Your Brain on Art: How the Arts Transform Us (2024)

Mary Rose

550 reviews119 followers

January 25, 2023

Many thanks to Random House for the review copy.

Uh oh. Let me begin by saying that I agree with Magsamen and Ross's core gospel that art is good for people, and I was looking forward to a scientific study of the topic. So where did we go wrong?

As I was reading this book, which builds a scientific case for art by talking to scholars, citing academic articles, providing case studies, etc. I was bothered by a little voice in the back of my mind asking "Why, with all of these sources, does this sound like woo?"
After thinking about it, I realized the following:
Part of it comes down to authorial voice. Magsamen and Ross write with a breathless enthusiasm that I primarily associate with new-age gurus talking about natal charts. The tone is excitable, twee, and earnest to the point of being uncomfortable. Their writing is also sprinkled with vaguely new-agey sounding appeals to "ancient wisdom practices from many cultures," as well as using contemporary indigenous people as examples of "ancient" practices.
There is also an uncomfortable refusal to acknowledge that as much as art can heal us, art can also be harmful. There is no acknowledgment in this book of art's colonial power, gentrifying power, traumatizing power, or anything else besides its' healing power. This is not honest.
In some ways, it reminded me of self-help books: a single, deceptively simple solution for immensely complex issues. Their definition of art is flexible enough to include everything, a single soundwave in a lab can be art, but so can nature, gardening, cooking, etc. Not to be annoying, but if your definition of art is so broad that it encompasses basically everything, then what are you actually saying?

But the real downfall of this book is that it presents the glaringly obvious as new. There is a frankly laughable portion of the conclusion that asks us to "Imagine just one day in your life where the science and practices outlined in this book come to fruition, where arts and aesthetics are seamlessly integrated."
Are you ready for this?
You will... have herbs in your kitchen, drink tea or coffee, sing in the shower and the car, pick up a hobby, look out your window at nature, and maybe after work go see a movie or a performance.
Revolutionary. Why has no one thought of that before?

Amanda Rafuse

321 reviews4 followers


May 8, 2023

I don’t rate books I DNF (unless I stop because they are hateful), but like to note to myself (and others) why I stopped. Mostly, this book just felt so obvious and earnest. At least to me. Others may be totally enlightened by its message (yes, art is good for the mind, body, soul, communities, society) and so I’m grateful it’s out there to show to school boards and government funders when they determine cutting arts programs or restricting the NEA is sound policy for creating a vibrant citizenry and empowering a healthy society, but it was not a message I need: I am already a firm member of that choir already. So thank you to the authors for writing it — it will live on my shelf to loan or give to ass hats I meet who idiotically don’t get the connection between a healthy, happy life and creativity. What I want is the book that says how to change centuries of systemic scaffolding that allows people to make money the only measure of success. I know those are out there…

    2023 non-fiction stopped-reading

Victoria |

76 reviews11 followers

December 8, 2022

I believe Your Brain on Art by Susan Magsamen and Ivy Ross is going to be a HUGE hit in the nonfiction community! I couldn't put this one down. If you liked or resonated with The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk (who is quoted within the book), you'll be absolutely fascinated by this work of art in itself. I truly felt like this book was speaking to me with every turn of the page. As someone who struggles with mental health due to SA and childhood trauma and someone who is currently exploring the arts, this book was a wealth of information and an absolute treat!
I really enjoyed the easy to digest writing style and the way the book is organized into smaller sections. The book presents examples of how "the arts and aesthetics" are utilized to help many individuals cope with traumatic events, daily stressors, mental health, end of life, pain, etc. Recent studies have shown that engaging in the arts has an effect on multiple physiological and neural systems within the human body. Art can help heal the body, mind, and spirit.
It was fascinating learning about the different types of art, the programs out there that are offering a type of art therapy, and especially, the ways our brains work when we are actively engaging in these activities.
Overall, it's an incredible read! I highly recommend it if you enjoy reading about art, mental health, healthcare/medicine, and neurology. A new favorite!

