Cover Image: Your Brain on Art

Your Brain on Art

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Member Reviews

If you are one of those people who doubts the transformative power of the arts, then read this. If you already have an idea of the link that exists between the arts and your own personal well-being, then read this.

This book talks extensively about the physiological, psychological, and biological changes that experiencing art can have on the human body and psyche and it's fascinating! It will make you re-think how you interact with or implement it into your own life.

Special thanks to NetGalley and Random House for the ARC in exchange for my review.
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“Your Brain on Art” examines how art, creativity, and aesthetics dramatically impact our minds and bodies. It shows how drawing, music, sculpting, knitting, and other arts might be the best prescriptions for our problems. Drawing from recent neuroscience, cultural history, and more studies, the authors show how we can use the arts as medicine to achieve our best lives.

For me, “Your Brain on Art” was a life-changing read. It gave me so much insight into myself (I learned that I’ve been self-medicating with aesthetics for years without realizing it). And it took creativity from being an occasional “hobby” to being a vital part of my wellness routine. But this book contains more than art. It explains flourishing, wellness, and how our bodies process emotions and trauma in an easy-to-understand way that I connected with. Reading this book sparked so much healing for me, and I’m incredibly grateful to the authors for sharing their expertise and insight.
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I was so excited to read this because as a graphic designer and Art History minor, I love this kind of stuff. However, this read like a very boring biology college textbook. It was very word-heavy, and for a book about art, it doesn't have much art or color. I think just adding in some art and color could really help this book!
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As someone who grew up loving and getting involved with the arts, I enjoyed reading this book. "Your Brain on Art" highlights scientific research, and conversations with visual and performing artists to back up on how and why the arts are important and essential in our lives. I liked reading the real life examples of the arts' role when its applied to healing/medicine, community building and engagement, creativity, and much more.

Special thanks to NetGalley and Random House for the opportunity to read this digital ARC in exchange for my honest opinion.
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This is a book about the neurological effects experiencing art have on the human body. The chapters address mental health, physical healing, learning, what they call flourishing as well the place of arts in community.  For each topic there is a basic exposition of research in the field and then examples of arts being used for the various purposes. I’m guessing the authors went light on the scientific explanations to avoid scaring off readers.  For myself I was hoping for more focus on the science. There are extensive notes with which on might delve more deeply with the time and access to the sources, but it would be great if more of the information was in the book itself.  The science exists and is growing in stature, but the heavy advocacy for the programs using these findings was offputting. The concluding chapter came across as utopian. My annoyance with style is an individual reaction. There is good information here and it can be used in arguing the usefulness of the arts.
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An interesting overview and explaination of the way art interacts with your brain and why we find happiness in it. A little dry, I wouldn't recommend it for the layperson, but still has lots of good info!
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This book is so revolutionary I fear I won’t have adequate words to describe how important I think it is. As a lifelong artist, performer, arts educator and arts advocate, I didn’t need to be convinced of the connection between brain function and art, but the breadth of the information in this book is astounding. The authors, Susan Magsamen and Ivy Ross, bring an amazing array of experience and credentials to the table. Ross is Vice President  for hardware product area at Google, and Magsamen is founder and director of the International Arts + Mind Lab, Center for Applied Neuroaesthetics at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. They are partners in both doing the research and applying it.

Most of us who participate in the arts are aware of the power of the arts to relieve stress, spur creativity and create connections to others, past and present. But Ross and Magsamen take these ideas and go deeper, pointing to verifiable changes in the brain and neural system that affect our health and well-being. Did you know, for example, that certain heart scans reveal patterns reminiscent of quilt squares? Or that singing to a newborn baby releases hormones that calm both baby and mother? The authors make the case that arts of all types create measurable biological changes in the human body, and can be applied as therapies for mental, physical and social disorders and dysfunctions.

