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7 Functions of Art That Make Us Empathetic Human Beings

7 Functions of Art That Make Us Empathetic Human Beings

Art is a form of creative human expression, a way of enriching the human experience. We use art for our entertainment, cultural appreciation, aesthetics, personal improvement, and even social change. Whether or not we are aware of it, we allow art to affect our lives one way or another.

In their book, Art as Therapy, Alain De Botton and John Armstrong identify seven functions of art. They explain how art helps us grow and evolve in our understanding of ourselves, each other, and the world we live in.

In viewing art, our perceptions change and grow, leading to growth and change in ourselves.

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    Appreciation

    Art helps us to revisit the value of ordinary things like the pretty colors in a splash of morning light on a table cloth or the familiar and nostalgic aspects of old beer cans. Art embraces appreciation.

    Memory

    Art focuses in on the essence of the scene rather than the whole of it. It hones in on what is most memorable from the scene the artist was viewing. Art records and preserves emotions.

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    Self-Understanding

    Art helps us to complete our own unformed thoughts and ideas. We have an ‘aha’ moment when we see a piece of art that perfectly captures a feeling or thought we have had that we couldn’t express.

    Sorrow

    Art doesn’t just increase our capacity for joy, it validates our sorrows. Art provides a different perspective or vantage point from which to survey our own sadness, and find a way to deal with it.

    Hope

    Art can move us to tears. Beautiful art can bring tears of joy. Experiencing such heart-warming feelings about it encourages us to hope for the same thing for ourselves.

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    Art Promotes Self-Growth

    When we see a picture of something we haven’t personally experienced or of an emotion that we don’t have a personal context for, we can take the time to think about it, react to it, and empathize with. Art promotes self-growth.

    Re-Balancing

    Our day-to-day lives influence the balance of our emotional makeup. We gain balance through art by taking a moment to observe, judge, and appreciate things we don’t normally see and our responses to them.

    Conclusion

    Recognizing and remembering these seven functions of art as therapeutic tools for personal growth the next time that you encounter art will hopefully enhance your experience of the image you are looking at. Taking the time to mindfully observe artwork is shown by the authors of Art as Therapy to be of true value to your emotional well-being.

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    Infographic via therartist.me

    Featured photo credit: http://theartist.me via theartist.me

    More by this author

    Afzal

    Curator at theartist.me

    Art As Therapy Infographics 7 Functions of Art That Make Us Empathetic Human Beings

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    Last Updated on September 10, 2018

    Overcoming The Pain Of A Breakup: 3 Suggestions Based On Science

    Overcoming The Pain Of A Breakup: 3 Suggestions Based On Science

    We thought that the expression ‘broken heart’ was just a metaphor, but science is telling us that it is not: breakups and rejections do cause physical pain. When a group of psychologists asked research participants to look at images of their ex-partners who broke up with them, researchers found that the same brain areas that are activated by physical pain are also activated by looking at images of ex-partners. Looking at images of our ex is a painful experience, literally.[1].

    Given that the effect of rejections and breakups is the same as the effect of physical pain, scientists have speculated on whether the practices that reduce physical pain could be used to reduce the emotional pain that follows from breakups and rejections. In a study on whether painkillers reduce the emotional pain caused by a breakup, researchers found that painkillers did help. Individuals who took painkillers were better able to deal with their breakup. Tamar Cohen wrote that “A simple dose of paracetamol could help ease the pain of a broken heart.”[2]

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    Just like painkillers can be used to ease the pain of a broken heart, other practices that ease physical pain can also be used to ease the pain of rejections and breakups. Three of these scientifically validated practices are presented in this article.

    Looking at images of loved ones

    While images of ex-partners stimulate the pain neuro-circuitry in our brain, images of loved ones activate a different circuitry. Looking at images of people who care about us increases the release of oxytocin in our body. Oxytocin, or the “cuddle hormone,” is the hormone that our body relies on to induce in us a soothing feeling of tranquility, even when we are under high stress and pain.

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    In fact, oxytocin was found to have a crucial role as a mother is giving birth to her baby. Despite the extreme pain that a mother has to endure during delivery, the high level of oxytocin secreted by her body transforms pain into pleasure. Mariem Melainine notes that, “Oxytocin levels are usually at their peak during delivery, which promotes a sense of euphoria in the mother and helps her develop a stronger bond with her baby.”[3]

    Whenever you feel tempted to look at images of your ex-partner, log into your Facebook page and start browsing images of your loved ones. As Eva Ritvo, M.D. notes, “Facebook fools our brain into believing that loved ones surround us, which historically was essential to our survival. The human brain, because it evolved thousands of years before photography, fails on many levels to recognize the difference between pictures and people”[4]

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    Exercise

    Endorphins are neurotransmitters that reduce our perception of pain. When our body is high on endorphins, painful sensations are kept outside of conscious awareness. It was found that exercise causes endorphins to be secreted in the brain and as a result produce a feeling of power, as psychologist Alex Korb noted in his book: “Exercise causes your brain to release endorphins, neurotransmitters that act on your neurons like opiates (such as morphine or Vicodin) by sending a neural signal to reduce pain and provide anxiety relief.”[5] By inhibiting pain from being transmitted to our brain, exercise acts as a powerful antidote to the pain caused by rejections and breakups.

    Meditation

    Jon Kabat Zinn, a doctor who pioneered the use of mindfulness meditation therapy for patients with chronic pain, has argued that it is not pain itself that is harmful to our mental health, rather, it is the way we react to pain. When we react to pain with irritation, frustration, and self-pity, more pain is generated, and we enter a never ending spiral of painful thoughts and sensations.

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    In order to disrupt the domino effect caused by reacting to pain with pain, Kabat Zinn and other proponents of mindfulness meditation therapy have suggested reacting to pain through nonjudgmental contemplation and acceptance. By practicing meditation on a daily basis and getting used to the habit of paying attention to the sensations generated by our body (including the painful ones and by observing these sensations nonjudgmentally and with compassion) our brain develops the habit of reacting to pain with grace and patience.

    When you find yourself thinking about a recent breakup or a recent rejection, close your eyes and pay attention to the sensations produced by your body. Take deep breaths and as you are feeling the sensations produced by your body, distance yourself from them, and observe them without judgment and with compassion. If your brain starts wandering and gets distracted, gently bring back your compassionate nonjudgmental attention to your body. Try to do this exercise for one minute and gradually increase its duration.

    With consistent practice, nonjudgmental acceptance will become our default reaction to breakups, rejections, and other disappointments that we experience in life. Every rejection and every breakup teaches us great lessons about relationships and about ourselves.

    Featured photo credit: condesign via pixabay.com

    Reference

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