There is little doubt art can make you smarter. But if you’re in your 50s can art still help develop your brain and in essence make you smarter? That would depend on the individual and the level of intensity with which he/she takes on appreciating art. But art is like brain exercise. While it might not affect certain areas of the brain usually reserved for memory or numbers, it does stimulate other parts of the brain. Looking at colors, lines, shapes and designs that please or intrigue the mind keeps the over-50 brain nimble and sharp.
The way I see it, art can be like yoga for our minds. Art forces us to stretch our imagination, appreciate something that is being visually transmitted and received, affecting how we interpret what we see, how we store it in our memories, but more importantly, how we feel about what we see. In art, emotion is a sizable part of the equation and we all need emotional stimulation, especially in middle age when life feels more settled.
Of course there is a big difference between viewing art and making art. Recently, while spending a week at an art colony in North Carolina, I met a lot of folks who were 50+ and they showed a tremendous amount of positive energy. They were energetic, motivated and inspired. And they were surrounded by art. Everyone around them was making art.
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Colors and the vibrancy of brush strokes, representational or abstract painting, all help stimulate us in ways that psychologists are still working to understand. The fact that we hang art in our houses and attend museums and oftentimes take on painting as a hobby later in life shows that art has a positive influence on our lives. And at middle age, it is important for us to find stimulating hobbies or vocations. For many, art becomes an encore career.
To make art means to apply oneself to a new skillset. There is a lot to learn. Suddenly our motor skills have to be re-tuned for art. We have to make decisions about color, mostly based on gut instinct. And we learn to discern what we like and dislike about a piece of art whether we made it ourselves or not. All these learning moments help sharpen the mind and attune it to something that perhaps was pushed aside when we were younger.
Art can enrich a person’s life and benefit their mind in similar ways that art affects children. The power of a pen or a box of crayons or tubes of oil paint offer the individual the power of expression but can also open a window of possibility for we all started in life as artists. Perhaps it’s a good thing to get back into it as we get older.