A recent TV news report celebrated a museum in Arkansas that brought
in underprivileged children to see the collection and talk about it.
The report ended with the comment that their test scores improved in
other subjects after that. Such a small exposure, such a big result.
This is the real news story. Art’s benefit to intelligence is showing
on many fronts. Many of our most evolved brain regions are stimulated
by art. Active areas get more fuel and grow larger and stronger.
Housen and Yenawine’s “Visual Teaching Strategy” has been succeeding
for years, showing that discussion of art improves all academic
performance. One of their techniques to begin a discussion about a
painting is asking kids, “What’s going on here?” This lets their
imagination and creative thinking loose without any fear of right or
wrong. They can generate new ideas and invent stories stimulated by
the mood and structure of the work. Art strikes deep chords of
feeling. The work of neurologist Antonio Damasio has shown that
feeling precedes and directs thinking. What we experience as a feeling
is the result of the bodily adjustments as the image is processed. Art
has always shown what it feels like to be human at a particular time.
The feeling stirs thinking and practice in thinking is more important
than any particular knowledge they might learn. The children are
exposed to how others use language and discover how much is within the
deepened attention to a subject. Art stimulates the mind to create new
meanings. The urge to look deeper is reinforced by reward chemicals so
carries over into all other subjects.
With the twentieth century approach to knowledge being overcome by the
volume of information solutions that look at the whole are essential.
When knowing something better meant closer examination of parts,
localized solutions were the norm, often creating negative side
effects. Looking at over arching patterns and relationships is the
emerging approach. When the existing organization is overloaded it
needs to be reorganized to handle the increased complexity. The new
supporting system starts with the belief system as image, a way of
seeing the world that organizes the rest of thinking. Looking at the
whole includes us all within it. A me first attitude is discordant and
eventually should evolve out as the intellectual scope of more
intelligent generations ascends. The truth is in how things function
together. Having one point of view running the show, based on power
instead of what fits circumstance seems hopelessly archaic in an
interconnected universe where influence grows from what matters to
people, not what has been anointed by empire.
The role of art in the mind’s evolution is multilayered. Just looking
at it stimulates the parts of the brain that make us more sensitive to
what is significant in the whole, attuned to proportions and to what
will balance the system. Talking about art develops creative thinking
and the core of ideas, allows for the freedom to theorize and invent.
Understanding of essential ordering structures boosts intuition and
big picture awareness of the interacting systems. And today’s
artists can search out constants that help us see what is most
essential in today’s reality and what we haven’t yet envisioned.