Patterns are reassuring. They occur naturally, in the petals of a dahlia, as well as in the manufactured environments that surround us. They are the basis of our material lives: throw pillows, sheets, brick walls, symmetry in the buildings where we work. The stability that we feel in our environments comes from consistency in pattern. Physical patterns come naturally to our eyes and they are appealing both consciously and sub-consciously. We recognize when something doesn't work in our sight. That's the basis of good design: workmanship that doesn't disturb the conscious or sub-conscious of the user. It could be said that good design goes unnoticed because it's so good. Our eye recognizes and accepts it as quality.
Lifestyle patterns, similar to architectural and decorative patterns, can be reassuring. They represent stability. A 9-5 job results in a paycheck every two weeks. It's a preset schedule that ensures productivity. A well-designed lifestyle is one that doesn't disturb the conscious or sub-conscious of the individual. Theoretically, such disturbances could be cured by the introduction of patterns, or habits, and the return of stability.
I realize that repetition is not the cure-all solution to the burdens of life. Patterns, and visual stimuli in general, can do much more than just soothe or reassure, however. How I shape my environment with the things I can control can heavily influence how I feel. What we look at molds who we are, and how we communicate who we are determines how we are. Supposedly, then, good art is the answer to many ails.
Neuroaesthetics is the study of how brain processes art. In this article from the Smithsonian a summary is given of a study showing that the motor cortex in brains of viewers were activated when exposed to certain images, meaning the viewers had the impulse to mirror the action they saw in the image. That reaction isn't a conscious decision, but rather an automatic response to visual stimuli.
So what? Well, the visual stimuli that we feed our brain on a daily basis is causing a physical reaction within us. Neural pathways are formed when we encounter new information, and are strengthened through exposure to that information. At least I think that's how our brains work. But going off of that assumption, visual stimuli consistently viewed can change the physiology of our brains! What we look at is all of a sudden a lot more important (go ahead on over to my shop where you can find lots of uplifting art).
What we take in as stimuli is contrasted by what we then communicate. Professor of biology and neuroscience Dave Featherstone says:
I think one of the most primitive innate needs of humans is to understand the world around us, and then share that understanding....Both artists and scientists strive to see the world in new ways, and to communicate that vision. When they are successful, the rest of us suddenly 'see' the world differently. Our 'truth' is fundamentally changed.
Maybe I like that because it makes me feel good when art is paired with science, but expression is a reflection of our insides- what we know and believe to be true. Communicating that part of ourselves is crucial for us, and likewise affects those who are exposed to our expressions. Think of the power of social media here. First, as a strong visual stimulus that is molding our brain for better or for worse. Then, as a mode of communication, which is essential to who we are.
Paul Holinger writes about three crucial developmental systems: feelings, thinking, and talking. The interaction between these things in the early stages of development have a heavy impact on our futures. He notes the importance of "putting words to feelings...as a viable form of emotional regulation". He goes on to say that "verbalization (spoken or written) of current emotional experience reduces distress in contrast to no verbalization".
We regulate our emotion, and I'll say our well-being, by verbalizing our feelings. On the other hand, we become distressed when our feelings are not verbalized. The question ought to be posed, do I give myself enough opportunity to vocalize my feelings? What mode of communication is available to me so that I am able regulate my emotion? I'm sure you can find plenty of posts and podcasts on what you can do to better express yourself.
In this context, social media can be a developmental savior, because all of a sudden everyone has a mode of expression that can quickly be validated by viewers. I think the important factor here is balance: good input paired with a wholesome mode of output.
So, imagery we expose ourselves to can rewire our brains for good. Modes of expression help us regulate our emotions. We all ought to make more and look at more art. Or write in a journal.