Nelson Zagalo

Author9 books383 followers


July 6, 2023

Uma desilusão, porque além de não apesentar nada de novo, o que apresenta é feito com uma ligeireza desconcertante, e num tom de otimismo triunfal a ponto de o livro parecer um manual de auto-ajuda, oferecendo terapêutica pela arte para tudo e todos. Citam-se alguns estudos e artigos, mas na generalidade usam-se muitas histórias pessoais que distanciam o livro da prática científica.


Otis Chandler

402 reviews115k followers

Want to read

January 27, 2024

Heard the authors give a 1 hour talk - was very inspiring.

Diane Ebbole

31 reviews1 follower

May 8, 2023

It's good enough, but I felt it could have been a magazine article and not much lost...


Marcus Hobson

639 reviews102 followers

August 6, 2023

My step-daughter didn’t really get on with school. It didn’t work for her creativity; instead she loved to paint and make clothes. She ended up skipping her final year but still won a place to study fashion design. COVID struck in her first year of university. She found fashion by Zoom impossible and quit. For the next year she mostly lived in her bedroom, but she continued to paint. Some of her pictures were incredible, but she kept painting over them and moving on to the next scene. This made me angry. Those pictures were amazing, but they were lost. As a writer you are always left with something, a page in a note book, a draft with scribbled comments, a file on a computer. For my step-daughter it was a daily changing rectangle hung on her wall.
Your Brain on Art suddenly played this back to me. The story of the artist Judy Tuwaletstiwa and her time in New Mexico where she observed Ancestral Puebloan sites called Kivas – circular underground ceremonial rooms. Rich evocative murals were painted on the walls, and when the ceremonial cycle was completed they were white-washed over and a new one started. Hundreds of murals lay under the textured surface of the walls.
This inspired Tuwaletstiwa to use the same technique to make her own art. Make a painting, photograph it, then whitewash and make another. ‘…letting go of each painting you can let go of self-criticism.’ She ended up with huge white six-by-four canvass and a roll of film.
With the images she loved, those that brought her healing and honesty, she might sit with them for three days before covering them over. She did the same with those that spoke of wound or shadow and this helped her to gain a perspective into their unique beauty.

It was about fixing trauma. I had no idea, but I was glad that I never voiced my inner anger at my step-daughter’s lost paintings, only my deep admiration for the ones I saw. That healing process does not happen in a straight line, but unfolds.

Your Brain on Art is a perfect book for those who love a good digression. It is full of fascinating asides about how our brain works and what has an influence on our emotions. Just from a scan of the chapter heading – Cultivating Well Being, Restoring Mental Health, Healing the Body, Amplifying Learning, and Flourishing – you can see where the book aims its scholarship. We begin with Anatomy of the Arts, but just before that is a short survey which invites the reader to answer fourteen questions to establish your aesthetic appreciation, intense aesthetic experience and creative behaviour. How you respond and how you engage.

Your smell, taste, vision, hearing and touch produce biological reactions at staggering speeds. Hearing is registered in about 3 milliseconds. Touch can register in the brain within 50 milliseconds. Your entire body, not just your brain, takes in the world, yet much of this is outside your awareness. Cognitive neuroscientists believe we’re conscious of only about 5 percent of our mental activity. The rest of your experience - physically, emotionally, sensorially – lives below what you are actually thinking. Your brain is processing stimuli constantly, like a sponge, absorbing millions of sensory signals.

When you walk into a room, you likely don’t appreciate all that your body is reacting to: the cast of light from a lamp, the colour on the walls, the temperature, the smell, the textures. You may think of yourself as a body moving independently through the world, but you are interconnected with and part of everything around you. You and your environment are inseparable. Your senses lay the foundation for how and why the arts and aesthetics offer the perfect path to amplify your health and well-being.

