Art is Transformative!

 "Your Brain on Art:  How the Arts Transform Us," a Book Review

By JoAnn Frekot
I recently attended a webinar featuring Susan Magsamen, who with colleague Ivy Ross has written a book entitled:  "Your Brain on Art:  How the Arts Transform Us."

Of the many praises heaped upon "Your Brain on Art," one that stands out to me is a quote by David Byrne, founding member of the Talking Heads.  "Susan Magsamen and Ivy Ross, through extensive interviews and research, have created something beautiful and affirming with their book.  Its pages provide proof for what so many of us have always known:  That art, especially art in community, is transformative beyond measure."  

First, a few  notes about the authors.  Susan Magsamen is a faculty member of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, and the founder and director of the International Arts + Mind Lab, Center for Applied Neuroaesthetics.  She is also the co-director of the NeuroArts Blueprint.

Ivy Ross is the vice president of design for hardware products at Google.  She has received a National Endowment for the Arts grant.

The webinar I attended was offered by the Earl E. Bakken Center for Spirituality and Healing,  which is part of  University of Minnesota.  I was drawn to this webinar because I have long been interested in the healing power of art and nature.  As a visual artist myself, I frequently experience the positive effects of "getting lost" in the creation of a picture or painting...I lose track of time, I am calm and focused, and I enjoy the after-effects, similar to that I experience after a vigorous hike.

I am also a member of the Leadership Circle at the Center for Creativity & Public Health,   a public-benefit corporation which my colleague Danette McCarthy  founded last year, located in St. Paul.  So the title of the webinar struck several chords with me, and in addition to attending the event, I bought the book.  

"Your Brain on Art" is divided into seven sections, starting with "The Anatomy of the Arts," a description of what happens inside our bodies when we experience various forms of art.

The remaining sections discuss the various applications of "neuro-arts," as this emerging field is called.  These  applications include
  • "Cultivating Well-Being," 
  • "Restoring Mental Health" 
  • "Healing the Body" 
  • "Amplifying Learning" 
  • "Flourishing," and 
  • "Creating Community."   

The book concludes with a discussion of "The Art of the Future."

What most excites me about the information presented in this book is the idea of the power of the arts to transform our everyday an individual level, at a community level and even beyond.  If you are interested in not just theory, but in practical examples of the power of the arts to change lives, you may find this book not only provocative, but a call to action as well.


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