? Something to ponder as we all woo our muses — and write on.