Salience is a word that occurs often in the book. You cannot possibly pay attention to all the stimuli coming into your body, or the many emotions and thoughts that emerge as a result. Your brain is an expert at filtering the inputs it thinks are important. Something that is salient is something that stands out. Things that create saliency induce the release of neurotransmitters, like dopamine and norepinephrine, activating your synapses and increasing synaptic plasticity. This regulates memory formation. The stronger the salient experience, the stronger the circuit formed and so the longer lasting the memory. Throughout the book, arts and aesthetic experiences emerge as major conduits for greater saliency. They are literally rewiring you brain.

I was interested to learn that the brain is also keen to remove synaptic connections. The term used is pruning, and just like in the garden the pruning of branches from a tree or bush will promote a stronger, healthier structure. Your brain does not like to waste energy. It is more energy efficient to use fewer cells, or synapses, to produce a behaviour.

Curiosity has also been baked into the human brain as an evolutionary need. It is part of our threat-detection systems. When we see something that speaks to us, we become interested and want to know more. The simple act of observing art becomes a vehicle for curiosity.

You should note at this point that ‘art’ has a broad definition in the book – not simply drawing and painting, but words and music, dance and movement, a broad range of sensory perceptions. An investigation into poetry found, by using MRI scanning machines, the part of our brain that lit up when listening to poetry was the same as that stimulated by music. Also activated were those areas connected to meaning-making and the interpretation of reality. Poetry can help us make sense of the world. It may sound obvious when put as simply as that, but understanding the science is fascinating.

The book shares some of the mechanisms, neurotransmitters, neural circuits, and networks that are activated in a person by arts and aesthetics. Arts can be used to ease physical and mental distress, learn more deeply, to galvanize community and help you to flourish.

The arts literally have the ability to change our biology, psychology and behaviour in undeniable and profound ways. Science is constantly moving along.
Taste, touch, small, vision and hearing are only the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Research in neuroaesthetics and other fields has sparked a debate about just how many senses we truly have. Some suggest the number could be as great as fifty-three, and include complex dynamic networks such as thermoception, or how we sense heat; equilibrioception, our perception of balance; and proprioception, our awareness of how our bodies move through space.


76 reviews1 follower

May 2, 2023

Started off really interesting, then got less and less interesting. Ended up giving up 2 chapters from the end, bit of a shame, was really looking forward to this book! :(


301 reviews11 followers

June 19, 2023

Non-Fiction>Neurology, neuroarts
I went into this expecting a heart-on-your-sleeve liberal approach to learning and healing. What I found in the pages, however, is very well researched and fact-based chapters on varying topics that give useful and cutting-age insight to how humans benefit from arts, nature, and various forms of expression. Topics include mental health, physical health, concentration, learning, Alzheimer's Disease, dementia, ADHD, dance, writing, poetry, music (listening), music (performing), museums/theaters/art shows, early childhood education, and non-Western cultural practices.
I haven't made my way through the full notes and references, but I do expect to find multiple titles to add to my TBR, including Matthew Lieberman's Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect and checking out David Byrne's American Utopia (Broadway show). Reading this actually made me stop and look up the study referenced regarding Alzheimer's Disease. I highly recommend this to anyone who is interested in things like learning principles, perception, neurobiology/neuropsychology, and anyone interested in knowing more about how the arts are a positive influence on our bodies and minds.

Information tied in with other books I've read and enjoyed such as Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, The Botany of Desire: A Plant's-Eye View of the World, and How Music Works.

"Your brain loves a good metaphor. Just as you can grasp a literal object with your hand, your brain can also grasp a concept."

"One person’s cacophony is another person’s symphony. And your perception is your reality."

"It turns out doodlers are more analytical, retain information better, and are better focused than their non-doodling colleagues."

"Drawing activates multiple regions in the brain that force our brain to process information in new ways while inspiring us to imagine and create new images in the brain."

"Physical health isn’t merely about an absence of disease. It’s about thriving with less emotional pain and suffering over the course of your life, even when conditions compromise your biological state."

"The brain doesn’t care about filling in bubbles on standardized tests or heated debates about curricular assessments. Our brain is structured to build new connections and to constantly evolve, and how we learn is not the same as a societal education system too often built around memorization of rote data and recall."

