Some of history’s most famous art pieces are paintings. Think “The Mona Lisa,” “The Starry Night,” or “The Kiss.” People travel from all over the world to visit museums and gaze at paintings from periods like Impressionism, Realism, and Cubism. Some people go beyond just looking and begin painting themselves. Why are paintings so important? Here are ten reasons:
#1 Paintings increase cultural appreciation
Learning about (and appreciating) different cultures comes with many benefits. It’s also part of living in the world as a global citizen. Studying paintings is a good way to develop cultural appreciation, especially for young people who may not have much exposure to other cultures beyond their own. True cultural appreciation goes beyond looking at a painting. It’s also important to dig into the context of an art style, who the artist was, and what they were trying to communicate.
#2 Paintings help people learn history
Art mirrors and comments on the time it was created. Studying paintings from different periods sheds light on the worldviews of the time. Many paintings depict specific events and important people, as well. Studying history through an artist’s perspective is different from reading about it in a textbook. For many students, especially visual learners, learning history through art helps them absorb information better.
#3 Painting boosts creativity
When you paint, you’re using both sides of your brain. Experts used to think that people were either “left-brained” or “right-brained,” and that creativity was found on the right side. New research suggests that’s not the case. Following a stroke that affected the left side of his brain, an artist struggled to make new art. He eventually regained the motor skills necessary to draw, but while he could copy images, coming up with something original was difficult. Researchers believed this showed that both sides of the brain were involved in creating art. The more you paint, the more you use your entire brain and improve your creative skills.
#4 Painting can improve your focus
When you paint, you’re stimulating the parts of your brain responsible for concentration and memory. For people with ADHD, which includes symptoms like struggling with focus, art therapy can help them stay more engaged. To boost your brain’s ability to focus, try painting with as few distractions as possible. If you’re studying a painting, focus your brain by looking for focal points, interesting compositions, color patterns, and more.
#5 Painting can improve problem-solving skills
When you take up painting, you know that skills like creativity and focus will most likely improve. Painting can help you become a better problem-solver, too! Every artist makes mistakes. Recognizing a mistake and figuring out how to fix it exercises the problem-solving part of your brain. Painters are good at adapting and thinking outside the box. The more you paint, the sharper your critical thinking and problem-solving skills become.
#6 Painting helps you communicate emotions
It can be difficult to communicate your feelings. This is especially true with challenging feelings like anger and grief. Trauma is very difficult to articulate, too. Many psychologists recommend art therapy for their clients. It helps release your feelings without words and puts you in a more regulated, relaxed state. Looking at paintings and learning about artists who struggled with their emotions can help, too. It’s cathartic to see representations of emotions on canvas.
#7 Painting can improve self-esteem
Research indicates that when kids participate in the arts, they enjoy a boost of confidence and self-esteem. They don’t even need to be particularly good at painting. One study, published in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, took a look at 6,209 students from the United Kingdom Millennium Cohort Study. Most of the data came from interviews when they were 11-years old. Students who engaged in creative activities most days were more likely to have high self-esteem than students who had fewer opportunities. The reasons why aren’t quite clear, but the researchers believed it could be because creating art helps kids form a unique identity and feel accomplished.
#8 Looking at paintings increases blood flow to the brain
You know that painting stimulates the brain, but just looking at paintings has an effect, too. Years ago, Professor Semir Zeki (chair in neuroaesthetics at University College London) conducted an experiment where he scanned peoples’ brains as they looked at a beautiful painting. It didn’t matter whether it was a landscape, portrait, or still life. When people looked at art they found beautiful, blood flow to a certain part of the brain increased by as much as 10%. It’s similar to what happens when you look at someone you love. Why does this matter? Experiencing pleasurable things, like looking at paintings or going for a walk in a forest, directly impacts a person’s well-being.
#9 Painting can improve mental health
Speaking of well-being, painting is linked to reduced stress and better mental health. That goes against the stereotype of the “tortured artist.” Studies find that painting and other art therapy can play a role in treating mental illnesses. When you stimulate your brain through art, it’s easier to relax. This lowers your stress and helps you manage symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Note: Art can play an important role in improving your mental health, but it is not a replacement for therapy, medication, or community. If you or a loved one needs support, please consult your medical provider or call a crisis line, such as the NAMI HelpLine at 800-950-6264 (United States), the Mind Infoline at 0300 123 3393 (United Kingdom), or the other national crisis lines found at this website.
#10 Painting can improve health in your older years
A study from The Mayo Clinic found that painting can help prevent the memory and cognition problems that often pop up later in life. Those who identify as artists are less likely to suffer cognitive impairment than those who don’t engage in art at all. Other research shows that people at risk for Alzheimer’s and dementia benefit significantly from drawing and painting. The earlier you start, the better the benefits, but it’s never too late to try painting.