This book should be required reading for medical professionals and students, mental health professionals, business executives, and even politicians. This work raises the question as to why there is so much opposition to public funding for the arts, and completely obliterates the argument that the arts are just a “frill” or “luxury” in our lives, and makes the case for thorough integration of the arts in all facets of our existence.

Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for my opportunity to receive an advance copy in exchange for my honest review. In that spirit, I will offer one correction to the text. On page 124, the first sentence reads, “…a mambo version of Leonard Bernstein’s “Somewhere” from the musical “West Side Story.”  That sentence should read, …”Mambo” from Leonard Bernstein’s “West Side Story.”
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Many thanks to Random House for the review copy.

Uh oh. Let me begin by saying that I agree with Magsamen and Ross's core gospel that art is good for people, and I was looking forward to a scientific study of the topic. So where did we go wrong?

As I was reading this book, which builds a scientific case for art by talking to scholars, citing academic articles, providing case studies, etc. I was bothered by a little voice in the back of my mind asking "Why, with all of these sources, does this sound like woo?"
After thinking about it, I realized the following:
Part of it comes down to authorial voice. Magsamen and Ross write with a breathless enthusiasm that I primarily associate with new-age gurus talking about natal charts. The tone is excitable, twee, and earnest to the point of being uncomfortable. Their writing is also sprinkled with vaguely new-agey sounding appeals to "ancient wisdom practices from many cultures," as well as using contemporary indigenous people as examples of "ancient" practices.
There is also an uncomfortable refusal to acknowledge that as much as art can heal us, art can also be harmful. There is no acknowledgment in this book of art's colonial power, gentrifying power, traumatizing power, or anything else besides its' healing power. This is not honest.
In some ways, it reminded me of self-help books: a single, deceptively simple solution for immensely complex issues. Their definition of art is flexible enough to include everything, a single soundwave in a lab can be art, but so can nature, gardening, cooking, etc. Not to be annoying, but if your definition of art is so broad that it encompasses basically everything, then what are you actually saying?

But the real downfall of this book is that it presents the glaringly obvious as new. There is a frankly laughable portion of the conclusion that asks us to "Imagine just one day in your life where the science and practices outlined in this book come to fruition, where arts and aesthetics are seamlessly integrated."
Are you ready for this?
You will... have herbs in your kitchen, drink tea or coffee, sing in the shower and the car, pick up a hobby, look out your window at nature, and maybe after work go see a movie or a performance.
Revolutionary. Why has no one thought of that before?
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“Just one art experience per month can extend your life by ten years.” Wow. Can that be true? Can something that’s enjoyable and considered recreation actually have such a profound impact on one’s life? Yes. And this book offers proof. 

I know the soothing effect making art can have on a person so I was excited to read more about it. The topic here was actually much broader than I expected. 

Neuroaesthetics is a word I hadn’t heard before. This book went way beyond “painting makes you calm.” Discussed were the positive effects of music, dance, architecture, nature and more. 

This book was full of research studies and anecdotes. I would’ve loved some specific ideas for projects, links to playlists, or action plans. Maybe that was there and I missed it. I docked a star because there was so much information here it was overwhelming. My scattered brain could’ve used a bit more art—even charts and graphs to break up the countless stories and studies presented. 

I do highly recommend this book to anyone looking to improve their life in an easy, enjoyable way. 

I’m off to find some sources of 40Hz light and sound! 

I received this book for free and was happy to offer my unbiased review.
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“Your Brain On Art” is a good choice for anyone interested in exactly what the title describes. If you want to learn more about how beauty rewires your brain, or how vital the arts are for building and sustaining communities, or the healing power of arts and aesthetics, this absolutely is the book for you. I highly recommend it if you’re interested in learning more. I also loved the mention of MedRhythms, a really incredible company in my home state of Maine that is doing great work in neurologic music therapy!
The thing that took some enjoyment away from this one for me is how the authors seemed to leap between different scientific concepts extraordinarily rapidly and almost at random - I’m concerned that readers from a non-scientific background will struggle to grasp some of the concepts presented, hence the 3-star rating.
I also think I need to stop picking books like this one. I’m always very excited to read them, but since I majored in neuroscience and music in college, have been a musician my entire life, and am now in medical school, these books simply don’t introduce much that I haven’t already learned, or actually overlap with my course work. I prefer reading to be an escape from that, so sadly this one didn’t quite reach the level of enjoyment I was hoping for.

My thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for an advance copy in exchange for an honest review.
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5 stars.

It’s a wonderful, quite short, and easy to read book. The authors walk you through the effects different art forms can have on people, potential health benefits, how art affects our mental health. Art helps us connect to ourselves and the outside world. The book, even though it discusses the effects of arts on the brain, is written in simple language, where there are terms not everyone might be familiar with, they are explained. There are some amazing examples. It’s not a dry review of a bunch of scientific studies, it’s written for an average person, and by people clearly enthusiastic about the topic. If you have a chance to read this book, I encourage you to do so. I very much enjoyed reading it.
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This is a very careful and thoughtful analysis of how the appreciation and practice of arts can directly impact our biochemistry. It is thoughtfully prepare and presented. The authors give copious examples of broad ranging studies as well as smaller anecdotes about how the arts can and do change us on a fundamental level. My only issue is that the authors never quite seem to believe they've convinced us of this fact and keep hammering it home. Wonderfully researched, probably could have been tightened up around the edges.
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A fascinating, in-depth treatise on the necessity of art, its critical role in our evolution as a species. The book largely focuses on how art can be used not only to promote physical, emotional, and mental well-being, but also how art can quite literally save us and evolve us.
An expansive read--I especially found the sections that minutely described how our brains process different art forms to be especially fascinating
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What a delightful and informative book! I’m an artist myself and I’ve always been curious about the psychological and neurological affects of the arts and Your Brain on Art didn’t disappoint! I appreciate that the authors were able to present scientific concepts in a way that was easy for me as a layperson to understand.     
This book is inclusive of just about every art form so there really is something for everyone here, but i would especially recommend this to fellow artists and others interested in Art Therapy.
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I want to thank Netgalley and the publisher for providing an advance copy free of charge for me to read and review.

Just wow! This book is a wonderful exploration of the arts and their effect on us and our neurology.  The book is grounded in science and discusses the various studies behind the conclusions offered.  The authors go on to discuss the manner in which various art therapy models are currently being utilized in healthcare practices. Additionally, the authors present ways one can begin to integrate them into their own self-care practice.  Highly recommended!
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In this captivating book, Magsamen and Ross tell us that “we are literately changed on a cellular level by aesthetics.” They describe how scientific research has caught up with the way in which art supports health, learning, and our sense of well-being in a field called neuroaesthetics. For me, the most compelling study the authors describe is one that was conducted by a Stanford cardiologist and his acoustic bioengineer colleague. They placed heart cells in a gelled substance and watched as the cells danced, riding “waves across the gel and into extraordinary patterns.” This puts the notion of being moved by music into a more literal realm! It is also one of many reasons the authors will say that “art and science are potent medicine, capable of radically transforming our physical health.” 

 Magsamen and Ross explain the relevant science in a vernacular non-scientists can understand. For example, they describe our brains’ neurons as overlapping branches of a tree. These neurons are social and need connection with others to survive. In the language of the brain, these social connections are called synaptic. The intensity of the sensory input determines how synaptic circuits are wired. Memory-making experiences and sensory rich environments support greater connections. 

These authors say that the changes aesthetic experiences can make in us will transform our lives. Developing an aesthetic mindset is the first step, and they will give you advice on how to do that.
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An interesting book collecting various studies and examples of how our brains and bodies respond to art of various kinds .  It shows many anecdotal stories and then backs them up with relevant studies and discusses healing through these modalities.
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I love art, and certainly like viewing it more than reading about it. But this has a nice take, and I learned a few things along with way. This feels a bit academic, but it's very readable and authoritative. This will probably satisfy the niche audience it serves.