"You can’t learn if you don’t pay attention and you can’t remember if you don’t learn."

"Dopamine is vital to learning: It helps with goal-oriented motivation and in the laying down of long-term memory, which is crucial to retention. Humor is a learning juggernaut."

"According to wonder researchers, beauty is primarily what triggers it. The field of neuroaesthetics began with efforts to try to understand the neurobiology of beauty."

"The Lab of Misfits discovered that an audience member walked out of the Cirque performance a different person, physiologically, from the one who had entered. This peak aesthetic experience had changed them."

"A skill that we all possess and use every day, even if we don’t realize it. When you have to make up a recipe using spare ingredients in your pantry, when your child asks you to tell them a story at bedtime, when you create a clever DIY workaround for a home repair, you are engaging in creativity."

"The Māori term for creating art is Mahi Toi and is different from the Western concept of art. It is a continuation of ancestral practices connected to the cultural response with nature."

"In fact, scientists have discovered that stirring up microbes found in the soil can indeed improve brain function and boost mood."

"Everyone feels lonely sometimes, because this painful and universal emotion evolved to remind us human animals that social relationships and community keep us alive and help alleviate outside threats."


Sam B

182 reviews4 followers

February 1, 2023

“Your Brain On Art” is a good choice for anyone interested in exactly what the title describes. If you want to learn more about how beauty rewires your brain, or how vital the arts are for building and sustaining communities, or the healing power of arts and aesthetics, this absolutely is the book for you. I highly recommend it if you’re interested in learning more. I also loved the mention of MedRhythms, a really incredible company in my home state of Maine that is doing great work in neurologic music therapy!
The thing that took some enjoyment away from this one for me is how the authors seemed to leap between different scientific concepts extraordinarily rapidly and almost at random - I’m concerned that readers from a non-scientific background will struggle to grasp some of the concepts presented, hence the 3-star rating.
I also think I need to stop picking books like this one. I’m always very excited to read them, but since I majored in neuroscience and music in college, have been a musician my entire life, and am now in medical school, these books simply don’t introduce much that I haven’t already learned, or actually overlap with my course work. I prefer reading to be an escape from that, so sadly this one didn’t quite reach the level of enjoyment I was hoping for.

My thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for an advance copy in exchange for an honest review.

Camelia Rose (on hiatus)

740 reviews100 followers

August 5, 2023

I had high hopes for this book. An in-depth and up-to-date analysis on art making and appreciation combined with neuroscience? But I got a hodgepodge of essays on several different topics, none of which provides much new information. A little bit of each art form, music, visual arts, walking in nature, etc.., and how each is beneficial to your mental health and learning. The only thing I find interesting is using art to help ADHD students.

    audio essays science

Gabriel West

12 reviews

March 30, 2024

I finished this book about 10 days ago. It was super easy. I listened to it. IT was just something so easy to jump start my reading/audiobook habit again. I am viciously behind on my reading goal, but I am like half thru like 6 books, so I bet i'll catch up. Plus, I got a kindle and I think I am gonna buy a stand and a clicker for maximum laziness. No excuses for not reading.

I am getting weird paranoia about most books being marketed are total garbage, and just easy cash grabs for authors so I am really picky about what I am reading, but I still browse the libby app to get my dopamine fix because it feels like you are reading those books even when you arent.

Anyway, this book was fine. I could sum up her whole PhD on this topic by saying art is good. Listening to art, performing, and being around nature is good for your body. Not mind shattering. But maybe I should paint more so idk.

I will give her 3 stars instead of 2 because she seems nice and honest.

Anyway, I'll be back. I will get my reading goal. Just wait suckers.


274 reviews6 followers

February 3, 2023

This book is so revolutionary I fear I won’t have adequate words to describe how important I think it is. As a lifelong artist, performer, arts educator and arts advocate, I didn’t need to be convinced of the connection between brain function and art, but the breadth of the information in this book is astounding. The authors, Susan Magsamen and Ivy Ross, bring an amazing array of experience and credentials to the table. Ross is Vice President for hardware product area at Google, and Magsamen is founder and director of the International Arts + Mind Lab, Center for Applied Neuroaesthetics at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. They are partners in both doing the research and applying it.

