7 Impressive Benefits of Arts and Culture

How Arts and Culture Appreciation Can Improve One’s Body, Soul and Mind

By Jocelyn Neo

Studies show that culture appreciation can enhance one’s mental health, including relieving stress, lowering one’s risk of anxiety and depression, and preventing memory loss.
“Man does not live by bread alone. We do wish for the finer things in life, to appreciate beauty, love and something uplifting for the spirit,” said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the 30th anniversary event of Lasalle College of the Arts.

As a matter of fact, arts and culture not only enriches our soul, but it could also be a strategic national resource after measuring the considerable impact it has on our economy, health and well-being, society and education.

1. Arts and Cultural Appreciation Can Improve One’s Brain and Overall Health

Researchers have determined that an appreciation for the arts and culture benefits one’s brain and overall physical health.

The Epoch Times interviewed renowned Chinese physician, Dr Hu Naiwen, at a health seminar held in the Furama City Centre Hotel, on 2 July, 2016.

Dr Hu, who has over 30 years of clinical experience in traditional Chinese medicine, suggested that people who want to improve their health should spend more time looking at beautiful paintings, listening to soothing music and watching sublime theatrical performances.

His unconventional approach to better health may sound strange to some people, but not to Dr Masaru Emoto.

In a famous experiment, Dr Emoto exposed water samples to various music genres such as classical music and rock music.

The water samples that were exposed to calming, classical music formed beautiful crystals when frozen, while the samples that were exposed to rock music formed visually distorted crystals.

The arts have also been used as a form of art therapy. People who’ve been exposed to the arts have reported marked improvements in their optimism and general health.

Studies show that stroke patients who appreciate music, theatre and painting, recuperate faster than those who don’t.

In addition, studies show that culture appreciation can enhance one’s mental health, including relieving stress, lowering one’s risk of anxiety and depression, and preventing memory loss.

In the HUNT study, conducted by Mr Koenraad Cuypers, a researcher at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, it was found that participants who actively engaged in arts and cultural activities—such as concerts, films, plays, museums or art exhibitions—enjoyed better health and were more satisfied with their lives.

In a recent Epoch Times interview, Mr Lee Yuk Chuan, an 83-year-old cancer survivor and pioneer of Singapore’s music scene, shed some light on the health benefits of listening to classical music.

“When singing, one has to take deep breaths and expand one’s lung capacity; this can be beneficial to one’s health” claimed Mr Lee, who is also the president of the Singapore Choral Association and the honorary chairman of the Association of Composers.

“When we play musical instruments, our fingers keep moving. This helps to improve blood circulation. It’s the same with conducting; our hands are constantly moving and this helps with blood circulation.”

2. Arts and Cultural Appreciation Can Enhance Learning and Stimulates One’s Creative Thinking

Different visual-thinking methods are now being employed by different schools. They are designed to encourage students to closely observe selected works of art and describe in detail what they see.

Students who’ve been exposed to these methods noticed a marked improvement in their vocabulary, reading and math skills, as well as their visual faculties.

Music students, on a whole, performed better in math and science, and drama students seemed more literate and attentive in school.

In another study conducted by Northwestern University and published in ‘The Journal of Neuroscience’, revealed that children who were exposed to musical training experienced enhanced cognitive abilites in adulthood.

It was also found that lifelong musical training may delay or even offset age-related cognitive decline.

The study also showed that children who were exposed to creative arts were generally more mentally and visually creative later in life, as well as more successful.

Other research linked arts education and appreciation to stronger critical thinking skills.

Michigan State University researchers noted that children who are exposed to arts and crafts are better able to think ‘outside the box’.

Singapore educators are looking to expand the country’s ‘STEM’ subjects (science, technology, engineering and math) to ‘STEAM’, which would include the arts (see infographic 1).

They contend that the arts can do wonders in building a kid’s creativity and critical thinking—skills that are essential to excel in any field.

Violinist Alan Choo thinks that an appreciation for classical music or any art form, should be cultivated from an early age, as it has a definite impact on one’s self-development and learning aptitude.

“To varying degrees, it can mold someone’s personality and outlook in life,” he explained. “It also helps us understand the rich culture and history of mankind.”

3. Wholesome Arts Inspires Benevolent Thoughts, Improves One’s Moral Values and Uplifts the Human Spirit

Michelangelo's magnificent Last Judgment inside the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City. (zhengjian.org)
Michelangelo’s magnificent Last Judgment inside the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City. (zhengjian.org)

Throughout history, people believed that traditional art forms are upright, human creations that are passed down from gods to human beings.

