The culture cure: how art can be a powerful healing experience

This post was originally published on The Guardian Culture

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Humans often find catharsis through creating art, while looking at paintings and sculptures can light up the pleasure centre in the brain and release dopamine

“From delighting in the creativity of others, seeing something from a different perspective, sharing that experience or forging connections, I know I always leave our galleries feeling energised, inspired and uplifted,” says Karin Hindsbo, the director of Tate Modern – and she’s certainly not alone. According to a recent study, looking at art can light up the pleasure centre in the brain and release dopamine, the feel-good chemical – which is why visiting a gallery can be a valuable act of self-care, especially in the cold, dark winter months.

East London-based art therapist Alex Monk says viewing art in-person in a gallery, rather than virtually, elevates the experience: “It might be the smell, or even seeing the shine of the paint. You might even be able to interact with the art on another level,” he says. “There is also a community aspect to walking around the gallery and looking at paintings or sculptures, which is very important.”

It helps that many galleries and museums are works of art in their own right; from the Tate Modern’s colossal Turbine Hall – a space so spectacular that it inspires its own creations, such as El Anatsui’s Behind the Red Moon, a monumental sculptural installation made of thousands of metal bottle tops and fragments, which is currently on show there – to the Grade II grandeur of Tate Britain, with its opulent circular balcony and domed atrium. These are public spaces with pizazz – a break from the everyday.

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