Most of us who participate in the arts are aware of the power of the arts to relieve stress, spur creativity and create connections to others, past and present. But Ross and Magsamen take these ideas and go deeper, pointing to verifiable changes in the brain and neural system that affect our health and well-being. Did you know, for example, that certain heart scans reveal patterns reminiscent of quilt squares? Or that singing to a newborn baby releases hormones that calm both baby and mother? The authors make the case that arts of all types create measurable biological changes in the human body, and can be applied as therapies for mental, physical and social disorders and dysfunctions.

This book should be required reading for medical professionals and students, mental health professionals, business executives, and even politicians. This work raises the question as to why there is so much opposition to public funding for the arts, and completely obliterates the argument that the arts are just a “frill” or “luxury” in our lives, and makes the case for thorough integration of the arts in all facets of our existence.

Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for my opportunity to receive an advance copy in exchange for my honest review. In that spirit, I will offer one correction to the text. On page 124, the first sentence reads, “…a mambo version of Leonard Bernstein’s “Somewhere” from the musical “West Side Story.” That sentence should read, …”Mambo” from Leonard Bernstein’s “West Side Story.”


469 reviews58 followers

November 10, 2022

I found this book to be fascinating. The author talks extensively on how art effects our brain and our health. I really learned a lot. Lots of examples are given of different types of art including painting, drawing, creative, writing, and making music and shows how they can help in health and healing. This book made me want to make more time in my day for creativity and fun activities and maybe even try something totally new.


793 reviews50 followers

February 2, 2023

“Just one art experience per month can extend your life by ten years.” Wow. Can that be true? Can something that’s enjoyable and considered recreation actually have such a profound impact on one’s life? Yes. And this book offers proof.

I know the soothing effect making art can have on a person so I was excited to read more about it. The topic here was actually much broader than I expected.

Neuroaesthetics is a word I hadn’t heard before. This book went way beyond “painting makes you calm.” Discussed were the positive effects of music, dance, architecture, nature and more.

This book was full of research studies and anecdotes. I would’ve loved some specific ideas for projects, links to playlists, or action plans. Maybe that was there and I missed it. I docked a star because there was so much information here it was overwhelming. My scattered brain could’ve used a bit more art—even charts and graphs to break up the countless stories and studies presented.

I do highly recommend this book to anyone looking to improve their life in an easy, enjoyable way.

I’m off to find some sources of 40Hz light and sound!

I received this book for free and was happy to offer my unbiased review.

    art self-help

Aaron Mikulsky

Author2 books24 followers

September 22, 2023

Highly recommend this read! The research studies will blow you away!
Buy this book and read it over and over again if:
you care to learn about how the brain works and how you can enhance it,
you are interested in the arts (drama, dance, music, drawing, painting, gardening, working with your hards,
you care about learning, education and children,
you care to improve our healthcare systems and creating more healthy environments where well-being flourishes.

Take the free Aesthetic Mindset Index is based on a research instrument called the Aesthetic Responsiveness Assessment, or AReA. I found this simple and useful.

Here are a few teasers:
Our inner “e-motions” are our energies in motion. The world, and everything in it, is vibration in constant motion. Nikola Tesla, once said, “If you want to find the secrets of the universe, think in terms of energy, frequency, and vibration.” We are never static; we are measurable energy.

In 1929, poet, T.S. Elliot was analyzing poems and concluded that “genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood.”

Neuroplasticity is the ability your brain has to rewire neural networks and change the way it functions. This doesn’t happen overnight, of course, but it does happen when you change your environment or make new habits, like introducing a new art practice into your daily routine. This helps to explain why a growing number of people are receiving a prescription for art, as both a healing measure and as a preventative measure. The arts can be a softened way of leaning into the hardened boundaries of trauma.

