Your Brain on Art: How the Arts Transform Us
By: Susan Magsamen and Ivy Ross
Publisher: Random House
Publication Date: March 21, 2023
Reviewed by: Douglas C. MacLeod, Jr.
Review Date: March 9, 2023
Most people want health and happiness; however, to achieve those goals is a virtual impossibility. In a world filled with bots, trolls, hackers, porch pirates, and Karens (among other nefarious characters), who slowly and successfully bully marks into submission, the human race now finds itself in the precarious position of being ensnared in what has become a World-Wide Dark Web and/or living in what seems like a post-apocalyptic, illogical dystopia filled with unadulterated menaces around every corner. So, what are we humans supposed to do? Your Brain on Art: How the Arts Transform Us, the new book by Susan Magsamen and Ivy Ross, and published by Penguin Random House, is an attempt to help readers move past manufactured pessimism and move toward a truthful understanding of how important the arts are to their mental, spiritual, professional, and physical well-being.
The concepts readers have to focus on, according to Magsamen and Ross, are that of neuroaesthetics (focused) and neuroarts (broader), terms used that speak to how the arts are not just a form of escape but are ways to change our day-to-day mental and physical health needs for the positive. According to the writers, if we develop more of an aesthetic mindset filled with curiosity, playfulness, creativity, open-mindedness, and exploration, our senses will be heightened, our memory will become enhanced, our feelings and emotions will be calmed down, and our brains will be able to function better (among other things). In essence, we will get what we desire: again, health and happiness. Thus, much of Your Brain on Art, which is admittedly dense with a combination of scientific information about the human brain and body and how various forms of artistry affect those inner workings, speaks to the ways we can have complete agency over how we live our lives, if we just embrace the arts.
Even if it is a bit heavy, Magsamen and Ross’s text is a beautiful work in that it inadvertently brings about multiple questions as to why it is that we, as a human race, no longer place emphasis on the arts if they do, in fact, make us feel better. Schools and communities around the world are finding ways to defund or eradicate arts programs because they are either looked at as not lucrative or they are deemed as woefully unnecessary to one’s professional growth; and yet we wonder why there is a rise of violence, mental health issues, suicides, hate crimes, anti-intellectualism, etc. A book like this argues that one of the primary reasons why the human race is in constant crisis is because we no longer prioritize what we feel, taste, see, hear, and smell. We no longer experience the tangible in significant ways, and that leads to an unawareness that is detrimental not only physically and emotionally, but culturally and spiritually.
What Your Brain on Art successfully proves is that we are meant to be social, communicative beings who need all art forms to endure and thrive and connect, even if there is a concerted effort to stifle and suppress what Magsamen and Ross see as essential to our survival as a species. And, it is ultimately up to us to make an effort to seek these art forms out to make ourselves healthier and happier.
Quill says: Your Brain on Art is an enlightening and solid work that shows readers that art, biology, and psychology come together to make us healthier and happier in our everyday world.
For more information on Your Brain on Art: How the Arts Transform Us, please visit the publisher’s website at: https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/697351/your-brain-on-art-by-susan-magsamen-and-ivy-ross/
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