10 Things Art Can Do For You

From having good times with friends and family to being catalyst for change, here are a few things the many facets of art can do for you:

What Encountering Art Can Do For You
What Creating Your Own Art Can Do For You
What Recognizing Art Can Do For You
What Art Can Do For Your Career
What Art Can Do For the World
Most of all

10. Urban oasis: Art can get you to relax, take a break, and escape. Some museums have great spaces like fountains and rooftop gardens where you can just zone out. Anecdote: As an intern on Wall Street during the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, the many museums of NY were sanctuaries of sorts – I could be alone among others, surrounded by beauty and around windows to so many different cultures. In an environment in which everyone is so wrapped up in the present, second by second, it was interesting to see items made 2000 years ago or 100 years ago, giving me a totally different take on “time” and what endures in the “long run.”

9. Get social: It’s something to do. Encountering art doesn’t have to be a quiet, solitary experience. Many museums open up their doors one night a week – with a DJ and some wine and beer, art gets pretty social. Anecdote: My friends and I went to the First Friday at the Guggenheim in NY and it was totally different experience than a middle school field trip – seeing art with my peers and colleagues around me made the art feel more relevant to my life/the present.

8. Your health: Got something on your mind? Drinks at the bar = ($10 to $12/drink + tip) x (at least 2). Therapist = $200/hr. 500 sheets of computer paper + highlighters that are already on your desk < $5.99. Even if it’s just a scribble you’re planning to throw out, doing art has health benefits. Anecdote: I used to volunteer at Stanford Hospital – rolling around a cart of art supplies, I did art projects with patients who asked for an art session. I saw firsthand the power of a few simple art supplies to contribute to the healing process. Most patients hadn’t touched art since they were in the 6th grade, but that didn’t dissuade them from making some cool stuff for their grandkids, or looking back to good times in their past as they face the uncertainty of the future. Alternatively, you can get some exercise walking/running through some sculpture gardens in parks.

7. Get more out of your travels: Whether it’s Europe, Asia, or anywhere else in the world, trips usually involve some visit to museums, historical sites, or monuments. I mean, you already paid for the trip and the admission ticket, might as well get the most bang for your buck. Also, you can be the knowledgeable one who explains what you see to your exhausted traveling companions.

6. Art in the media: Get pop culture references. Art comes up a surprising amount in pop culture, from Rihanna’s music videos to Family Guy on TV. Art is also used in political propaganda, from classic WWII imagery to Saddam Hussein reappropriating the imagery of the Ishtar Gates.

5. Successful schmoozing -> $$$: This is admittedly the most mercenary reason on this list. Like golf and wine tasting, there are certain things that are good to know when you roll in certain circles.

4. Creativity and innovation -> career advancement:

  • Being more innovative -> come up with new ideas -> do your job more awesomely -> career advancement of some sort. Here’s a practical yet entertaining talk from IDEO’s Tom Kelley on innovation for adults. In this TED Talk scholar Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi explains the relationship between happiness/satisfaction in one’s work and activities that bring about a state of “flow.”
  • Communicate more effectively: Electronic devices lead us to express ideas through text, because it’s easy to create and transmit. However, sometimes it’s more efficient to use images – e.g. drawing/braingstorming on a whiteboard can convey a concept much more clearly than words.
  • Succeed in spite of failure: Rodin was rejected from art school 3 times, Van Gogh sold only 1 painting in his lifetime. Somehow a bunch of alcoholic bohemians with STD’s and tumultuous personal lives gave rise to paintings worth hundreds of millions of dollars. So keep on, keeping on – whatever it is that you do!

3. Cross-cultural dialogue: Art can be a force for peace as a way to change perceptions of oneself and others. Anecdote: I went on a Stanford field trip to the Afghanistan exhibit at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco.

  • The exhibit showed a surprisingly different cultural heritage than that portrayed on the news. About 2000 years ago, its location on trade routes from Europe to Asia made it a melting pot of cultures, as evidenced by works that look indistinguishably Greek or Indian.
  • Value of art for society: How did all that stuff got to the Asian Art Museum in the first place? In 1988, as the world around them descended into violence and chaos, museum staff took some significant personal risk as they managed to save these works – objects that showed humans at their best, at the height of human craftsmanship and ability at the time. We often take art for granted and think that museums are boring, but for these people to take so much personal risk for it – now that was quite a thought to consider.

2. Seeing what we have in common: Looking art art, it’s easy to see the common threads in human nature, what we have in common across cultures throughout every time period and geographical location. (Over 90% of our genetic material is the same anyway.) Every major civilization that has graced this world has left behind objects and spaces that reflect a desire for opulence, capture a likeness, show political strength, celebrate major life transitions, and interface with the divine – and through this they left their legacy for us, long after they have perished.

1. Live a little: The same set of skills you use to look at art are the same ones that give you the ability to look more closely at the world around you. Given the uncertainty in life and constant change, you can enjoy every moment you have, enriching your life in a low-cost way. From noticing street murals to watching TV, you can be more observant, be more “present,” as they say. You’re not just another licensee of Microsoft Office – you’re part of something far greater than yourself.

“We are connected to one another through time by our creations, works, images, thoughts and writings. We communicate to future generations what we are, what we have been, hopefully influencing for the better what we will become…” – Maya Lin