Do We Recognize the Effect of the Arts on our Wellbeing?

Author: Negin M. Khorasani
Editor: Andrew Mech
December 25, 2021
 

“I've heard there was a secret chord
That David played and it pleased the Lord
But you don't really care for music, do ya? …”

                                                        -Leonard Cohen

 

Many of us have been brought up believing art to be a luxury, something you do to simply pass the time. No doubt, when our basic needs have not been met there is little room for either the creation or appreciation of art. This is one of the main reasons that traditionally art was predominantly nurtured by the more fortunate layers of society. The greatest masterpieces of music, architecture, sculpture, painting, plays and poetry were commissioned by the wealthiest and most powerful families to the finest artists of their time. For example, count how many significant buildings and pieces of arts in Europe were a result of the financial support from the Medici family! Almost all musical masterpieces from masses, carols, to chamber music, symphonies, ballets, waltzes and operas have been sponsored either by the church or royalty.


Unfortunately, the limited technology from a few centuries ago did not allow a piece of music to be recorded and published, or a painting to be printed in large quantities. As a result, there was no vehicle for a piece of fine or performing art to be distributed among the masses. Hence, the reason exposure to art remained exclusive to the fortunate few. For the most part this meant, only highly talented individuals would have the opportunity to learn and excel in their chosen art form and be able to secure a sustainable livelihood from their craft. Aside from the artists, who were sponsored by the church or royal families, artisans on the other hand have been the ones who were responding to the needs of general public providing the practical items used in day to day living. This is the reason, more people would gravitate to becoming craftsmen which would enable them to attract more customers resulting in a more sustainable livelihood.

This background helps explain where the roots of this limited mindset about art comes from; unaffordability of art both for the creator and for the consumer of it!  Even to this day, the relational situation with arts has by and large stayed much the same. In this day and age, many people may have access to printed paintings, recordings of great composers or musicians, poetry books, and replicas of timeless sculptures. Those with more financial resources can even purchase original works of art. However, it begs the question, do either of these groups have the requisite space in their mind, heart and lives for the true appreciation of art? Unfortunately, the answer to this question for many is “No”! This is because, owning these pieces of art does not necessarily mean that we spend time fully appreciating art let alone being involved in the process of creating art. We often think of art not as “a process” but more as an end result which can be purchased in return for a little or a lot of money depending on the quality and value of the item. Art as things ultimately are the items we fill our living rooms, bedrooms, offices and museums.

I would like to emphasize the value and importance of art as a process whether it is the creation or appreciation of it. It is important to remind ourselves that art has enormous value in terms of informing how we process reality and generally how we make sense of things. We must ask ourselves, “Do we make time and create space for art?” Our lives nowadays are all about moving quickly from task to task without actually taking the time and having the patience to make sense of things as they happen.

I have personally experienced, time and time again, even when a piece of inspiring music or poetry was shared with some friends, it has often remained unacknowledged! I always wonder what has happened to us as a society that many of us have lost the appetite to accept and savor a readymade fine desert offered to us. How have we come to a place where we have lost the capacity to appreciate the delightful fragrance of beauty? 

I was recently talking with a dear musician friend who is offering some of the classes in our new program category Healing H’Art. She was explaining to me how Anthropology teaches us that we all were singers before we actually started to speak as a species. Also, cave paintings are another example of how we started drawing and painting before discovering language. So, arts really have been the initial way for human beings to make sense of their experiences whether ordinary or extraordinary. It has not only been a vital form of communicating these experiences but has also been a way of expressing different nuances of our feelings from fear to love to inspiration and awe. So why have we lost this capacity to fully appreciate art and so often undermine its necessity in our lives?

Creative expression can have many different forms from poetry, painting, sculpting, music, movement and more. For the most part, the quality of the end result determines whether it is presentable to a small or wide audience. However, the end result whether we share it with others or not is not the primary objective and is not the only product of the creative process.

It is what this process makes of us and who we become as a result of the process which is the main product. For me, the real goal of the creative process is exploring and expressing our feelings through our creative nature. I look at this process as an odyssey that leads us to a higher level of self-awareness and consciousness of what is going on in our inner world. That is the main reason and the real goal of art and the creative process. The completed artistic piece is only a by-product of this process much like a souvenir from the journey that we have taken.

When we are expressing ourselves creatively, the right side of our brain is active. This side of our brain is involved with creativity, imagination, intuition, holistic perceptions, and feelings. The right hemisphere of our brain also governs the left field vision, left side motor skills, left nostril and parasympathetic nervous system that is related to relaxation and rejuvenation of our body. According to Sheppard and Hillis, "The right hemisphere is critical for perceiving sarcasm (Davis et al., 2016), integrating context required for understanding metaphor, inference, and humour, as well as recognizing and expressing affective or emotional prosody—changes in pitch, rhythm, rate, and loudness that convey emotions". When we are creatively engaged it’s almost impossible to be stressed. This also means when we are stressed our creativity shuts down. So it is important for us to be aware of the effect of the creative process on our wellbeing.

The truth is the belief that you must be an established artist to spend time on creative expression is only a myth. Our new category of programs, Healing H’Art aims at breaking this myth and showing you how creative expression is a field open to anybody who wishes to explore their feelings and needs on a deeper level. In my opinion, spending regular time to tune into our hearts and expressing ourselves creatively can be similar to going to the gym, yoga studio or making any other lifestyle choices. We must stop shying away from art and must dare to add it to our lives so that we can enjoy a higher level of self-awareness, groundedness, emotional balance, mental health and ultimately experience more joy in our lives.

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