It’s that time of year again when I work frantically in an attempt to finish all of my county fair projects before the deadline. I’m also putting the finishing touches on my local art club competition entries. So my mind is very firmly on art right now. Not just fine art, but crafts and music, too. The community band I recently joined has its first concert at the end of this month. And since it’s summer, So You Think You Can Dance is on again, along with the new World of Dance competition show. My life is full of the arts and I am loving it.
The arts are usually considered to be extracurricular at best and useless at worst in America. As a culture we are very business oriented and the arts are generally not good business. There is also a push toward logic and science and all things “left brain.” (You left brainers will be insisting right now that left and right brain stuff is a myth, we use various areas in both halves of our brain for any given activity. Right brainers will either believe it literally or understand the intention while letting the inaccuracy slide. For the sake of ease I will be referring to the creative and rational parts of the brain as right and left respectively, even though it’s not technically correct.) But while the arts are, for the most part, looked down upon, we reject them to our own detriment.
The arts utilize the creative right brain, and quiets the incessant chatter of the rational, worrying left brain. The left brain is the part that refuses to shut up and let you sleep at night. It gets used to being on all the time and forgets how to shut down. Participating in the arts rests the left brain and restores balance.
When you get to the point where you are consumed by the art – often referred to as The Zone, where you lose track of time and there is nothing but what you are doing in that moment – the nervous system relaxes and you get the same kind of benefits as deep meditation. Some people actually use art as a form of meditation.
Art also helps us process emotions in a healthy way, instead of suppressing them like society teaches us to do, only to have them come up later in an overwhelming manner. Prisoners who participate in arts programs have a lower recidivism rate and have higher hope for a productive future. Art therapy helps trauma victims and troubled kids. Dance classes keep kids from participating in drug culture and gang activity. Kids who have art classes every day do better in STEM classes. The benefits of arts are endless.
Most of all, art connects us with what it means to be human. In fact, the arts connect us to meaning, period. We all yearn for beauty, for awe, for compassion, for feeling like we are not alone in the world. The arts convey all of these and more. A good work of art makes us stop and think, or to feel a welling of emotion, or just forget about our woes as we lose ourselves in an exquisite moment. A clever turn of phrase from a poet, a bold brush stroke on canvas, a lovely line created by a dancer can remind us why being human is amazing.
Viewing art is just as beneficial as creating it, but the benefits of art don’t stop there. Businesses are always looking for people who are creative and think outside the box. Creative thinking is a right brain activity, and the more you exercise it with the arts, the more creative you become. You learn to make connections your left brain doesn’t see, you receive ideas “out of the blue,” and you have greater understanding and empathy. All of these things are assets in traditionally left-brained activities.
My personal experience of art has been life-changing. As I spent days in misery on the couch, enduring the ups and downs of healing from iatrogenic brain damage, art forged new, healing connections in my brain. It de-stressed my nervous system, it relieved depression, it gave me hope and purpose, and it increased my coordination. The physical and emotional healing I experienced through art have been more beneficial than any medicine. (Note, art is not a replacement for medicine. If you need medication, for the love of Pete, keep taking it.)
With all of the benefits the arts bring to life, it truly incredible that some people think they are useless. The truth is, without the arts we’d be little more than mechanical drones. The arts bring life…to life. Whether you are an art observer or you jump in and create some yourself, life is greatly enriched because of the arts.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a colored pencil drawing that I need to get back to before it’s time to leave for band practice. I encourage you to go work on a creative project of your own. Feel free to share in the comments what you’re working on!