THE SMART IN ART
Whether you are a trained artist, a budding novice, or somewhere in the middle, picking up a pencil just might make you a little bit smarter! That’s because drawing lights up areas in both hemispheres of the brain. Drawing encourages us to think creatively and critically at the same time, activating both the left (logical and words) and right (creative and images) hemispheres of our brains. Both creative and critical thinking skills are considered higher order thinking or executive skills. Creative Thinking Creative or right-brain thinking is not so much about what is but rather what could be. It’s about pattern recognition and seeing how things relate to each other (association), including things that at first glance, may not have anything in common. Creative thinking is about putting things together, related or unrelated, to form something entirely new. Our right brain encourages us to be flexible and to stretch our risk muscle to see if we can come up with more than one solution to a situation or problem. Cognitive flexibility is the ability to think of multiple concepts at once and switch one’s thinking between them. We are thinking creatively when we combine new information with what we already know to come up with something original and innovative. We are being creative when we recognize meaning in unrelated events or things. Creative thinking encourages a sense of independence and playfulness along with an adventurous taste for making discoveries. Creative thought asks the questions: What could be? What if? Critical Thinking Critical thinking comes into play whenever we observe, inquire, analyze, interpret, synthesize, sequence, reflect and evaluate information in order to make a decision or come to a solution. Critical thinking usually follows a linear process that goes from point A to point Z. The inquiry process is an example of critical thinking. Whenever we are following step-by-step procedures, determining cause and effect, making comparisons and using deductive reasoning to predict an outcome, or draw a logical conclusion, we are using our critical thinking skills. Critical thinking asks the questions: What do we know? How do we know it? What do we need to know? Drawing Drawing is a whole brain experience. Because drawing engages so much of the brain, including both the left and right hemisphere, it is an excellent rehabilitation activity for stroke survivors as well as others who want to improve cognition and memory. Drawing encourages one to really “see” what they are looking at. It doesn’t matter whether that image is real or from the imagination. Either way, if we want to render a suitable likeness of an image, we must concentrate on that image, observing shape, line, contrast, all details. For example, if you decide to draw an image of a leaf on a tree branch, first you must distinguish that single leaf from all the others and focus on it exclusively. By focusing, with an almost microscopic intensity, on the shape, shadings, contour and lines of the leaf, we will see that leaf as we have never seen one before! We are no longer looking at something as we “think or assume it to be,” but instead, as it really is. This type of focused seeing is achieved by sustained concentration. In this sense, drawing can be a very meditative and Zen-like experience as the mind quiets itself down and focuses on the task. The experience is further amplified when music accompanies the drawing session. Turn on some Mozart or something similar that promotes a soothing, peaceful and relaxed state of mind. Blue Bird of Happiness Doing art can take the “edge” off things, by keeping your mind off what’s bothering you, and thereby being an excellent distraction from pain and depression. Being in a relaxed state encourages positive brain chemicals to be released like serotonin, dopamine and endorphins into the blood stream. These brain chemicals elevate your mood and can enhance new learning because a relaxed mind learns better! Drawing increases our knowledge of the world around us by helping us make sense of it through patterns, shapes and interconnections. Drawing can help us increase our spatial intelligence by understanding the concepts of space, distance, size and perspective. Drawing is a kinesthetic and tactile exercise, increasing eye-hand coordination. Another benefit is that drawing stimulates memories. Images are powerful invokers of memory and emotion. When we see an image, usually we attempt to match it to a memory. The memory elicits emotions. For example, if one is drawing a bouquet of flowers, maybe a past memory of receiving flowers from a loved one suddenly surfaces. With this memory is attached an emotion. Connecting the current memory to a past memory creates a new synapse. The more synapses mean it is easier to recall information because there are more neural connectors in the network. ART AND WHAT IT DOES FOR THE BRAIN AND BODY Art allows for creative expression. Art provides a sense of self-accomplishment. Art facilitates the development of spatial reasoning skills. Art develops fine motor skills. Art serves as a bridge between one’s mind and the real world. Art develops patience, sustained attention, and self-regulation. Art develops the whole brain. Art assists with training the non-dominant hand. Art can improve dexterity and fine motor skills. Art can improve eye and hand Coordination. Art encourages focused Concentration. Art stimulates new learning. Art helps one understand color. Art assists in recognizing shapes and patterns. Art develops the ability to follow instructions. Art promotes decision making abilities.