Your Brain on Art Book Summary - Your Brain on Art Book explained in key points
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Your Brain on Art summary

Susan Magsamen & Ivy Ross

How the Arts Transform Us

4.5 (282 ratings)
17 mins
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    Your Brain on Art
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    Our sensitivity to aesthetics

    Before we get into the different therapeutic benefits that art can provide, we need to ask two important questions. The first is, What is art? And the second is, How do we process art on a physiological level?

    While people have been debating the definition of art for centuries, for our purposes we’re going to cast a wide net. In fact, we’re going to take a cue from the Irish poet John O'Donohue who said, “Art is the essence of awareness.”

    Now this might sound a little cryptic, but in a way, it’s kind of straightforward as well. Art is everywhere. It’s in the pattern of your rug, the shape of your potted plants, and the design of your furniture.

    Magsamen and Ross have a term for this awareness, it’s called having an aesthetic mindset. If you already have a strong aesthetic mindset, you might be the kind of person who frequents art galleries, is often moved by music, and is cognizant of a room’s interior design.

    But whether you’re conscious of it or not, you’re constantly being affected by aesthetics. The color of the walls, the lighting, and the soundscape of the room you're sitting in right now are all having an effect on you. Having an aesthetic mindset simply means that you have an awareness of this relationship and are ready to take advantage of it.

    This brings us to the second question of the physiological effect art has on us. As human beings, we’re constantly processing our surroundings through our senses. What we see, what we hear, what we smell, the temperature and texture of the things we touch – these are the aesthetics of our surroundings, and they’re being taken in and processed on a moment-by-moment basis.

    All of it has the potential to change how you’re feeling. Smells, sounds, and colors can cause your blood pressure to increase or decrease. They can prompt the release of stress hormones. Or they can make you feel calm, secure, and sleepy.

    Most of this is happening on a subconscious level. Neuroscience tells us that only 5 percent of your mental activity is conscious. The rest is happening without you even thinking about it. Your senses are being processed and your emotions are occurring subconsciously. But by increasing your awareness – or your aesthetic mindset – you can take all of this into account and begin using art to make lasting changes to your life and well-being.

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    What is Your Brain on Art about?

    Your Brain on Art (2023) offers remarkable insights into how artistic endeavors and aesthetics – from music and dance to drawing and interior design – can rewire our brains and improve our lives.

    Who should read Your Brain on Art?

    • Art and science enthusiasts
    • Anxious or stressed-out people looking for solutions
    • People curious about the benefits of art therapy

    About the Author

    Susan Magsamen is an assistant professor of neurology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. She’s also the founder and executive director of the International Arts + Mind Lab at the Center for Applied Neuroaesthetics, which is part of the Pedersen Brain Science Institute at Johns Hopkins.

    Ivy Ross is vice president of design for Google’s hardware product division. She’s also a renowned artist who’s worked for numerous companies over the years, including Calvin Klein, Swatch, and Mattel. Her art and design work has won her many awards and in 2019 she was among the top ten in Fast Company’s “100 Most Creative People in Business” list.

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