The Arts and Life Improvement

I am still thinking about the PBS program i watched days ago… and finding it encouraging to think that the Arts can have a profound impact on our brain development from the cradle to the grave.

As a young child i was given a violin, and a ton of lessons.  Developing the dexterity in my fingers, the timing of using two hands in different purposes (left fingering the violin, right moving the bow), learning the positioning of my fingers to make perfect pitched notes, and then learning to be in harmony with others doing the same…. it was an exercise in developing a lot of skills, but i do remember thinking how this helped my math skills the most… because the music was really visual and auditory representation of math… whole notes, half notes, quarter notes, etc.

Then i read several studies thataddressed the idea of classical music expanding our capabilities, our capacity to think:

The Mozart effect was first reported in 1993 by scientists at the University of California at Irvine, and replicated by the same group in 1995. The study (which did not look at the effect of Mozart on babies) found that college students who listened to a Mozart sonata for a few minutes before taking a test that measured spatial relationship skills did better than students who took the test after listening to another musician or no music at all.

The effect in the students was temporary (it lasted only 15 minutes) and has always been controversial. Nonetheless, the media and politicians hopped on the Mozart effect bandwagon, claiming that listening to the music offered numerous benefits and could alleviate physical and mental health problems.  (1)

The evidence is inconclusive as to the long term effect, however I was encouraged that there is a short term enrichment from Mozart, and from any classical music.

Interesting also is how the visual arts are being used in greater ways among the elderly population suffering from Alzheimer’s.  Several years ago I toured a nursing home that specializes in patients with cognitive losses, which include but are not exclusively Alzheimer’s.  They have brought in mural artists to paint selected walls with visual representations the patients can relate to.  Memory walls, Shadow boxes with fragments of their past… a photo of the family, a lace doily, that prized china cup, whatever the memory objects suspended in a safe place for looking, remembering, reminiscing.  It is fascinating to think that these demonstrations of the arts can bring someone back to a time when life was not as chaotic mentally.

And I have a friend who is an Art Therapist, working with people who have experienced traumatic injury, or strokes which have physically impaired their motor skills.  During their rehab one of the most important things is to begin using their skills to create art.  At the hospital my friend works they have a grant to bring in Artists in Residence, who will spend time with the patients, work on simple projects that slowly draw them out of their denial, grief, and sense of loss.  Expressions through art gives voice to something that was dormant inside. A voice for hope, for a new beginning, for renewal of what was once strong… or for the very emotions that are holding them captive, Art is a new way of communicating.  And it is powerful.

It was through such an artist in residence program that I was first introduced to working with silk.  As an employee of the hospital I was invited to share in the class at a nominal fee.  I went because my friend asked, but discovered i was in love with the feel and way that silk took dye… so much so that i went home and ordered supplies and made my first scarves at home.

Art is not just for museum walls or concert halls… it is meant to enrich and improve our lives daily… visually, auditory, cognitive… make art a part of your life today and see how you grow.