When you think of art, what do you think of? Do you hear the soaring notes of Mozart in your head? Or see the enigmatic smile of Mona Lisa? Or perhaps it’s the majestic curves of the Sydney Opera House that come to mind. There are many types of art to appreciate, but when was the last time you visited an art gallery?
There are art galleries in nearly every corner of the world. Even small, out of the way towns and villages feature collections of unique and interesting art. When you travel for business, are you ever able to see the local sights, to sample the local fare and view the art of that region? It seems like such a shame that we often don’t take the time to explore the locale of those we have traveled to meet with or work with.
Your Brain Looking At Art Is A Beautiful Thing
The definition of an “art gallery” is much wider than you might imagine. It doesn’t have to be a special building that hold unimaginable and antique works of art, like the Louvre in Paris. A simple display in the countryside is still meaningful, and we can benefit from enjoying all types of imaginative art.
When we look at art, our brains seek to understand what we are looking at. We often feel joy and happiness when we look at something we think is beautiful, and these positive emotions are like ripples in a pond, and they affect other aspects of our lives.
One curious aspect of art is that it doesn’t have to be “happy” for us to enjoy it. A sculpture such as the “Angel of Grief” by William Wetmore Story evokes a strong sad emotion in most people, but the art itself is beautiful. Some art is even quite frightening, such as “The Face of War” by Salvador Dali. When we look upon such pieces, we may feel shock and distaste but we still understand the inherent value and beauty in the art.
Neuroaesthetics is an area of neuroscience focusing on how we create and process visual arts. When we look at works of art (such as in a gallery or museum), signals from our eyes are processed in the cerebral cortex. Brain impulses are sent to other parts of the mind responsible for learning, emotion and memory, and we make a decision about what we are seeing. Our previous experiences and feelings about art can help determine what we find enjoyable or beautiful.1
Our brains use several strategies to help figure out what we are looking at, including top-down and bottom-up processing. Bottom-up processing is what we have evolved to do. We assume certain things, such as an object that is larger is closer to us, or that an overhead light could be the sun. Top-down processing is when we add our imagination and personal experiences to what we see, allowing for our imaginations to create interpretations of art which vary from person to person.2
Art and love are the same thing: It’s the process of seeing yourself in things that are not you.
Creating Brain-Friendly Organisations With Art
Team-building exercises are often met with silent groans and even not-so-subtle eyerolls, especially if people think they are too childish or boring (even if they aren’t!). Instead of playing the usual games and activities in the office, consider creating a scavenger hunt which involves your local art galleries.
Some advantages include:
- Getting people to go outside. Bonus points if the locations are within walking distance to encourage people to spend some time outside. Some behind the scenes planning can ensure people take especially scenic or green routes.
- An appreciation for local art. Try to include local artists who live and produce art in the area. Supporting the arts goes a long way to ensuring the longevity of art.
- Improving workplace mental health. All work and no play makes everyone a grumpy mess. Allowing for a respite from the daily grind can help people reset their minds and enjoy a medium they may not be familiar with.
- Innovation. Team-building activities promote innovative and imaginative ideas and thoughts when art is involved. New ideas can come from almost anywhere, so why not see if art can inspire your employees?
Healthier Brains Result In More Effective Leadership
Being an effective leader is more than handling vast amounts of data on a spreadsheet. Your employees are your biggest asset, and by encouraging a love for (or at least exposure to) the arts, you are encouraging imagination. Art has a way of stimulating our brains and it forces us to incorporate our own experiences with something new, which can result in innovative ideas.
When leaders value mental health, their employees will be happier, more productive, and more innovative. To learn more about how to promote brain health in your workplace, check out the i4 Neuroleader Program. Change can only happen when people recognise how important a healthy brain is to our overall health and well-being.
1. Conway BR, Rehding A. Neuroaesthetics and the trouble with beauty. PLoS Biol 2013; 11: e1001504.
2. Franz J. What happens in our brains when we look at art? Public Radio International, (accessed 25 June 2019).