The Earth offers an astonishing amount of diversity among the seven billion people on it. Even so, certain threads unite us. And you’ll find the arts in every culture across the world—in the form of music, dancing, and decorations like sculptures and paintings.
Considering its universal appeal, it makes sense that the arts should have some sway over our psyche. And in understanding how the fine arts impact our minds, we can better appreciate this cultural phenomenon and what it means to be human.
The first impact of the arts on our minds happens on a cognitive level. Music, for instance, engages both the left and right hemispheres of the brain, creating more connections between the two. This is one reason why math and language scores tend to go up for children who take music lessons.
The arts also help us absorb information more effectively. Drawing pictures of something helps us remember it better than simply taking a photo of it. And if you still get School House Rock songs stuck in your head, then you know music has a similar effect. Because of this, many people use the arts with patients suffering from conditions related to memory loss, like dementia.
Art and Emotions
The psychology world has often debated the extent to which beauty impacts our emotions. Even so, there’s no doubt that truly exceptional art can sway how we feel. This occurs in a few ways.
The idea of aesthetic emotions goes back to 18th-century philosopher Immanuel Kant. Simply put, this describes the emotions we feel in response to what we see based purely on aesthetic quality. It’s the reason why certain colors impact our emotions and why we might start tearing up at a particularly beautiful sight. Aesthetic emotions allow us to derive pleasure from visual art.
Ancient Greek theatre features tragedies like Medea and Oedipus Rex. These plays cause their viewers to consider mankind’s weaknesses, but they also elicit an emotional response from us. Catharsis—this is the release of strong emotions, such as anger and pity. The ancients considered it restorative. Old emotions were purged, cleansing the soul.
Modern psychologists don’t usually bring up the idea of catharsis, as it’s connected to the nonsense of early psychoanalysis. However, studies suggest that after the trauma of an emotional movie, your endorphin system receives a boost. This may indicate the catharsis from art is good for the soul.