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Art: An Artifact with Many Purposes

Monday, February 23rd, 2009

“Art washes from the soul the dust of everyday life.” – Pablo Picasso

Early universities established what faculty considered the four major areas of study: arts, law, medicine, and theology.

Over time, the “arts” evolved to mean more of some things (storytelling, finger-painting) and less of others (stained glass work, cathedral wood carvings), the Latin root for the word “art,” ars, is a base meaning “put together, join, fit.” In any case, the arts are here to stay.

Art can turn the routine of daily life into refreshing adventures in many ways, but three of them are by expressing art as immersion through the imagination or fantasy, art as therapy for healing, and art as community-building engagement in social change. Art can teach us lessons, provoke questions, and help us experience cultures through the lenses of artful eyes.

From the Hogwart Express of Rowling’s Harry Potter to the science fiction of StarTrek to the hobbits’ adventures of J. R. R. Tolkein, it is clear to children (and to the adult’s inner child) that art and fantasy easily partner. In these cases, a continuous thread of stories provided an imersive “reality” that captured millions’ imaginations. However, a child can express one great little story into a singular work of art as well.

Sometimes art is most helpful as a way to heal. Remember the thousands of drawings posted on fences and on Web sites after 9/11? Or children’s drawings from around the world after Princess Diana passed away? Art—storytelling, poetry, music, dance, visual arts, painting, sculpture or other forms of creativity—can serve to help us transform from a difficult experience to a more peaceful one. How? Scientists tell us that art can reduce the experience of stress to one of relaxation. Especially when guided, it can help transform pain into acceptance, sometimes into a work of art.

Art can also be used to build community and, in so doing, help socialize us. As with events around 9/11 or those around Princess Diana, communities came together to share stories, remembrances, and to share their common experience of loss. The art created around these events served as powerful reminders not only of the lost ones but also of possible futures for the surviving ones.

Art can represent evolutionary social issues also.  An example would be the emergence

of art communities around a new social issue—that of  “going green”.

In this case, green art can serve to inspire us about a cleaner future, remind us to

conserve resources, and allow us to understand that we are not alone, that we are one

of many concerned and committed to bring children a cleaner future.

Whether art serves purposes of delightful fantasy, healing, or community engagement,

or just fun, it is one of the elements of a core curriculum that exhibits

individuals’ humanity and talents.  In what way will you use art to move you through

the day today?

Doctors Agree, Music Is Good For You

Monday, December 15th, 2008

              

It’s Holiday season and music fills the air, and our hearts, and our brains, and the malls.

Maybe you want to hear Little Drummer Boy piped into Target as you do the Bounty/dish soap run.

Or maybe you don’t. As Daniel J. Levitin outlines, “Unwanted music in particular is not waterboarding, but it is a kind of torture. Don’t forget, the American military drove Manuel Noriega from his compound by blasting him 24/7 with AC/DC and Van Halen.”

We will explore music again later this week, as we talk to Dave Wish, founder and director of Little Kids Rock. Really talk to him. Our first podcast.

But music truly does make us bright and brilliant and healthy and happy. Juliet Chung’s Wall Street Journal piece, Sound Research, summarizes recent, credible science.

  • A team at Stanford University School of Medicine used functional magnetic resonance imaging to view brain activity. Listeners’ noggins showed clear differences during and after having heard 18th-century symphonies. This study, which was published last year in Neuron suggests listening to music helps sustain focus.
  • A Finnish study published in Brain (I know, we all get these publications regularly) showed that “verbal memory and focused attention improved significantly more in stroke patients who listened to their favorite music several hours daily.”
  • Good for the brain. So what about blood? Music is good for that too. Researchers at University of Maryland School of Medicine found the “diameter of the average upper-arm blood vessel expanded by 26% when subjects listened to music they had previously selected for making them feel joyful.” What does this mean? Blood vessels expand when nitric oxide is being released, good for that bad cholesterol, LDL.
  • Mood/motivation? We all know how music can lift us from the blues. Kurt Vonnegut said, “Music is, to me, proof of the existence of God.” Powerful stuff, this music.
  • A team at Brunel University in England “found that certain music deemed motivational can enhance a recreational athlete’s endurance and increase pleasure while exercising.” Hear the theme track from ‘Rocky’?  ‘Chariots of Fire’? We all do.

Now to each his own on music choice. One person will spend the extra 10 minutes on the treadmill with AC/DC on their IPod. Another person will kick it to Chopin. Someone else rocks to barum-pa-pum-pum.

Whatever works for you. But at least now there’s lots of science to prove that it does work for us all…..on many different levels.

Image thanks to Gaetan Lee

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