For your commercial property to stand out and become a place that people want to be, creating an environment that provides a rich sensory experience is key. Art is an essential ingredient to create an immersive experience that draws people in and makes them want to return. Now, science has caught up with what designers and artists have always known. The burgeoning field of neuroaesthetics is proving that art positively affects our wellbeing and increases our productivity, even if we’re unaware it’s happening. If you’re a commercial property developer, interior designer, architect, or other professional, read on to learn more about the science behind why art improves spaces and experiences.
We’re only conscious of a small fraction of the hundreds of inputs our senses are absorbing at any given moment. Neuroscience says only five percent of our mental activity is conscious.
Because of this, we’re often unaware of the way things like light, color, texture, and sound influence us on a physiological level. This is essentially what interior designers are schooled in, and they take all these details into account when they design a space.
Art is full of what neuroscientists call salient stimuli, inputs to our brains that are really attention-getting. When we encounter a piece of art we’re drawn to, we have what they call an ‘aesthetic moment.’ This is a moment when we are acutely aware of aesthetic input and a pleasurable memory is created.
When this happens, new neural pathways are being made. We make a mental note of our surroundings and experience. Art is literally rewiring our brain.
An understanding of aesthetic moments allows you to more consciously use art to influence how people feel in your spaces. On a conscious and unconscious level, more people will be attracted to the spaces you create.
Just as art has the power to positively affect your brain, the opposite is also true. Environments that are devoid of enrichment cause a slow, corrosive effect on our brains, health, and well-being.
In the 1960’s neuroscientists observed bigger brains in animals living in enriched environments than those living in impoverished environments. Since then, science has repeatedly confirmed that our brain changes throughout our lifetime according to its surroundings.
This is why leading developers, architects, and designers take art and aesthetics into account from the planning stages of their projects.
Architect and artist Suchi Reddy, whose work includes designing the Google store in New York City, is a proponent of neuroaesthetics.
Her work focuses on how design can impact well-being. This led her to adopt the mantra, “Form follows feeling.”
“Form of course has to follow function, but form following feeling has to mean an architecture that is much more embedded in our DNA,” says Reddy who believes it’s the architect’s and designer’s jobs to create spaces that make people feel better.
The same parts of the brain that light up on an MRI scan when we’re recalling memories, imagining the future, or reflecting on our feelings, also light up when we see a piece of art that resonates with us.
In that moment, the artist’s work connects with something buried deep inside those areas neuroscientists call the default mode network (DMN). Even if the artwork is unfamiliar, it can connect to the viewer’s sense of self and spark an unforgettable experience, one they want to revisit again and again.
Behavioral scientists have found that art in the workplace increases productivity and engagement, even more so when employees have input into art selection. (Read more about this study and including employees in the planning of workplace art here.)
In studies, employees in an office with art and plants were up to 32% more productive, experienced 45% more wellbeing, and 60% more engagement than those in a workspace without art and nature.
The researchers theorized that being able to see themselves reflected in the art created an environment in which employees could flourish. Now neuroscience has demonstrated that the same area of the brain that’s active when we think about ourselves and the meaning of life is active when we have an aesthetic moment.
The burgeoning field of neuroaesthetics is using science to prove what designers and artists have always known. That enriched spaces are essential for humans to thrive, and that art is a primary way to achieve this. By increasing your own aesthetic awareness, you can more consciously utilize art to achieve the vision and goals you have for your property. You can more reliably create spaces where people feel happy and engaged. These are the spaces that we are drawn to return again and again, increasing foot traffic, visits, and ultimately leading to an increased ROI.
- Your Brain on Art – Website for the book by Susan Magsamen and Ivy Ross with information about the neuroaesthetics movement
- How Does Viewing Artwork Online Benefit Your Mental Health? [Discover] — This article from Discover magazine discusses neuroscience studies that show the benefits of viewing artwork in person.
- How Looking at Art Can Help Your Brain [UAGC] — This article from the University of Arizona Global Campus contains references to studies documenting the benefits of viewing artwork.
- In an Astounding New Book, a Neuroscientist Reveals the Profound Real-World Benefits Art Has on Our Brains [Artnet] – This 2021 article on a book by Neuroscientist Pierre Lemarquis describes how the field of neuroaesthetics is documenting the way that art affects our brains.
- The Penn Center for Neuroaesthetics at the University of Pennsylvania – Founded by Anjan Chatterjee, professor of neurology, psychology and architecture to study the science behind our need for aesthetics.
- Measuring the Public Value of Art Museums – This study found that US art museums generate $52 billion in well-being benefits annually.