Thanks very much for the free ARC for review!!
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I believe Your Brain on Art by Susan Magsamen and Ivy Ross is going to be a HUGE hit in the nonfiction community! I couldn't put this one down. If you liked or resonated with The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk (who is quoted within the book), you'll be absolutely fascinated by this work of art in itself. I truly felt like this book was speaking to me with every turn of the page. As someone who struggles with mental health due to SA and childhood trauma, and someone who is currently exploring the arts, this book was a wealth of information and an absolute treat!
I really enjoyed the easy to digest writing style and the way the book is organized into smaller sections. The book presents examples of how "the arts and aesthetics" are utilized to help many individuals cope with traumatic events, daily stressors, mental health, end of life, and pain, etc. Recent studies have shown that engaging in the arts has an affect on multiple physiological and neural systems within the human body. Art can help heal the body, mind, and spirit. 
It was fascinating learning about the different types of art, the programs out there that are offering a type of art therapy, and especially, the ways our brains work when we are actively engaging in these activities. 
Overall, an incredible read! I highly reccomend it if you enjoy reading about art, mental health, healthcare/medicine, and neurology. A new favorite!
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Your Brain on Art: How the Arts Transform Us
Susan Magsamen and Ivy Ross
Random House
March 21, 2023

Your Brain on Art begins by defining an aesthetic mindset as: (1) a high level of curiosity; (2) open-ended exploration; (3) keen sensory awareness; and (4) a drive to engage in creative endeavors either as a maker and/or beholder. It fosters an ongoing connection to your environment (a sensory connection) that opens you to creating or appreciating art. It changes you.  It’s transformative.

The authors then offer an Aesthetic Mindset Index. This index is based on a research instrument called the Aesthetic Responsiveness Assessment. They have modified the instrument by adding prompts that explore your aesthetic mind and the ways they affect you. The resulting number will be used later (2-3 months) to determine if the information in the book has altered your aesthetic responses. They posit that the arts and aesthetic experiences will make you healthier, improve your well being, and enhance your ability to learn. 

The next chapter is an arts anatomy cheat sheet. Knowing how your senses react is key to understanding the transformative nature of the arts. An example of their  scientific evidence is the sense of smell. Smells trigger physical and mental responses from you. The authors literally explain how the olfactory system works to trigger responses. They also explore taste, sight,  touch, and sound and their effects on the body. They note that music is the most studied sense in neuroaesthetics. Your brain chemically reacts to frequency, tone, and vibration, which in turn, alters your mood and can address neurological and emotions issues. 

The book is anatomy-heavy, going into details of the body and how the brain forms and reorganizes neuronal connections. This ability to wire and rewire itself is called Neuroplasticity. It is one of the core concepts of the Neuroarts. 

The second core concept is an enriched environment. The concept is simply stated: Enriched environments produce positive outcomes while impoverished environments produce “corrosive effects” on health and well-being. 

The third core concept is the aesthetic triad. It is a theoretical model that explains three components that combine to form an aesthetic experience. The three components are 1) our sensorimoter system; 2) our reward system and 3) our cognitive knowledge and meaning-making. 

The fourth core concept of Neuroarts is the default mode network (DMN). Since no one has your exact brain, your responses to aesthetic experiences are as individual as you are. The DMN is your filter for determining if something is beautiful or not; if something is meaningful or meaningless; and it’s what makes art and aesthetics a personal experience for you. Hence, your meaning-making is made in the DMN. 

The authors go into depth on each of these components, explaining what is happening biologically in your brain and body in response to the arts and aesthetic experiences. They delve into how aesthetic therapies work for suffering patients and how the mind-brain-body relationship research will advance our wellness and health. 

The book is well researched and filled with examples to support that research. As I mentioned before, the book is demanding on the reader. This is not a light read. But, for artists and patients the book can be a resource as a path to wellness.
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