Our brain is structured to build new connections and to constantly evolve. We are driven to learn. We are a curious and questioning species by nature. Our desire to learn is innate. When the arts and aesthetics are integrated into education, work, and life, we strengthen our capacity to learn.

Everyone’s experience with pain is unique. We all feel it differently, because pain is more than a biological reaction; it’s a psychological one as well. It can even be cultural. Tolerance and acceptance of pain vary across ethnicity and culture.

Art and science together are potent medicine, capable of radically transforming our physical health. You feel moved by your favorite song; You’re literally changed, at the cellular level. All stimuli that we encounter change the structure and function of cells within our brains and bodies.

Countless studies show that art – whether it’s sound, colors, drawing, painting, dancing, or sculpting – can reduce stress, anxiety, pain, and trauma, while also prolonging life and improving your general well-being. By creating a more aesthetic environment and building a more art-centric day-to-day life, you can live a healthier, more fulfilling life. As Magsamen and Ross put it, “the arts and aesthetics change us and, as a result, they can transform our lives.” People who engage in the arts every few months have a 31% lower risk of dying early when compared with those who don’t. Even if you bring the arts into your life only once or twice a year, you lower mortality risk by 14%.

Bonnie Ware wrote the best-selling memoir, The Top Five Regrets of the Dying, in which she mentioned the two biggest regrets of those who are dying are the wish that they lived a life true to themselves versus what others expected, and that they’d had the courage to express their feelings more often.

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross said, “Learn to get in touch with the silence within yourself, and know that everything in this life has a purpose.”

Plato said, “You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation."

According to Golinkoff and Hirsch-Pasek, what kids need to learn are the 6 C’s: collaboration, communication, content, critical thinking, creative innovation, and confidence. Play and the arts, based on much research, build the 6 C’s. Their book, Einstein Never Used Flashcards: How Children Really Learn and why they need to play more and memorize less, draws on their years of research around play and learning.

Attention is your ability to selectively focus and sustain focus. Neuroscape learned from their studies that your ability to move your attention flexibility, called switching, is quite limited. Sustained attention is a challenge for all of us. The book, The Distracted Mind, explains that the human brain isn’t actually capable of doing multiple things at once. “The human brain never multitasks,” according to Adam Gazzaley. Our brain is actually toggling quickly between tasks.

John Dewey, psychologist and educational reformer, once wrote, “Art is not the possession of the few who are recognized writers, painters, musicians; it is the authentic expression of any and all individuality.” Our lives are a canvas, and we’re painting on it every single day.

Evolutionarily, we tend to privilege the negative emotions associated with survival. Much more of our brain real estate is devoted to the avoidance-oriented negative emotions than to the affiliative, approach-oriented emotions. Bad memories are made five times quicker, and last five times longer, than positive ones. Our minds go to what could go wrong versus what might go right in any situation, given that our brains naturally lean toward negative emotions.

The essence of humanity is for us to awaken to your true selves and to our connectedness. Fostering authentic flourishing in others is at the heart. The creatives of the world, now more than ever, have a tremendous opportunity to remind each other of the beauty of life and living and being.

James Baldwin wrote, “The purpose of art is to lay bare the questions that have been hidden by the answers.”

“Creative expression, the arts, and aesthetics serve a core purpose: to birth new thoughts and ideas. To mirror back to one another what is important and what is needed. To weave together common threads of humanity. The arts empower us to reimagine, re-envision, and reconnect in order to create a better future together.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “The mind, once stretched by a new idea, never returns to its original dimensions.”

The arts make visible what we are feeling, but may not have been able to name just yet, enabling us to see that we are not alone.

Rachel Adams

34 reviews1 follower

May 4, 2024

Lots of interesting information here about the way humans are wired for and respond to art, although I didn't find it as actionable or practical as some other reviewers. It is overall a helpful argument for making the arts (generally, sensory and aesthetic experiences) a foundational aspect of our private and public lives.



