Saturday, December 31, 2011

Artwork of Soldiers Through the Last Century

An exhibit (now unfortunately over) was presented in Philadelphia regarding the art of the military while they have been away at various wars.  Although this wasn't formal art therapy, it appears to be art as therapy, and a way of documenting moments that were likely difficult to put into words.  Working in a military environment shows me that this is not new, and that art will be a longstanding need for those serving in the armed forces, as well as with their families.

Dramatic artwork by US soldiers shows a century of war through their eyes 
Last updated at 6:31 PM on 31st December 2011

Since the first Americans marched off to fight the British for independence, soldiers have been chronicling US wars with paintings and drawings that show the conflicts from the perspective of the troops on the ground. 

Here are just a few of the 1,500 works of art by servicemen and women that were on display at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia as part of their Art of the American Solider exhibition. Beginning with portrayals of trench warfare in World War I, the artworks cover every American conflict through the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

Some are simple displays depicting the boredom and monotony of everyday life in the military. Others show darker truths about war -- portraits of combat's stress, trauma and weariness etched into the faces of servicemen. The art also often shows the ruination that war brings to a landscape and the people around it -- burned out buildings and devastated families. 

Artistically, they run the gamut from realism to abstraction. However, most of the works tend to have more literal and less obtuse interpretations. The exhibit was launched in the fall of 2010 to coincide with American combat troops beginning to return home from Iraq. It ran until March 2011. 


Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Musicians use divergent thinking more often than non-musicians

I came across this article via a colleague and though it's a few years old, it still seems relevant. Even though the focus is specifically with musicians, I wonder if some of the same principles are true for any of the other arts as well.

Musicians use both sides of their brains more frequently than average people
Posted on Thursday, Oct. 2, 2008 — 4:14 PM

Supporting what many of us who are not musically talented have often felt, new research reveals that trained musicians really do think differently than the rest of us. Vanderbilt University psychologists have found that professionally trained musicians more effectively use a creative technique called divergent thinking, and also use both the left and the right sides of their frontal cortex more heavily than the average person.

The research by Crystal Gibson, Bradley Folley and Sohee Park is currently in press at the journal Brain and Cognition.

“We were interested in how individuals who are naturally creative look at problems that are best solved by thinking ‘out of the box’,” Folley said. “We studied musicians because creative thinking is part of their daily experience, and we found that there were qualitative differences in the types of answers they gave to problems and in their associated brain activity.”

One possible explanation the researchers offer for the musicians’ elevated use of both brain hemispheres is that many musicians must be able to use both hands independently to play their instruments.

“Musicians may be particularly good at efficiently accessing and integrating competing information from both hemispheres,” Folley said. “Instrumental musicians often integrate different melodic lines with both hands into a single musical piece, and they have to be very good at simultaneously reading the musical symbols, which are like left-hemisphere-based language, and integrating the written music with their own interpretation, which has been linked to the right hemisphere.”

Previous studies of creativity have focused on divergent thinking, which is the ability to come up with new solutions to open-ended, multifaceted problems. Highly creative individuals often display more divergent thinking than their less creative counterparts.

To conduct the study, the researchers recruited 20 classical music students from the Vanderbilt Blair School of Music and 20 non-musicians from a Vanderbilt introductory psychology course. The musicians each had at least eight years of training. The instruments they played included the piano, woodwind, string and percussion instruments. The groups were matched based on age, gender, education, sex, high school grades and SAT scores.

The researchers conducted two experiments to compare the creative thinking processes of the musicians and the control subjects. In the first experiment, the researchers showed the research subjects a variety of household objects and asked them to make up new functions for them, and also gave them a written word association test. The musicians gave more correct responses than non-musicians on the word association test, which the researchers believe may be attributed to enhanced verbal ability among musicians. The musicians also suggested more novel uses for the household objects than their non-musical counterparts.

In the second experiment, the two groups again were asked to identify new uses for everyday objects as well as to perform a basic control task while the activity in their prefrontal lobes was monitored using a brain scanning technique called near-infrared spectroscopy, or NIRS. NIRS measures changes in blood oxygenation in the cortex while an individual is performing a cognitive task.

“When we measured subjects’ prefrontal cortical activity while completing the alternate uses task, we found that trained musicians had greater activity in both sides of their frontal lobes. Because we equated musicians and non-musicians in terms of their performance, this finding was not simply due to the musicians inventing more uses; there seems to be a qualitative difference in how they think about this information,” Folley said.

The researchers also found that, overall, the musicians had higher IQ scores than the non-musicians, supporting recent studies that intensive musical training is associated with an elevated IQ score.

The research was partially supported by a Vanderbilt University Discovery Grant.

Folley is a postdoctoral fellow. Park is a professor of psychology and psychiatry and a member of the Center for Integrative and Cognitive Neuroscience. Gibson was an undergraduate student and research assistant in the psychology department at Vanderbilt when this work was conducted and is now a Peace Corps volunteer based in Namibia. Park and Folley are Vanderbilt Kennedy Center for Research on Human Development investigators.

Labels: , , ,

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Unsurprisingly, the Arts makes people happy!

I came across this article recently, and discovered that according to this data gathering, when ranked, of the top 6 activities that create the most happiness, #3-6 are all rooted in the arts - drama/theater, music, and art (viewing and creating). But of course, we already knew this! :)

Art and Happiness: New research indicates 4 out of 6 happiest activities are arts-related (!)
December 2, 2011 By Clayton Lord

Last week, an article that was actually published nearly a month ago on passed through my Facebook feed four times in two days. The article, titled “The three times people are happiest—you may be surprised,” rather vaguely discussed a research project out of the London School of Economics that was mapping happiness levels associated with various activities—and the results, per the article, indicated that, behind sex and exercise, the next most happiness-inducing activity was attending the theatre.

