Hello, we’ve missed you!
Lately, we’ve needed to postpone or cancel several Affordable Art Fairs, which are not only the culmination of months of collaborative work, but also our passion and the highlights of our calendar. Many of you may feel as bereft as your own passion points are on pause – be they art or otherwise – and it has left us wondering; exactly what are we missing? Because artwork, while fascinating and beautiful, doesn’t tell the whole story: we’re also missing walking the aisles of the fair, seeing fascinated faces, having conversations with gallerists, and discovering something new and sharing it with friends and family. In short, it’s not art alone, it’s connection with others through art.
This fascination with pinpointing and articulating these feelings has been central to some of our self-reflection during these past months. So, deciding to explore it further, we turned to Kia Cannons for help. Well-placed to throw some light onto the subject, being an artist, coach, columnist for Psychologies Magazine, and host of UK top 3 wellness podcast, Happy Hacks, we asked Kia: “Why is art so important right now?”
THE PSYCHOLOGY OF ART AND HUMAN CONNECTION
KC: Hi, I’m Kia, an abstract artist, empowerment coach, podcaster and columnist for Psychologies Magazine. I’m fascinated by the pursuit of doing what you love and how tools such as mindset mastery and creativity can empower us to achieve that. In my art practice I paint intuitively and use art as a vehicle to create a strong connection with my inner-self, much like a mediation practice.
When the Affordable Art Fair approached me to write about art and human connection, I was super excited to talk about the therapeutic value it delivers, as well as the connection between art and our emotional wellbeing.
Sharing stories through art has always helped us connect with our understanding of ourselves and each other.
The most common subjects in early cave paintings of wild animals, tracings of human hands and abstract patterns were a way of communicating stories of faith and belief in order to make sense of the world.
These days many of us turn to culture to tune in to our emotions, in galleries, cinemas and at gatherings. Art has long been a part of improving wellbeing and our quest for meaning.
Art is a great messenger of emotions. From artist to viewer, it has the power to give us a sense of focus, allowing us to exist in the moment causing us to reflect on things we often lose sight of in the bustle and overwhelm of our everyday lives. It’s a personal interaction. Rothko was once quoted “You’ve got sadness in you, I’ve got sadness in me - my works of art are places where the two sadnesses can meet, and therefore both of us need to feel less sad.”
Art even changes the brain. Just as exercise helps reduce chemicals that make you feel stressed and anxious, art activates the pleasure response by stimulating neurons. Science suggests that by looking at a thought provoking or aesthetically pleasing piece, blood flow increases in the brain by as much as 10% -- the equivalent of looking at someone you love.
The research was conducted by Professor Semir Zeki, chair in neuroaesthetics at University College London, who says “What we are doing is giving scientific truth to what has been known for a long time – that beautiful paintings makes us feel much better. But what we didn't realise until we did these studies is just how powerful the effect on the brain is."
Through this stimulation we expose the part of our brain (the hippocampus) that connects certain sensations and emotions to our memories and experiences. If you have ever stood in front of a painting and felt something; a sense of calm, unease, joy or fear, you are deeply connecting to these functions that are generating your emotional response. When we connect to this area of the brain, we are effectively recovering from any damage of neurons caused by anxiety and stress.
Cynics might say art is a “luxury” for the elite few, but with our experience of COVID-19 there has been a realisation by many that art is essential for our wellbeing. In my experience, art is a form of nourishment, whether through my own practise or appreciating others.
“The purpose of art is not a rarified, intellectual distillate - it is life, intensified, brilliant life” -Alain Arias-Misson
Alongside this, now more than ever, we’re experiencing the need to reach out and connect with other humans, right at the point of being restricted.
Social connection is a core human need, we’re fundamentally built with the desire to reach out to others by way of comfort, lowering our cortisol levels (the stress hormone) and improving our well-being.
So it should be no surprise that, with the loss of human connection and comfort, through physical distancing measures, we’ve been looking for the same release through other avenues - and creativity has stepped up to the plate!
There has been an enormous rise in the pursuit of craft and creativity, which has giving us a safe place to explore our feelings and articulate them more clearly by way of a connection to ourselves.
Creating also art lowers cortisol levels and activates the reward system; that feeling of completing something worthwhile. Fulfilment. With a direct form of creative self-expression we have the potential to open up to our deeper selves.
For me, when I'm making art, there is nothing better than a blank sheet of paper or lump of material. It’s permission to play and communicate my emotion without boundaries. I tune into my instincts and get lost in flow-state. Creating and appreciating art supports our emotional health. As a coach the tools that I give to people are about connecting to themselves. Thought work, meditation and acceptance are some of the most transformative tools, but when we need a gentler form of therapy, we can seek art to do the heavy lifting.
The rise of hashtags, such as #quarantineart (400k+ posts) or #lockdownart (125k+ posts), shows that we’re not only taking solace from our creativity – we’re using it as a means to connect with others and share our experience – linking these two mood-boosting activities.
So, art allows us to achieve a sense of presence and connection not only to ourselves and each other, but also to the artist – and in doing any of these things, our amazing brains reward us for the pleasure. Art even delivers a physical healing power! Human connection through art provide even more mood-boosting benefits, so even if you’re not creating art, by considering, sharing, debating and celebrating creativity in all its myriad forms, you’re still doing exactly what your brain needs right now.
If reading this piece has inspired you to bring more creativity into your life, simply hop online where so many galleries are offering the chance to explore their spaces and shows virtually. You could also browse the breadth of artwork on the Affordable Art Fair online marketplace, or even check out my Explore Your Creativity online workshop. Don’t miss this unique moment in time to immerse yourself in art, its exactly what your brain needs to take comfort during difficult times, and the good news is you can start right now, from the comfort of your own home.
Huge thanks to Kia for this brilliant and insightful piece. We’re feeling very validated to indulge our arty whims, safe in the knowledge that it is all in the name of mental well-being. If you’ve been getting creative at home, we’d love to see your #lockdownart so do tag us on social and let’s celebrate the mood-boosting benefits of creativity together.
Profile image of Kia Cannons in her studio, photo credit to Jay McLaughlin
Featured art from first to last:
Young Talent Programme presentation at Affordable Art Fair Singapore 2019
Photos of Kia Cannons in her studio, photo credit to Jay McLaughlin