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Art and the Mind
Art, in its various forms, has surrounded humans and even contributed to the shaping of their experiences, since the beginning of time. Each individual no matter what kind of a person they are, has some kind of a preference and emotional attachment to certain forms of artistic expression. The interpretation of art is subjective and tightly connected with the individual’s own feelings and thought processes, as well as their mental states. From this important link between art and the individual, the conclusion that art and psychology are deeply intertwined can be derived, since the core of the psychological studies lies in the exploration of mind and behavior, in all their complexity, as well as the investigation and understanding of the feelings, thoughts, and mental states that color our own individual life experience.
Psychology and the Artist
Art itself represents a broad field of expression, and the existence of different art forms is the consequence of the uniqueness of the artistic experience and process of each artist. The production of art takes place in every moment and because of that, the number and diversity of artworks is unimaginably high. All of them appeal to different audiences and are characterized by different levels of admiration. However, there is a small number of masterpieces that have rightfully received universal value and recognition. The study of art and history of art have identified various factors that explain their worth, and among them is the artists’ knowledge of the principals of psychology. The ability to represent mental and emotional states on a canvas that does not allow movement or explanation, or the ability to construct such complex characters that represent specific aspects of the society so clearly and evoke crucial existential questions in readers throughout centuries, requires the precise knowledge and understanding of the mind and how it functions, as well as human behavior and behavioral processes under all conditions. This is what sets apart certain artists from the endless crowd of others.
A master in this field is the Italian genius Leonardo da Vinci, who is undoubtedly one of the greatest minds of all time. His excellent understanding of the human mind is manifested on canvas by his introduction and adoption of the concept of “MOTI MENTALI”, which translates to the presentation of transient, dynamic mental states, thoughts and feelings. His goal was to portray the intentions of the subject and capture the inner thoughts and emotional states through expression and gesture, and not just the external aspects of the subject. Exactly this, among many other details, is what make his artworks timeless and irreplaceable. To this day, many centuries later, Mona Lisa’s smile remains an enigma to the human eye.
William Shakespeare, who is often recognized as the best playwright in the history of man, has created his timeless works and characters on the foundations of modern psychology, way before modern psychology existed as a separate field. His work is strictly centered around human behavior and aims at presenting everything that exists in this world, as to provide the audience with a different perspective of the reality that surrounds them. A perspective that poses as a mirror for each individual to understand every key aspect of the human experience – love, death, war, friendship, loss, pride, jealousy, envy, sadness, rage, anger, anger, rash reactions, ignorance, lust, greed etc. and how these aspects influence human behavior. By presenting all of them through characters that belong to separate classes in society, with completely different points of view and living conditions – from kings, queens and nobility to ordinary people, beggars and homeless people, he explores the depths of human existence, how conditions shape behavior, as well as the concepts of consciousness and unconsciousness.
From this, it is inevitable to infer that he had a keen understanding of mental processes, and the human habit – which is, to naturally tend to make decisions based on his feelings and intuition, as opposed to his cognitive reasoning. Exactly because of this, his works remain timeless and universally recognized for their value.
Positive effect of art on human beings
On the other side of this link between psychology and art, is the positive effect that art has on human beings.
Decades of research have provided more than a sufficient amount of data to prove that art enhances brain function and that art education impacts everything from overall academic achievement to social and emotional development, among other things.
As Eric Jensen, one of the leading translators in the world of neuroscience into education, states in his book Arts with the Brain in Mind,
“The systems they nourish, which include our integrated sensory, attentional, cognitive, emotional, and motor capacities, are, in fact, the driving forces behind all other learning.”
When art is produced as a creative act, it enables the development of the nervous system which produces a wide range of benefits including fine motor skills, which are improved and developed through small, conscious movements with a clear intention, the development of creativity and improved emotional balance. Painting, for example, as a creative activity, allows the release of the hormone dopamine, which is associated with the feeling of reward, and endorphin, which is associated with the feeling of well-being. When we finish a work of art, we experience a feeling of happiness, very similar to the feeling which mothers have towards their children, which in turn is associated with the release of the hormone oxytocin.
The artistic experience is capable of changing a person’s view of the world and the way they experience it, as it directly affects the health, thoughts, feelings, and the consciousness of a person.
Simultaneously, the goal of the field of psychology, which is intertwined with the field of art, is exactly that, to change the person’s view of themselves, the world and the way they experience it, thereby developing consciousness of themselves, their behavior and their internal processes, which in turn leads to the improvement of their whole life experience.
Di Zoi Pavlovska