One of the reasons I like beautiful things is that it changes my perspective. Looking at art always enhances my mood. When I find a painting I really like, I feel a sense of awe. I feel humbled by another person’s creativity and ability to make me respond to their way of seeing the world.
Fashion also makes me feel the same way. When I find a beautiful crafted garment or accessory, it’s almost like falling in love. Not that I’m in love with the physical object, but the experience of beauty. I sort of dismissed myself as a hedonist. How else could I explain it? Even as I write this, I’ll admit it sounds sort of ridiculous.
The Studio Boat by Claude Monet, 1876. Image courtesy of the Barnes Foundation.
Sometimes, I have trouble sleeping. If I can’t distract myself in some way, I’ll surely stay awake all night. (That vicious cycle of trying to sleep, only to become aware of how completely awake you are drives me insane.) When I can’t sleep, I try to look at images that will be soothing.
As you might have guessed, I woke up in the middle of the night. I couldn’t go back to sleep. I tossed. I turned. I tried desperately to become unconscious again. It became really clear that I wouldn’t fall asleep again when I started thinking. Then, the worst part – I started to worry. Luckily, somewhere between idle thoughts of things beyond my control, I thought about Claude Monet’s Studio Boat.
Back in December, I paid my first visit to the Barnes Foundation. The Studio Boat was my favorite painting. I stood in front of it for a long time. I admired the rich blue and green hues that undulated through the canvas. The sharp dashes of fuchsia and purple mimicked wild grasses and flowering trees. The whole composition reminded me of landscapes near my home. The careful attention to detail, the dreamy atmosphere, the color palette – the painting made me feel that burst of love. Why it came to my mind, I cannot say. But I looked it up online, instantly felt better.
My worry was replaced with curiosity. Why does looking at beautiful things make me feel this way? Am I completely alone in this experience? I’m sort of embarrassed to confess the way I feel so publicly, but maybe I’m not alone. (Maybe?)
It turns out I may not be. The University College of London recently conducted a study that proved looking at artwork triggers pleasure responses in the brain. Here are their findings:
During the study, participants underwent brain scans while eyeballing paintings by artists such as Monet, Rembrandt, and Leonardo da Vinci. When they saw something they liked, blood flow in certain parts of the brain increased by about 10 percent – the equivalent of gazing at a loved one, according to the researchers. (Source)
The equivalent of gazing at a loved one? That’s pretty impressive. It certainly explains my fascination with art and fashion. It’s also nice to know other people have a similar reaction to beauty.