How looking at art can shape your appearance
The ubiquitous Calgon advertisements of the 1980s all followed the same formula: an exasperated woman resolves her woes (the boss! The baby!) Before yelling, “Calgon, take me!” and be immediately transported to the blissful solitude of a sparkling bathtub. Over the past year, my version of this Calgon bath was not at all a bath but a look at art; scrolling through a museum’s neatly archived online collections teleported me to an equally euphoric place. Etel Adnan’s soothing palettes; Jacqueline Marval’s pastoral scenes of women basking in beautiful dresses; Edward Hopper’s beautiful depictions of loneliness; and countless images of New York – especially photos chronicling its nightlife and street life by Meryl Meisler and Robert Herman – to remind me of the prepandemic spirit of my home.
This look came before language, an art critic John Berger established in the early lines of 1972 Ways to see, is perhaps an indication of its great power. “If you look at something for a long time and try to figure it out, you experience a deeper pleasure,” says Ellen Winner, professor emeritus of psychology at Boston College and author of How art works. She often asks her students to do âslowâ exercises, spending up to an hour with a particular job, which is a challenge in the era of fast scrolling.
But even a few moments of research has its benefits. âSlowing down to contemplate a work of art can bring comfort and balance, which many of us sorely lack, even in normal times,â says Sam Ramos, Associate Director of Innovation and Creativity at Art Institute of Chicago. This act of looking is also an act of de-stress. And for those who have struggled to connect with the mindfulness methods advocated by wellness gurus, art can be its own form of meditation. âRather than just being a distraction from what’s going on, you end up 100% there,â says Marie Clapot, associate educator at the Met. âLooking at art is truly a tool of personal care.â Physicians in Canada in 2018 were so convinced of the serotonin-boosting abilities of art that they began dispensing prescriptions for museum visits to their patients; a visit to the museum was seen as a boon to the healing process.
Art doesn’t just have the ability to make you feel good, it can also help you look good. Research has shown that people regularly exposed to the art have experienced dramatic drops in cortisol, the increased production of which can affect not only mental well-being, but also sleep and digestion, and speed up the aging process. the skin. While lowering cortisol is essential for curbing waves (or, when it comes to this last year, tsunamis) of anxiety, it is also essential for reducing the damaging effects of stress on the skin, a precursor of inflammation and a series of conditions like acne and eczema.
Since physical travel to a museum has posed a challenge this year, many institutions have turned to amplifying their digital accessibility – and it turns out you don’t have to be in the same room. than a work of art to feel its power. Coming together and sharing the experience of art (even an action as simple as posting a photo on Instagram) has, Ramos says, the power to make us feel comforted, stronger and more connected. It can also be a catalyst for critical thinking. At the Art Institute of Chicago, Ramos leads civic wellness workshops for medical students and professionals. âWorks of art are a starting point for conversations about power, race and empathy,â he adds.
Another point that Berger emphasizes in his historical book is that art is relational: the perspective that each brings to the vision of a piece influences individual reactions to it. Beautiful art, and beauty too, for that matter, is subjective; a painting that you can find beautiful does not necessarily have universal appeal. âWhat art can do is make us aware of the beauty that exists elsewhere,â says Ramos.
Both physically and psychologically. âBeautiful art takes you away from yourself and from this everyday world so that you can see the bigger picture,â says Dina Schapiro, associate chair and director of the Creative Arts Therapy program at the Pratt Institute. It also gives you the space to dream, a sensation you experience even when the beauty you are looking at is a true beauty product: the lacquer and color-block lipsticks from HermÃ¨s, the rainbow from Byredo of shiny platinum-coated color sticks, or an exquisite hand-blown bottle of Perfumer H’s concoctions always manages to transport me to a happy place.
Thinking back to the images I saved this year, I noticed that one shape kept coming back: the circle. He was there in paintings by Jordan Belson and Hilma af Klint, Alma Thomas and Carla Prina. âWe are collectively related to circles, and these are the first shapes we see when we come into the world,â Schapiro says of their appeal.
Agnes Pelton, another artist I kept coming back to in circles, was intentional in her use. In his mystical paintings, they conveyed a calm radiance in the center of a storm. Consider the magnificent Nebra Sky disc; a round bronze plaque dating from the Iron Age, this is one of the earliest representations of cosmic phenomena. The epitome of calm glow, it is indeed deeply soothing and a pleasure to look at, and reassuring too – a reminder that beauty exists elsewhere but also endures. This circle resisted, and so did we.
This story appears in the May 2021 issue of Town and Country. SUBSCRIBE NOW
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