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How Art Changes Consciousness

By Jacob Devaney on Wednesday October 14th, 2015

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Art Changes Consciousness

Art can heal us, inspire us, and alter our brain chemistry

With so much talk about the evidence of the positive effects of yoga and meditation, you might be surprised at what scientific research also says about how art effects the brain. Long before modern neuroscience, artists were creating works to inspire people and today complex brain imaging scans can show us just how art changes the physiology of our brains. Contemplation, observing, and taking in beauty all stimulate pleasure centers within the brain while increasing blood flow by up to 10% in the medial orbitofrontal cortex. This can lead to an elevated state of consciousness, wellbeing, and better emotional health.

The blood flow increased for a beautiful painting just as it increases when you look at somebody you love. It tells us art induces a feel good sensation direct to the brain.
Professor Semir Zeki, chair in neuroaesthetics at University College London

Observing Art

Mirror Neurons  are neurons that fire both when a person acts and when the person observes the same action performed by another. This brings us back to a very basic concept in human evolution which involves modeling. When you observe a profound piece of art you are potentially firing the same neurons as the artist did when they created it thus making new neural pathways and stimulating a state of inspiration. This sense of being drawn into a painting is called “embodied cognition”.

Art accesses some of the most advanced processes of human intuitive analysis and expressivity and a key form of aesthetic appreciation is through embodied cognition, the ability to project oneself as an agent in the depicted scene,
Christopher Tyler, director of the Smith-Kettlewell Brain Imaging Center

Detail of Banks of the Siene at Jenfosse by Claude Monet
Detail of Banks of the Siene at Jenfosse by Claude Monet

This explains why we might feel like we are dreaming when we look at impressionists like Claude Monet, or having an ecstatic vision while looking at a painting by Alex Grey. The ability of art, combined with our own imagination, to transport us to other realms is astounding. Artists have the ability to show us new worlds but we shouldn’t put them on a pedestal because each of us is an artist.

Making art activates the whole brain and can foster integration of emotional, cognitive, and sensory processes.
– Joan French MA NCC LCPC

Arise detail by Amanda Sage
Detail of Arise by Amanda Sage

Creating Art

The act of creating art is also therapeutic which has been the impetus for the art therapy movement. Every one of us lived like artists as children and we have the ability to bring back this powerful form of expression and self-healing if we allow ourselves to. You don’t need to be an expert to enjoy smearing paint on a canvas and letting your pleasure centers light up like a child!

Art therapy, sometimes called expressive art or art psychology, encourages self-discovery and emotional growth. It is a two-part process, involving both the creation of art and the discovery of its meaning.
Paula Ford-Martin

Modern Visionary Artists are applying the idea that art inspires community, is educational, and has the capacity to elicit spiritual revelations. Painting together in groups and painting live at musical events, these artists are allowing participants in on their creative process. Seeing and understanding that even the finest pieces of art have many moments when the artist isn’t satisfied or needs to paint over something is revealing for each of us on our spiritual journey.

Theologue by Alex Grey
Theologue by Alex Grey

Celebrating how Art changes Consciousness

Artist Alex Grey has opened Cosm in New York which is being called a Chapel of Sacred Mirrors. Within the Visionary Art Movement is the idea that creativity itself is a path to the divine. This includes creating art, gathering around/celebrating art and creating communities that foster creative expression in all of its forms. Creativity may be one of the greatest things about being human and art can be a great teacher for us on this evolutionary journey.

To awaken and catalyze the spiritual path of each person by providing access to the highest mystic truth through art and creative action.
– Cosm Core Value

We are surrounded by billboards and advertisements which utilize art to persuade us to purchase things that we usually don’t need. There is currently a large movement towards beautifying public places with murals that contain cultural and community relevance. Imagine how we might create a more peaceful, vibrant world by surrounding ourselves with beautiful art…

Sound of Flight
Sound of Flight Mural, Flagstaff, Az.

I’d like to see a world where scientists, politicians, and spiritual practitioners gathered around art to learn and share with each other towards creating a better world. Visual art can heal us, inspire us, and alter our brain chemistry leaving us filled with inspiration and love. We don’t need science to prove this to us but now that it has what are some ways that you will invoke art and creativity for your own spiritual journey?

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Jacob Devaney

Founder and director of Culture Collective, creative activist, musician, and producer.



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  • 🙂

    • jeanne cavanaugh

      Thank you for this article..I am an artist and teach painting classes in long term care..I’ve known the therapeutic benefits of visual art for some time…I’d like to let those in administrative positions within my facility become more aware …any suggestion of publications?

  • June Lawrance

    Love this article. Spiritual support through art and creativity. Wonderful.

  • Daniel Perret

    Good article. I am researching the spiritual sources of inspiration and writing about it. Very exciting subject. How beauty in and around us can help transform suffering. It is all happening ‘on the heart’.

  • Wanda Grein

    Thank you for this Article- fantastic- this is my Art Business- to assist those who wish to explore their creative potential through Art practice_ I am doing a Sacred Art Workshop In Kiama NSW next Saturday 23rd October 2015 — please you are most welcome to join us and write about the experience– what do you think? Blessings Wanda 🙂

  • Teraysa Guinasso

    Yes, thank you for writing this so I can share. I am an artist and life coach and I really appreciate this.

  • Michelle My Belle

    Who is the artist for the first picture of the article? I love it!!

    • jaz

      I believe it’s Amanda Sage.

      • David Allen

        yes, Arise by Amanda Sage

    • Kathy Schafer

      Alex Grey

  • ashok sharma

    Modern Science barely knows not even 10% of our Brain Yet 90% or more of our Brain remains still an ‘ uncharted unexplored ‘ – nearly an Anigma for the Neurosurgeons or those studying psychology relatingto How our Brain Functions. Unless perhaps we might understand the source and connected fuel system that keep brain active we might still be standing at the shore to understand How billions and trillions of neurons connect to and tiny fibrilsinside to present before us a Picture of an outside work of Art So Amazing and as view or a concept so compelling….

  • Whoa.

  • Dave Ness

    Great article. It really helped me understand more about what I do and why it reaches so many people. Comments like “I feel like I’m there” and “this just brings me so much peace” make scientific sense with what you’ve explained. I need to read more on this.

  • Wanda Pepin

    This is exactly why we are so passionate about public art. We provide award winning original artwork for spaces such as lobbies, medical offices, business offices, hospitals, and many other spaces to inspire, change moods and provide a creative climate for innovation. If you are interested, feel free to contact us to join our growing membership to have original award winning art in your environment. http://www.art2business.net

  • We are happy witness of the power of art. In fact we receive so many positive feedback from people coming to our art school to learn Mandala and Thangka paintings.
    If you are coming to Nepal feel free to contact us for a free class. http://www.traditionalartofnepal.com

  • awruk

    The blood flow increased for a beautiful shit I just produced from my bowels too; it increases when you piss at somebody you love. It tells us kinky sex & shitting induce a feel good sensation direct to the brain.
    – Professor Mebowells, sidechair in neuroaesthetics at University College New York City


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