40 reviews

July 9, 2023

LOVED this topic! LOVED each of the chapters! On my “will read again” list!

Anna Warren

234 reviews2 followers

June 6, 2023

This book has a chapter on creativity in educational environments that is super solid. The rest was not bad.


Chase B

184 reviews1 follower

April 7, 2023

Rounding up to a 3 from more of a 2.5 or 2.75.

Super interesting to learn of the variety of ways that performing and enjoying different art forms can have on the mind and body. The authors did a plethora of research and spoke with several experts in the realms of art, music, medicine, and more as well as first hand accounts from different artists and people participating in art. They discussed how art therapy is used for a wide range of ailments whether it is physical therapy, ADHD, PTSD, Parkinson's, and Autism Spectrum Disorder. It was also interesting how different areas of the brain seem to "fire up" depending on what type of art (painting vs playing music vs dancing, etc.) is being done.

I did get to the conclusion and felt like I was slogging my way through to get to the end of the book. I figured I had already read a lot of what was being recapped in the conclusion with different examples so I definitely ended the book before I finished it, if that makes sense. Some of the terminology went well over my head due to call backs to certain parts of the brain (hippocampus be doing some serious lifting when it comes to art) and other medical aspects especially.

In the end, I found this to be an informative look and proponent for increasing the art in people's lives. Whether you are viewing/listening/tasting/feeling or making the art, you can't ignore the benefits it has on one's mental, physical, and social health. I will definitely be looking to make art a larger part of my own life.


207 reviews26 followers

January 26, 2023

In this captivating book, Magsamen and Ross tell us that “we are literately changed on a cellular level by aesthetics.” They describe how scientific research has caught up with the way in which art supports health, learning, and our sense of well-being in a field called neuroaesthetics. For me, the most compelling study the authors describe is one that was conducted by a Stanford cardiologist and his acoustic bioengineer colleague. They placed heart cells in a gelled substance and watched as the cells danced, riding “waves across the gel and into extraordinary patterns.” This puts the notion of being moved by music into a more literal realm! It is also one of many reasons the authors will say that “art and science are potent medicine, capable of radically transforming our physical health.”

Magsamen and Ross explain the relevant science in a vernacular non-scientists can understand. For example, they describe our brains’ neurons as overlapping branches of a tree. These neurons are social and need connection with others to survive. In the language of the brain, these social connections are called synaptic. The intensity of the sensory input determines how synaptic circuits are wired. Memory-making experiences and sensory rich environments support greater connections.

These authors say that the changes aesthetic experiences can make in us will transform our lives. Developing an aesthetic mindset is the first step, and they will give you advice on how to do that.



289 reviews32 followers

April 13, 2024

If you have a bachelors in psychology, or have an interest in psychology, not much of this will be news to you.

The chapter about sound frequency was worth a read.

But in short: art is good for you! It has all sorts of benefits: reliefs depression, anxiety; facilitates learning and healing of trauma. It sounds a lot like what people say about meditation or reading or exercise. It’s just one of those wholesome activities.

There was a lot of anecdotal information and for a book like this I’d have appreciated more hard facts.
Edit from months later:

One piece of information from this book keeps coming back to mind. I don’t remember exactly what it said but something about how nature is the most cognitively stimulating environment due to its irregular shapes and sounds. The complexity is somehow good for the brain and natural non-rectangular designs could be incorporated into our lives. I keep thinking about this.

    second-tier-favorites still-thinking-about-it

Emmy Simkiss

49 reviews2 followers

June 3, 2023

I read this book because I thought it would be interesting in conjunction with my play therapy class and that it would probably offer some interesting science or specific activities I can eventually use in my clinical work. I’m honestly not really sure who this book is for. It read like just a series of anecdotal stories that art is good for you, but never fully explained the scientific reasons why, but still managed to get really technical even without those explanations. I got a couple useful tidbits out of it, but this felt more like a transcript of a really overly long TED talk than a book.


