Tuesday, February 14, 2012


Did you know there is evidence that art can make you smarter and happier?

I guess I believed that, but there's lots of data coming out that strongly suggests this.

What they (the research) is finding is that music and the visual arts can have a positive affect on human abilities such as reasoning, vocabulary, and math. Studies are finding affects on the growth of the brains of children academically, emotionally, physically, and spiritually.

The research data suggests that this positive influence occurs in people who are both artistically or musically inclined OR NOT. That’s remarkable!

You can do a search online and find studies that I have found and decide for yourself. 

What I can say for certain is that the art that was in my home growing up had a significant affect on my interest in pursuing art as a way of making a living. We had in our home prints from Rembrandt and Lautrec that were part of the landscape of family life in Chico. At some point, those prints stopped being the decoration for which they had been intended, and started becoming an artistic expression … and an expression that could be deciphered and decoded.

How did Lautrec depict reflections of a rainy day in Paris with specs and dashes of paint and why did they appeal to me? I stared at and considered the works closely from time to time for no apparent reason. I think I was mostly bored and happened to be sitting there in the family room or standing there in the front room and got caught up in the works.

How did Rembrandt get the gleam off of metal to work so effortlessly? And why in the world was the high contrast portraits which were apparently lit by candle light (although you couldn’t see them) so striking to me, a little kid?

Maybe those moments made me smarter and happier; maybe not. I knew, though, from these moments that I redirected from boredom to intrigue taught me some things about myself. I learned what I liked in certain kinds of art and what I didn’t like in others. Those likes and dislikes built upon themselves over the years and now I can point to specific moments where specific musical works and certain paintings or photos stopped me for just a moment to ponder.

Music has always been a visual art to me. For some reason, when I played my saxophone in Mrs. Williamson’s 4th grade band and on through playing in college, I heard, felt, and played music as if they were colors and textures. Major chords were always bright palettes and minor chords were more dark and brooding ones. If the notes worked right to my ear (I learned that there are all kinds of chords and scales, but there are reasons why each one works) then the colors I saw were always harmonious.

There were times when I got to do solos, and these were the times when the colors would have a physical, chemical affect on me. I learned quickly that, even though solos give you freedom, they are governed by physical properties of the chords and scales that exist. If you break the rules and play a note out of harmony with the whole, you have to quickly slide to a correct note or it would hang there in the air as a huge thud of a mistake. A trained ear can hear even the best soloists who land on a bad note in a solo will quickly get into something else and pretend they meant to do that. They didn’t, and the natural laws of music can smack you upside the head! Bam! I have occasionally heard David Sanborn, a master at improvisation (and my personal favorite sax player of all time) do this little slight of hand and it has always made me feel better that even he has to get himself out of a jam once in awhile.

These rules apply to paintings, as well.

Did you know that the way to make the color red or the color green their most intense is to put those colors together? Take a look at a color wheel sometime and look at the science behind how we perceive color. It's fascinating!

Although I started figuring out basics like composition and lettering and basic elements of art at a younger age, I am still learning the subtleties of each rule. Often, these come from studying the works of the great artists, as I mentioned, and it also comes from getting out there and doing the work. That’s how they did it. They stood on the shoulders of the greats before them, as are we all.

Young emerging artists today have the impatience that I had, but I think they are too quick, sometimes, to try and “break all the rules” when it comes to artistic expression. Not that they would necessarily care about my opinion on that, but there are chords and scales of intuitive beauty in the eye and the heart of art consumers that you had better understand first before you start breaking the rules that govern them.

For example, everyone is an art critic. We all have a sense of what we like and what we don’t. We can all look at a portrait of a woman and can see that there’s something that doesn’t quite work and every observer knows it. Maybe they can’t articulate it, but they know it just the same. How can everyone know this if everyone observing this piece hasn’t had academic training? Simple. Everyone knows intuitively that the artist has established his or her own rules and then did not follow that rule at the area being scrutinized. Even an avant garde artist who is throwing color and objects at a canvas has rules that is being followed. You can’t escape it. There are fundamental truths of art at play and nobody is immune from them.

That takes me back to my thesis that art has a positive affect on us. We are consuming beauty when we experience art. If you find that you are coming back again and again to a work of art, there is a physiological reason why. It is striking chords of eternal beauty in your soul.

When that happens, you should strongly consider bringing that beauty into your personal living spaces and make your environment resonate with your own experience of this thing that embodies what is good and right and beautiful to you … and then share that with others.

So, acquire art.

Surround yourself with it.

It will make you smarter.

It will make you happier.

Art = Happy!

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