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The wellbeing benefits of visiting galleries and museums

Research has shown that visiting an art gallery or museum can greatly benefit your wellbeing by reducing anxiety and depression, enhancing critical thinking skills and creativity and fostering positive connections with others plus so much more. A 2011 Nord-Trondelag Health study also found that people who enjoy looking at art get the same health benefits as people who make art.

Benefits of gallery / museum visits

Increases dopamine (the feel-good hormone)

Viewing a piece, you find pleasing and interesting, immediately releases dopamine into your brain making you feel happier.

Reduces cortisol (a stress hormone)

Visiting a gallery or museum reduces the production of cortisol in your body thereby helping to relieve feelings of stress. This is attributed to artwork and objects having the ability to transport you into another time and place. It helps you lose track of time whilst mindfully observing. The visit can also give you time-out of your normal routine to wind down and the quiet, calm space fosters mental and emotional wellbeing before even looking at anything.

Reduces feelings of isolation and loneliness

Other people in the space as well at the pieces help promote feelings of connection, making you feel less isolated and lonely. Further social interaction can also be made by visiting with friends and family, joining a tour, lecture or workshop and becoming a Friend of the gallery or museum to connect with others who enjoy art, history and objects.

Sparks reflection and creativity

Looking at art and objects can help you think about things differently by providing different perspectives on things. This in turn can help you determine what you want to stop doing, start doing or maintain. This might include learning more about a specific topic, artist, technique or period of time. It may also prompt you to have a go at creating something yourself and / or to take a class.

Improves brain activity

New experiences improve the brain’s ability to take in new information. This neuroplasticity of the brain usually declines with age. Enhancing it with new experiences may help prevent the onset of dementia. A 2018 paper in the British Journal of Psychiatry found that people who visit museums every few months or more, have a lower incidence rate of dementia over a 10-year follow-up period.

Makes you more interesting

Your experience at the gallery or museum will give you new and interesting things to discuss with others.

Can promote longevity

Researchers from University College London (UCL) found that people who engaged in the arts every few months or more had a 31% lower risk of dying early when compared to those who didn't. Even going to the theatre or museum once or twice a year was linked with a 14% lower risk.

Overall, visiting a gallery or museum is a rewarding experience which stimulates feelgood emotions and engagement. Here’s how to make the most of your experience

How to make the most out of your gallery / museum experience

You don’t need to know anything about art or history to enjoy a visit to a gallery or museum.

Before your visit

  • Do some initial reading about what you plan to see to give yourself some background knowledge or discuss with someone who knows.

  • Determine if you will go alone or invite others and plan accordingly.

  • Determine if you will take pen/paper, camera etc to capture images and record thoughts.

  • Pre book any tours, lectures or workshops in which you are interested.

During the visit

  • Get a guided tour / audio tour to help you understand what you are looking at.

  • There is no right or wrong way to look at art or an object. Just observe it and ask yourself: Do you like the art /object? Why? Does it remind you of anything? What emotions does it evoke in you? If you are with others, share your thoughts and ideas.

  • Participate in any tours, lectures or workshops in which you are interested.

After the visit

  • Review your recorded images and thoughts and reflect with yourself and / or others on what you thought about the pieces you saw, the building and geographical space it was in. Has it made you want to make any changes in your life?

  • Read more on whatever sparked your curiosity.

  • Get creative and make something inspired by your visit.

  • Plan your next outing. Good places to look are and Art UK.

Over to you

Where will you go and what you will do before, during and after your visit?

I’d love to hear about it.


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