47 reviews1 follower

September 7, 2023

2.3 ⭐️. I want to be fair to this book and say that it offers important insights and translates cool scientific findings into meaningful practices that we can incorporate to build more holistic wellness practices. I particularly liked the finding that dance has therapeutic benefits for individuals with Parkinson’s.

But that’s as far as I will go. The tone is one of hippie White liberalism, where all of life’s questions can be answered by turning to the “ancient” cultures (see: indigenous peoples whose cultures are infantalized and exoticized). The central thesis is this: art has healing capabilities. Uhhh… no dip, Sherlock.

Sarah Sammis

7,472 reviews243 followers

May 31, 2023

The most disappointing thing about this book is how blatantly it ignores neural divergent people. Likewise, it pretty much ignores non European based cultures. For nearly ever broad statement made in this book on how I should be reacting to stated thing, I found myself shaking my head, thinking, "no, actually."

    art nonfiction pc


18 reviews1 follower

September 5, 2023

there was lots of really good information, and I felt inspired reading it

however I felt the language to be a bit fluffy/unnecessary and there were sections near the end where I just skimmed through because I was bored :(

Noah Moyer

19 reviews

March 16, 2024

The good: I think this book is very well researched and has lots of different ways that art can improve your mental well being. It made me happy to know that using art to improve my brain doesn't just mean ""doodling"" or ""painting"" but can mean listening to music, going to a space I like, enhailing scents I like, journaling etc. I think the color inserts were very pretty. It is difficult to deal with the seam of the book on a lot of them but they are still very pretty pieces of art. I also liked how all art seen in the book is incorporated into the story, from the book cover to the new chapter covers.
The bad: I lost interest in the book about halfway through. From there I just thought it was fairly repetitive and didn't add a whole lot. This may be just because I am not an art person but I thought the overall message was somewhat repetitive. I also struggle with the practicality of this book. I don't know how realistic it is for me to purchase expensive lamps that simulate sunrise and sunset or to start dancing at work when I have a headache or whip out a tuning fork during an important business meeting when I feel stressed. I definitely want to incorporate the arts more into my day to day as much as possible I just think it is a little unrealistic. I also think a lot of the studies were focused on how art improves physical well being for sick people. I would have been interested to see how art improves the day-to-day of people or how art can help people learn and grow.

Cana McGhee

186 reviews4 followers

May 28, 2024

i don’t think i loved this? at the very least, it wasn’t for me.

the big takeaway for me is that the arts are powerful/healing bc they are able to activate so many sensory neurons at once, unlike other kinds of treatments. the reading experience of this book was not as fun as it should and indeed could have been, especially for a book about cultivating an aesthetic mindset. maybe just a sign that i was not the target audience. but i wish the book had given more space to talking more deeply about particular people or practices, instead of taking such a broad swath approach of moving from study to study. would have been a much more memorable read in terms of the main argument (another thing, there’s not a compelling narrative argument throughline), but i get that they went for quantity here.

meh 🤷‍♀️


19 reviews

January 18, 2024

I found this a fascinating read on the importance of arts in our lives and communities. Magsamen and Ross gather the latest research in neuroscience, neurophysiology and psychology to demonstrate why art is so important for our physical, emotional and spiritual health. There are great tips on how to incorporate art and neuroaesthetics into your daily life. Highly recommended - even if you just have a passing interest in the arts, neuroscience, community empowerment and community engagement.
One of the best non-fiction books of 2023?


776 reviews1 follower

February 24, 2024

I had a similar experience with this book as I did with the book Awe by Dacher Keltner. I heard the authors talking about this book in a podcast. It was very interesting...for an hour. A whole book just ended up diluting the interesting stuff and I quickly grew bored.

But it's definitely worth listening to a podcast about this topic! Also, the story near the beginning of the book about when the author was dating her now-husband and after their first kiss he drew her a diagram about how that experience rewired and altered his brain (he's a neuroscientist) was the most romantic thing I've ever read! I'd take that over a poem or a love song any day of the week!

Your Brain on Art: How the Arts Transform Us (2024)
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