It’s believed that the emergence of traditional, human art forms had their beginnings in temples and churches.

Not only were these art forms able to express and uphold mankind’s goodness and beauty, they also showcased to man the magnificence of gods and the difference between goodness and evil. As such, they were able to exert a positive influence on mankind’s morality.

Artwork exposing the organ harvesting atrocities happening in China today by Artist Hong Fan. (Epoch Times)
Artwork exposing the organ harvesting atrocities happening in China today by Artist Hong Fan. (Epoch Times)

The early Western art forms displayed in churches, were glorious masterpieces that depicted the holiness and purity of gods, as well as Biblical creation narratives. Likewise, most ancient paintings in China contain scenes of Buddhas and gods.

From Michelangelo’s glorious ‘Last Judgement’ frescoes at the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City, to the impressive treasure trove of Buddhist art in Dunhuang, China, these heavenly masterpieces – which depict the artists’ reverence towards gods – move people’s hearts and affirm their pursuit of goodness.

Buddhist septad in the main niche, Mogao Cave 45, High Tang period (705–781), replicated in paint and fiberglass by Zhang Li and Li Lin in 2004. (Samira Bouaou/Epoch Times)
Buddhist septad in the main niche, Mogao Cave 45, High Tang period (705–781), replicated in paint and fiberglass by Zhang Li and Li Lin in 2004. (Samira Bouaou/Epoch Times)

“The gods gave us art to express goodness. When someone views this art, they unwittingly improve themselves, and it makes human society brighter and better,” emphasised Professor Zhang Kunlun, a famous Chinese artist and the founder of The Art of Zhen, Shan, Ren (Truth, Compassion, Tolerance) International Exhibition.

“Our art comes from a pure heart and our work reflects our personal experience. Art is able to greatly influence the way people think, and it also directly connects with human morality. And the two interact,” he noted.

Ms Kam Ning, a Singaporean violinist agreed: “Music is a gift from God and it is such an avenue in which God can be glorified. Music certainly is a way of telling stories, and when we use it to tell good stories, encouraging stories, God-stories, well, there has never been a more desperate chapter in the history of mankind where we need to hear such stories through music.”

“Good art can inspire benevolent thoughts and uplift one’s spirit,” said Ms Michelle Chen, the Gold Medal Winner in the 2009 Chinese International Figure Painting Competition hosted by New Tang Dynasty Television.

She noted a direct correlation between her artistic accomplishments and the raising of her spiritual level, which includes both her character and conduct.

Mr Choo Keng Kwang, a renowned first-generation Singaporean artist, agreed: “Art can beautify life and tame one’s character.”

“I once knew a young man who was a gangster and no one could help him. The teacher sent him to art school, and after one or two years of painting, he did not have a temper anymore. Instead, he became a teacher, and I was even taught by him!” Mr Choo exclaimed.

“Art hones one’s patience,” added Mr Choo.

Mr Toh Ban Sheng, a prominent choral conductor in Singapore, expressed similar views: “When the music is really beautiful, it can transform lives.”

Sculptures, paintings and cultural performances also play an integral role in upholding human morality.

In the book, ‘Nine Commentaries on the Communist Party’, it was mentioned that many Chinese may be illiterate, but they are still familiar with traditional plays and operas.

“These cultural forms have been important ways for ordinary people to learn traditional morals. Therefore, the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) destruction of traditional Chinese culture is a direct attack against Chinese morality and undermines the basis for peace and harmony in society.”

In response to the CCP’s actions, a group of elite Chinese artists came together in New York in 2006 with a mission—to revive traditional culture and share it with the world. They created Shen Yun Performing Arts and brought this majestic culture back from the brink of extinction.

At the heart of Shen Yun’s performances is classical Chinese dance, and an award-winning orchestra with combined Western and Eastern instruments.

To perform well, each performer has to “make sure they have an upright mindset”, so as to “deliver a positive message to the audience,” said Shen Yun dancer Ms Li Kexin.

