Why Do We Love Art?

Creating, loving or appreciating art seems to be a primal human behavior. Every culture has art. Children all over the world instinctively make it.  But how, when, and more importantly - why do we love art?

Thinking about this made me reminisce about my little experience with art as a young girl (not that I showed any impressive creative talents, but I have always loved art- paintings in particular, adored the canvas). It got me wondering if my love for art has something to do with being reasonably good at it when I was a young girl? My very first art teacher in my elementary years told me I had talent, which was confirmed by my high school art teacher (the now renowned Ethiopian artist Behailu Bezabih) - mind you, I never took up painting and made something out of it, regrettably, but here I am today - in love with everything art - not an artist but a big cheerleader for Ethiopian art. So the question is - do I love art because I showed an inkling of talent for drawing in my formative years or does it have to do more with the back-pat affirmation I received from my mentors and parents?

In other words - is artistic inclination part of our genetic predisposition or is it shaped and schooled by our environment? Is it a gift of nature or product of nurture? 

Research supports both courts of the argument - as well as advocating the combination of both. There are a number of examples from the world’s artistic giants to indicate that artists are born - and babies arrive into the world overflowing with passion and creativity and might go on to join other vocations, only to u-turn and come right back head on to their artistic roots.  It is said that before he had devoted himself to art, Van Gogh tried to be a minister among poor miners in Belgium. “He just frightened and overwhelmed people,” says Nancy Locke, associate professor of art history at Penn State. “He was too intense to act effectively in that capacity” she says, supporting the artists are born hypothesis. Although she adds by saying that “artists are also made; they require training, education and a culture of other artists, often an urban culture. Put an artist in isolation and nobody can learn anything from the work. Artists have to be in touch with other artists, building on what other artists have done.”

Neuroscience gives us yet another perspective.  Particular characteristic that may enhance creativity in the brains of artistically creative individuals - a smaller corpus callosum (the fibers that join the two hemispheres of the brain - possibly allowing for each side of the brain to develop its own specialization, which in turn may facilitate divergent thinking), were discovered in a study conducted by the Department of Neurology and Neuroscience at Cornell University discovered in 2009.

The cliché of the tortured artistic soul - in this case brain, apparently has scientific backing. There are some studies done on the relationship between mental illness and artistic ability. A 40 year longitudinal study of 1.2 million Swedes found those in artistic occupations did not have a statistically significant higher rate of psychiatric disorder. The only exception was a correlation with bipolar disorder. However, the most fascinating aspect of the study was that the siblings of patients with autism and first-degree relatives of patients with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and anorexia were significantly overrepresented in creative professions.  The suggestion from this and similar research is that the relatives of those suffering from certain mental illnesses have higher levels of positive schizotypal traits such as unusual perceptual experiences, impulsive non-conformity and magical beliefs which are, in turn, associated with creativity. (http://blogs.scientificamerican.com)

The exact origins of artistic inclinations are yet to be understood fully, but the simpler question of ‘why do we love art?’ is easier to tackle. We enjoy art for its aesthetic beauty, potentially forming an intense attachment to a particular artwork that evokes a certain emotion within us,  we might revel in the academic and intellectual debates surrounding art and its creators, while some of us see for its investment potential. 

But the most important question here is (and if you have read so far its very likely that you DO love art)  why do YOU love art? Please do tell!