Art, Love & Neurobiology

My niece and I stand in front of "A Sunday on La Grande Jatte" by Georges Seurat, The Art Institute of Chicago.

My niece and I stand in front of "A Sunday on La Grande Jatte" by Georges Seurat, The Art Institute of Chicago.

For many years, I've wanted to be a member at The Art Institute of Chicago. I thought about it each time I received one of their tasteful email invitations. I imagined if I were a member, I would just go there, with no excuse not to, and it would be a wonderful part of my life. Still, membership was one of those things that sounded good, but I never did it.

Photo: D. G. Wilson

Photo: D. G. Wilson

This spring, in an effort to help entice family members from other cities to visit Chicago and to embrace the spirit of author Shonda Rhimes, in her book “The Year of Saying Yes,” I bought an AIC membership – a premium one.   I can go now, as often as I’d like, and bring guests. I'll be sharing insights about this with you over a couple entries here. Some of this may surprise you. 

First, There's That
Feeling

Visiting the Art Institute gives me a feeling that’s hard to describe.  As I walk through, I’m aware of these large rooms containing the real pieces of history of many times and civilizations. I feel surrounded by the best of their beauty, representing human stories from many different lives. I imagine tribes of all shapes and sizes and what they wore. Fellow humans. 

The past is made real, unlike some abstract history. On the walls I spot pictures that I have seen in books, many times, hanging in front of me. They are like old friends I somehow never met in person. (I think things like "Gee, you're a little shorter than I expected.”)  A sensation expands in my chest, heart, and head.  Overall, by the end, I am full, in awe and uplifted.  It feels “good for you.”  And, of course, I sometimes make this mental note: I want to live in the Art Institute. 

Art Institute of Chicago. Photo: D.G. Wilson

Art Institute of Chicago. Photo: D.G. Wilson

Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings are my favorites – Monet, Renoir, Gaugin. The colors, sometimes bold and sometimes subdued, jump off the canvas. In Chicago, we are so lucky to have a huge collection of these colorful beauties.

In trying to understand my emotional reaction and the fact that most people there visiting seem to have a similar sense of awe, I did some brain research. Fair enough, I do brain research on most things. 

About the Neurobiology

Professor Semir Zeki, a British neurobiologist reports that looking at great works of art has a neurobiological effect. When we view them our brain behaves the very same way it does when we’re in love.  Great art triggers a flooding of dopamine in the frontal orbital part of the brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter chemical associated with intense pleasure as seen in romantic love.  

That cinches it. In your effort to balance and inspire your life, I hope you will create time for seeing beautiful things. My hope is that you will find time to surround yourself with world-class inspiration and feel that love. 

Watch this space. I may have a couple more insights about art, love and you. <3

PS. You don’t have to be a member to visit the Art Institute of Chicago or many other art museums. The AIC is free every Thursday evening. Don't wait though, the Gauguin exhibit ends on September 10th.

And you must linger over coffee there... at least a little.

And you must linger over coffee there... at least a little.

Diane Grimard Wilson, LCPC, BCN, is a seasoned coach and psychotherapist, board-certified in neurofeedback. She is the author of  The Good Brain Blog and “Back In Control: How to Stay Sane, Productive and Inspired in Your Career Transition,” finalist for the Nautilus Books Awards, which celebrates books that help make the world a better place.