The Benefits Behind the Art
A fascinating glimpse at the growing body of evidence behind the emotional, mental and spiritual benefits of meditating on art, backed up by Scripture and science.
Once we create a piece of art together, the completed painting will be deeply personal and unique to you. It will celebrate the best of you, your hopes, dreams and all that is precious, good and beautiful in your life. So as well as being an interesting and attractive addition to your home, your painting will provide you with much more besides: it will be a daily reminder of the abundant life your Father desires for you and as such, an art object for reflection and meditation that will encourage and inspire you for many years. Thus the benefits and value of the painting go way beyond the initial price of that artwork.
Scripture, backed up by recent discoveries in science, tell us why meditating upon art is so beneficial.
Jesus himself said:
The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good then your whole body will be filled with light. However, if you eyes are bad, then your whole body will be filled with darkness.'
So, when we look at something good, it is good for our body. Biblically then, seeing is fundamental to our whole being - for what we see and allow into our mind affects our whole self. This is why Jesus said: ‘I only do what I see my Father doing’. By doing this Jesus was sure to stay true to the path the Father had planned for him.
Yet how can that be? We know that when we eat something good, it is good for the body, but how does that work for seeing? After all, images don't provide any sustenance - energy, chemicals, proteins, vitamins and so on - as eating does.
Recent developments in brain imaging methods, especially a technique known as Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) have revealed some astonishing facts about this incredible organ housed inside our heads ( - 'the most remarkable, versatile, powerful creation we know of' write Drs George Pratt and Peter Lambrou in their book Code for Joy), including the connection between the eyes and the body.
What scientists have discovered is that images are the language of the sub-conscious. We know how life-affirming or soul-destroying words can be. Well, images are the words the subconscious uses to communicate. This means that the things we look at speak to our subconscious. That's how powerful images are.
This is important because it is our subconscious which is the prime mover in our lives. In fact, it has been likened to the unseen, submerged part of an iceberg (which makes up 90% of its mass) as opposed to our conscious brain (the visible 10% of the iceberg) Just as it is the invisible part of the iceberg which dictates its motion so it is with our brain - it is the subconscious which dictates the direction of our conscious mind. In fact the conscious mind is responsible for less than 1% of the information processing that goes on - over 99% is done by the sub-conscious mind.
So we can see that if it is the subconscious mind that directs the conscious mind, and that images are the language of the subconscious, then those images can become the orders that dictate how the conscious mind controls the body. Hence the internal reality directs and influences the external reality.
We may already have some experience of how images can affect our emotions and mood which in turn influence our behaviour. Many times my mood has been lightened by a watching the wind playing with the leaves of a tree or the sea. Or we may think of a particular scene from a film which brought us to tears. But can images affect our physical ability?
Yes they can. In Code to Joy, Dr Pratt shows that the images we hold in our minds can have a very real impact on our behaviour (Pratt, p133). For example, in the early 1990's Drs Guang Yue and Kelly Cole demonstrated that merely by imagining doing exercises increased the muscle strength of one group by more than 2/3 that of a second group who were actually doing the same exercises. It may seem difficult to believe but the evidence is there. Many experiments using this 'mental rehearsal technique' in various sports professions carried out over the years have shown significant improvement in performance. In conclusion, imagining doing something prior to the event positively affects the actual doing at the event.
Why is this?
It is because 'brain-imaging methods show that when a subject imagines doing something, the exact same areas and pathways in the brain are activated as when actually doing it' (Pratt, p134). In the international bestseller, The Brian that Changes itself, psychoanalyst Dr Norman Doidge writes 'One reason why we can change our brains simply by imagining is that, from a neuroscientific point of view, imagining an act and doing it are not so different as they sound.' It seems that, at least from the brain's point of view, that seeing is doing.
So meditating upon positive images can have a real, positive effect on our behaviour and even our physical reality. What we allow ourselves to see therefore is very important and influential for our physical and mental health. Hence Paul's advice to the Romans when he wrote 'do not conform to the pattern of the world anymore but be transformed by the renewing of your mind’ (chapter 12, verse 2) was good advice indeed.
More recently, science has confirmed Paul's advice. Ground-breaking discoveries about the biochemical processes in the brain's functioning show that all the cells in our bodies are profoundly affected by our thoughts. In his book The Biology of Belief, professor and research scientist Dr Bruce Lipton writes: 'Positive thoughts have a profound effect on behaviour and genes...negative thoughts have an equally powerful effect.' (The Biology of Belief, B Lipton, 2005, p.30)
So how do we renew our mind? Paul's answer to this is found in his letter to the fledgling church in Philippi, Greece:
‘Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable, if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.’ (Philippians 4:8)
So, it's a fact: our thinking and behaviour is informed by what we see. What we look at actually creates an internal reality which then influences our external reality for the good (or bad). With the constantly developing techniques of mapping and reading the brain and its interaction with our body, science can now confirm what God's Word has told us - that what we look at can bring about positive and healthy change throughout our whole being and indeed, affect the way we see reality. Therefore looking upon and enjoying a work of art is not only pleasurable but beneficial for us!