4. Arts and Cultural Appreciation Influences Our Sense of Beauty

The Art of Zhen, Shan, Ren (Truth, Compassion, Tolerance) International Exhibition. (http://minghui.org)
The Art of Zhen, Shan, Ren (Truth, Compassion, Tolerance) International Exhibition. (http://minghui.org)

Fine arts and music appreciation plays a guiding role with respect to mankind’s aesthetic values. It helps man determine ‘what is aesthetic’ and ‘what is the appropriate sense of beauty that people should have’.

“If someone is in pursuit of beauty, it makes them a better person—more sensitive, more responsible. If a person grows up not learning how to appreciate art and music, this person would not know how to preserve or appreciate the beauty in many things,” said Mr Toh, who is also an educator and a resident conductor of Raffles Chorale and Raffles Voices.

He strongly believes that art appreciation is crucial in cultivating a refined aesthetic sense.

“Artistic detail can be seen in daily life. Some people simply dress themselves up too strangely, and there is a lack of artistic sense in that,” Mr Choo pointed out.

5. Arts and Cultural Appreciation Can Improve One’s Quality of Life and Makes One Feel Good

Professor Semir Zeki, a neurobiologist at the University College London, found that when a person looks at great works of art, their brain is stimulated and they feel good.

“Try decorating your home with beautiful art pieces. I believe art can harmonise the environment and soothe the soul, all the more when you live in a concrete environment,” said Mr Yu.

Singaporean artist Monica Chua agrees that we would be happier if we knew how to appreciate art, for it can help adjust our moods and make us feel relaxed.

“A nice painting could comfort you when you are feeling down. Some would arouse your feelings and thoughts, and some would evoke your memories. Paintings represent an artist’s feelings, thoughts and their lives,” she shared.

6. Arts and Cultural Appreciation Can Boost One’s Innovation and Soft Skills

Music played an important role in Einstein’s life. Some of his scientific discoveries sprang forth from the inspiration and imagination that he accessed through music. (E. O. Hoppe via Wikimedia Commons)
Music played an important role in Einstein’s life. Some of his scientific discoveries sprang forth from the inspiration and imagination that he accessed through music. (E. O. Hoppe via Wikimedia Commons)

Arts and culture appreciation could be a boon to working adults, claimed former gallerist, Howard Yu.

He believes that innovation comes about when arts meets science. According to Mr Hu, the arts have inspired many of his art collectors—who work in the area of science and technology—to think ‘outside the box’ and come up with award-winning projects.

Co-authors Robert and Michele Root-Bernstein, have confirmed Hu’s observations. They discovered that the most innovative scientists are involved in some form of arts and crafts.

John Maeda, the author of the bestselling self-help book ‘The Laws of Simplicity’, studied at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where he also enrolled in some art courses. He strongly believes that scientists who are involved in the arts, are more inventive and innovative than those who do not.

For instance, Albert Einstein would play the piano or the violin to free his mind whenever he was stuck in the middle of a scientific theory.

Music played an important role in Einstein’s life. Some of his scientific discoveries sprang forth from the inspiration and imagination that he accessed through music.

“I’m enough of an artist to draw freely on my imagination, which I think is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world,” he famously once said.

Steve Jobs mentioned the importance of integrating technology with arts and technology in 2010 when he debuted the iPad.

“It’s in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough. It’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields the results that make our hearts sing,” he said.

Wholesome literature, films and visual arts opens us up to new experiences and cultures, enabling us to see the world through a different lens.

Arts and culture are the infrastructure for the mind, and “it can help us experience and understand humanity at a deeper level. It is deep enjoyment…,” said violinist Alan Choo.

It makes us a lot more sensitive to one another, building up our soft skills (e.g. empathy, relationship building, communication and social graces) needed to interact with our colleagues and clients.

7. Arts and Cultural Appreciation Can Help At-risk Youths

According to a study conducted by the University of California at Los Angeles, and another study co-authored by Dr Gillian Hampden-Thompson from the University of York’s Department of Education, participation in arts programmes, such as music, dance, theatre, or the visual arts, helps at-risk youth improve their academic grades, attitudes about themselves and their future, increase their job opportunities, while decreasing their involvement in delinquent behaviour.

Alluding to the ‘Youth Arts Transforms Lives’ campaign launched in the UK—which proved effective in youth-crime prevention, emotional development, health and psychological well-being—Singapore’s Central Youth Guidance Office (CYGO) introduced the Sports and Arts (SPAR) framework in 2012.

Through the SPAR framework, CYGO aims to build youths’ self-esteem, learning interests and critical life skills, as well as diminish their delinquency through sports and the arts.

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