As the coordinator of the Art from the Heart program at the UVM Medical Center I see and hear about the power of the arts to help us feel better, connect us to each other, and support people in challenging times.

And, the arts can help us beyond the walls of the hospital as we undergo challenging and stressful experiences. Regardless of your feelings on climate change, it can be a stressful subject, one to which I think the arts can bring new perspectives. This weekend and Monday, there will be a symposium and festival, Feverish World aimed at building bridges between the arts and the sciences, and between academia and the broader community, to generate novel approaches to the challenges of the next 50 years.

Art & Health: Research Shows Connections

Research shows that we attain pleasure and reduce stress by experiencing and creating art. This peer-reviewed study, “How Art Changes Your Brain”, describes how “visual art interventions have stabilizing effects on the individual by reducing distress, increasing self-reflection and self-awareness, altering behaviour and thinking patterns, and also by normalizing heart rate, blood pressure, or even cortisol levels [1][2][3][4][5].”

This article, “Science Shows Art Can Do Incredible Things for Your Mind and Body” sums up some of the research behind how the arts help us feel better. For example, after unguided time in an art gallery (if already stressed), people’s stress levels go down. Oshin Vartanian, an author specializing in the neuroscience of aesthetics and creativity research, writes that when we look at paintings:

“areas of the brain involved in processing emotion and those that activate our pleasure and reward systems are also being engaged. We also found that the brain’s default mode network – the area associated with internally-oriented thinking like daydreaming, thinking about the future or retrieving memories – is also activated. So what’s happening is that areas associated with more contemplative responses are being triggered automatically when people view art even if they don’t have instructions to judge or think about it critically.”

Vartanian describes that when we are moved by a powerful and visceral art experience, the part of the brain associated with experiencing pain and pleasure lights up. We have probably all experienced simultaneous pleasure and pain through the arts. Have you ever felt joy and sorrow from a beautiful song? Perhaps it is this ability of the arts to hold both pleasure and pain and to unveil the connections among what might seem like conflicting or disparate ideas that make the arts so powerful, and helps us experience new ideas and perspectives.

Art in the Community

“Minimal Monument” by Nele Azevedo will be created in Burlington for its debut in the U.S. this weekend.

This weekend, I look forward to the artwork “Minimal Monument.”

Starting Saturday at 2 p.m., more than a thousand small icy people will be placed on the back steps of Burlington’s City Hall. Anyone interested may help place the ice figures, which will melt and evaporate. This iconic piece has been made in 22 cities around the world, but never before in the U.S. Brazilian artist Nele Azevedo chose Burlington as the first U.S. site because we are the first U.S. city powered entirely by renewable resources and working on becoming net-zero in carbon emissions.

The arts help open us to joy, and sometimes help us confront what is painful. In “Minimal Monument” we will see the fleeting gathering and disappearance of so many figures, indifferent and fragile, and are perhaps moved to action to address what brings us pain and holds such deep meaning for us in our own human experiences.

I hope you will employ the arts to help access meaning, beauty, joy and new understandings – whether it is through joining in some of the Feverish World events, or through other art pursuits. Here is to the arts supporting health – on many levels!

For more information on Feverish World and / or to help Nele Azevedo create the 1000+ ice people, please visit: www.feverishworld.org

Rebecca Schwarz coordinates Art from the Heart for Burlington City Arts at UVM Medical Center. She also participates in other community-engaged art practices including EcoCultureLab, a group of UVM and regional educators, artists, scientists and activists.

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