This landed with a big thud inside my head, as it sits so squarely next to a lot of the work we’re trying to do to understand the impacts, effects and benefits of the arts beyond the economic, so I did a little research and discovered that the project is called the Mappiness Project and it is the graduate work of an LSE researcher named George MacKerron. And I emailed him, he emailed back, and we chatted briefly.

So here’s the shocker—the Chatelaine article, and the Marie Claire article it’s based on, left out potentially the most amazing part of MacKerron’s (very preliminary) results so far. Of the top six most happiness-inducing activities, again after sex and exercise, the other four are all arts-related. They are, in descending order:

1) Intimacy/making love
2) Sports/running/exercise
3) Theatre/dance/concert
4) Singing/performing
5) Exhibition/museum/library
6) Hobbies/arts/crafts

MacKerron’s research, which relies on an iPhone app that randomly dings at you twice a day and has you take a short survey on your happiness and alertness, has garnered three million data points from 45,000 users in the UK over the last 18 months. And it’s important to point out that, of those 3 million responses, only 3,500 were in the theatre/dance/concert category (about .3%). But, and this is important, those 3,500 people who responded during or immediately after that activity were demonstrably happier. The way McKerron put it to me, “Someone at the theatre will average about 6 points happier than someone who isn’t.” (It’s on a scale of 0 to 100, with 0 being completely unhappy and 100 being completely happy). This, compared to someone having sex, who averages 12 points happier than someone who isn’t, and I see a new ad campaign.

MacKerron and his co-researcher/advisor, Susana Mouranto, are (at least for now) particularly looking at the impact of the environment around an individual on their happiness, and so as part of that they have attempted to control for confounding variables in an attempt to ensure that they’re actually measuring the happiness induced by the event of that moment, and not the general happiness level of the individual. In this case, MacKerron is intrigued by the theatre result in part because theatre attendance requires advance directed action (i.e. you have to buy a ticket), so that tends to mean that he feels more comfortable extrapolating that they’re happier because they’re in the theatre, and not in the theatre because they’re happier. He has more trouble with such conclusions in places like parks.

Survey responses that come in more than an hour after the solicitation are discounted in an effort to ensure that people are actually recounting their happiness levels as accurately as possible (and, at the same time, to be realistic about allowing a person to finish up (ahem) whatever activity they’re doing at the time). And so, in this way, MacKerron’s work isn’t really about long term echoes of an experience—more instant gratification than long-term emotional health. Which is in itself interesting. And, while he didn’t have the demographic data in a useable form when he chatted with me, he does have demographics on the respondents as well as relatively-accurate GPS location tracking of where people were when they responded, which spark two ideas in my head: such research has the possibility of (1) helping us better understand if our work is differently-affecting different people and (2) allowing us to actually map of particular events (or organizations) are instigating higher happiness scores in general.

All in all, MacKerron’s work, which he’s also discussed in a TEDx talk, has a lot of potential to tell us more about what role the arts play in the emotional well-being of individuals—and I can’t wait for him to begin publishing his work, which is in process.

Across all types of theatre work (see (very preliminary) graph), our research into intrinsic impact indicates that captivation (i.e. getting lost in the work and losing track of time) and emotional resonance are particularly affecting impacts with theatre.

In this sense, then, perhaps another word for captivation (especially in context with sex and exercise) might be euphoria, which Webster’s dryly defines as “a feeling of well-being or elation,” and Wikipedia more colorfully defines as “a medically recognized mental and emotional condition in which a person experiences intense feelings of well-being, elation, happiness, ecstasy, excitement and joy.”

Six points happier. Six points, I would argue, healthier. That’s awesome data, and I can’t wait to see more.

Monday, December 05, 2011

A New Meaning to Pointillist Art...


AWESOME THING OF THE DAY: Candy Sprinkles Photography
November 30, 2011

This "photograph" isn't a photograph: it's actually a painstakingly created piece of pointillist artwork. And it's made of candy.


We spoke to Joel Brochu, the Canadian artist and student at the University of Regina in Saskatchewan who created this brilliant piece of candy art. It took him a long time - Joel spent nearly eight months placing 221,184 nonpareils sprinkles (circular candy sprinkles that are used in cake and doughnut decoration) on a four foot by 1.5 foot board using double-sided tape.

Joel didn't actually take the photograph the artwork is based on: "The photograph from which I worked was taken by Shingo Uchiyama, a Japanese photographer. I stumbled on his work when searching for the perfect image to use and absolutely fell in love with his beagle. He granted me permission to use it."

In order to go from photograph to candy mosaic, Joel ran the original pic through a computer program that breaks down images into essential colours. According to the artist, "the difficult part was matching the computer colours to the actual colours of the nonpareils", which is not surprising, since he only had six colours of candy to work with. That's right: the artwork only contains six colours. The photorealistic effect is achieved by visual colour blending when it's viewed from a distance.

And as if all that wasn't impressive enough, how about this? Joel's not even majoring in fine arts. He told us he was studying art for a few months, but decided to make a change: "I have settled on religion and Eastern philosophy, another interest I have had since childhood". It seems he's already stumbled on an effective form of meditation.

Here are some close-ups that reveal the details of Joel's work of art.