Creative Aging Themes in the PBS Series, "Arts & The Brain"


If you missed two-part series “Arts & The Brain” that aired recently on many PBS stations you can watch online. I want to take a moment to commend the program’s sponsor, The MetLife Foundation, which continues to play a pivotal role in supporting research on brain health and the arts. Also be sure to look for NCCA Board Member, Maria Genne and her Kairos Dance troupe and Dancing Heart program during the second hour of the show (Connections).

The program raises a number of themes and topics that are important to our ongoing discussion about the value of arts engagement for older adults – and for people of all ages.  Below are a few of the themes that struck me. In future NCCA newsletters and on the NCCA blog, I’ll explore these themes in more depth in the hope of stimulating comment and further discussion.  Please feel free to comment on these themes, or suggest others, on the NCCA blog.

Arts & The Brain – Some important themes from the PBS series

Art changes the brain -  I found a number of specific brain-related topics particularly important. These include:  1) brain plasticity, 2) the reserve theory, 3) the role of emotions and reward systems, 4) homeostasis and cognitive development, and 5) the importance of exercising the whole brain. In subsequent blogs I’ll explain a bit of the science behind these topics and explore how I am increasingly convinced that art promotes positive changes in our brains 

The evolutionary significance of art and creativity – Thoroughly modern human beings are thought to have emerged somewhere between 200, 000 to 30,000 years ago, an eye blink in evolutionary time.  It is the appearance of art, and the beginnings of culture that alert anthropologists, paleontologists and neuroscientists to the emergence of a new kind of human brain – the creative brain.  It appears that art and creativity are important adaptive features of human evolution.

Art and human development - Play and art have a close association. Current research is providing increasing evidence that play (unstructured, joyous messing around) is essential to normal human development.  I agree with many who argue that art, as an extension of play has a profound impact on the development of human capabilities in childhood and across the lifespan.

The value of arts training and participation  - The value of arts training is often framed in terms of how well it transfers to skills in other “valued” areas of performance, such as math and science. Is this the right way to evaluate the impact of the arts, or do the arts have inherent benefit all on their own? I’ll argue that the arts are inherently valuable.

Lessons about model arts programs – The Arts & The Brain program featured a number of exemplary arts programs for both children and older adults were featured.  What are the characteristics they share that make them exemplary programs? Can we begin to define what can turn a good arts program into a great arts program?

The arts and caregiving - Many of the artists and scientists spoke about the power of art to animate people who seem to be overwhelmed by illness and are lost within themselves.  The arts provide priceless moments, minutes and hours of pleasure and joy and tap into hidden reserves that reveal the person behind the diagnosis.

This post was written by Michael Patterson, co-founder, MindRAMP & Associates, LLC.  


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