Have you ever paid close attention to your own emotions when you view a beautiful painting, sculpture, or photograph? What about the joy you feel when listening to a truly great piece of music? Do you frequently feel the ambiguous, exaltation and inner joy when you’re in the presence of art?
This is one reason why I take advantage of exhibitions at the local arts center and the public library. This is also one reason a visit to an art museum is a priority when I visit a large city. I also appreciate beautifully designed and executed buildings. All of these can trigger expansive feelings of joy.
The works need not necessarily be music by Amadeus Mozart, masterpieces by Leonardo Da Vinci, or Frank Lloyd Wright to affect me this way. I am especially drawn to the huge abstract paintings of Mark Rothko, the instrumental music of Jean-Michel Jarre, and the sweeping architecture of Santiago Calatrava. You are probably thinking of your own favorite, inspirational art and artists right now, too.
Modern science has been studying how beautiful images and sounds change the physiology of our brains. The art may be natural, like a sunrise or a human constructed structure like the Golden Gate Bridge. When we observe, contemplate, and soak in the beauty, our brains’ pleasure centers go into overdrive.
Professor Semir Zeki of the University College at London, UK says, the medial orbitofrontal cortex receives up to ten-percent greater blood flow at these times. Neuroaesthetics researchers, in the experiments, used conventionally beautiful paintings in their studies. The amounts of blood flow varied in proportion to how much each painting was liked. It is this physical effect that leads to feelings of higher consciousness, increased wellbeing, and elevated emotions.
When you are drawn into an exceptionally beautiful artwork or piece of music, you might be firing similar neurons in your brain as those of the original artist who created the work. Neuroscientists call this effect, “embodied cognition”.
It can be argued that this type of mental stimulation is at the root of imagination. Of course, imagination is at the root of creativity. Imagination is the most basic requirement in the thinking process. We know that Michelangelo used his visual imagination to envision his sculptural masterpieces. He “saw” the subject as “trapped” within the stone. It was his job to “free” the subject. So, if we feel inspired by his statue of Moses, similar parts of our brain, that correspond to those of Michelangelo, are being triggered.
That is a scientific, physical explanation of how great art can inspire our own creative efforts. A person doesn’t need to understand neuroaesthetics in order to write, paint, sculpt, design, or compose. In fact, it’s probably better not to become distracted by this knowledge. If we feel particularly inspired by some artistic work, it is better to just ride the crest of the wave like a surfer. It’s best not to become too analytical about the creative process.
If you need subjective proof of the truth of the power of art to inspire, put on the most spine-tingling music you love. Go to an art museum soon or find an image of great art or architecture, on the Web, to contemplate. Or, just go outdoors and take in Mother Nature’s fine art. Then begin to create.
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes his favorite composer-musician, Jean-Michel Jarre. “I think you have to seriously have fun, or take serious things in a light way. And obviously, for me, before all, music is made of fun and pleasure and excitement.”