The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls
— Pablo Picasso
Lots of us are spending more time at home. Many are entertaining/teaching children who are home from school. Plans and social get togethers have been canceled leaving us with time to ourselves. For some, the corona virus not only upends plans and social life, it is also a source of anxiety and fear. For others, it is lost income, lost business and lost employment. The next little while is going to be a tough slog for all of us on many fronts.
It’s okay to be wondering or worried about what we face— that sense of urgency is what is going to get everyone through this pandemic. But it’s also important to take a break, to not let those concerns consume us. That is where art comes into play. Taking the time to enjoy and appreciate art can be the respite we need. In times of uncertainty, like this, art can be a steadying force. It can also be good for you.
When we marvel at something, whether it is a painting, a photograph, a turn of phrase or a piece of music, we are reminded of the human capacity to create and endure. When we engage in art, it is not always about escapism. It is also a practice in patience, such as figuring out the meaning of a poem or a novel, and an exercise in appreciating beauty.
Did you know that looking at art makes us feel good, improves perception skills and helps us process information in a way that we can better understand the world around us?
- Art helps us understand the world around us: Neurological researchers at the University of Toronto showed painted art to 330 participants in 7 countries while they underwent MRI scans. The study’s results showed that looking at art led to increased activity in the brain systems that ‘underlie the conscious processing of new information to give it meaning. In other words, looking at art helps us understand the world around us better.
- Art makes us feel good: Another study found that “when you look at art there is strong activity in that part of the brain related to pleasure.” The blood flow to the brain increased when looking at a beautiful painting just as it increases when you look at somebody you love. This tells us “art induces a feel good sensation direct to the brain.”
- Looking at art improves perception skills: Art is unique in unlocking multiple perception skills at once. Research suggests that more engagement with the arts is linked to a “higher level of subjective well being.”
- Art helps our bodies re-balance. Looking at art is a proven way of helping us de-stress and improve our brain function and thinking patterns. It can also improve our physical wellbeing, with studies identifying a link between looking at art and the normalisation of heart rate, blood pressure and even cortisol levels. Gazing at art – even for a minute a day – represents a chance to switch off and to give our brains and bodies a moment to pause, reflect and refresh.
- Art enhances children’s education: Research shows that children who are involved with the arts make greater achievements in their education
Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time
― Thomas Merton, No Man is an Island
Enjoy Some Art…here are some starters
While museums, galleries, Broadway shows, concerts and other arts and cultural facilities and events are canceled, we have seen the people of Italy singing on their balconies together. Musicians, from their homes, and orchestras, from empty concert halls, have streamed mini-concerts online. The Broadway veteran Laura Benanti, a Tony Award-winning actress and singer who found herself sidelined, thought about the young people facing their own canceled shows and she created the hashtag #sunshinesongs where kids whose shows have been canceled could share their personal video performances. As we social distance, these are just a few of the new and interesting ways artists are sharing work. So, if you have some time, look around and take some art in…or order a good book and dive in.
And don’t forget, as you check out art online, many arts organizations have closed and artists are small businesses too–so if you see something you like or want to donate to a local arts organization, this is a good time to support the arts and artists to help them get through this too.
Here are some links that might be fun starting points for some adventures and time with art:
From CNN, just a few options in a virtual sea of things to do. Explore, or look up your favorite local cultural landmark to see what online offerings they have.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art offers The Met 360, an immersive video series exploring the Met’s art and architecture. It offers virtual tours of the Great Hall, the Temple of Dendur and the Arms and Armor Galleries, as well as the Cloisters museum and the Met Breuer. The Whitney has its Watch and Listen page online to offer discussions with artists, and other presentations related to the collection.
Google Arts and Culture offers online access to 500 cultural organizations around the world, from museums to historic sites, all viewable without ever leaving your living room. The virtual platform features some of the most prestigious institutions on the planet, as well as an opportunity to explore smaller, more obscure institutions that you might never have discovered otherwise, such as National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City. TED talks about art can be found here.
With venues & bars shut down from coast-to-coast, here’s your guide from Billboard to the best live-streamed music content.
Check out the Library of Congress digital collections for everything from the Farm Security Administration dust bowl photos to Aaron Copland music archives.
The Way I See It is an art podcast dream-team: the BBC and the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York partnered late last year to create The Way I See It. In each of the 30 episodes a person of note discusses a favourite work from the museum’s collection. Hosted by the art critic and broadcaster Alastair Sooke, accompanied by MoMA’s curators, the guests include the actor and comedian Steve Martin, the Minimalist composer Steve Reich, and the artist Richard Serra. Also, check out the Modern Arts Notes Podcast — a weekly, roughly hour-long interview program featuring artists, historians, authors, curators and conservators.
For something completely different, Comic book writers and artists are rallying online to offer activities for those staying at home. They are offering scripting lessons, art activities and even posting some of their own public service announcements.
So, here is to hoping you all manage your way through and stay well in these unusual times. Also hoping a little art along the way brings you some joy and some benefits
This is an excerpt from my monthly newsletter, where I write about photography and share some news. You can get a feel for the previous newsletters and sign up for the mailing list here.