• gerard van weyenbergh

When Science proves that Art is good

When science proves that art is good

An artwork's vision stimulates our brain's two faculties: pleasure and knowledge, explains Pierre Lemarquis, neurologist and author of "The Art that Heals".

Who is aware of the inner tumult that arises in us and the explosion of substances that strike us when a work of art meets our eyes? Like a human encounter, sometimes capable of triggering an almost romantic feeling, a work stirs up many neurotransmitters and painkillers in our brain. Yes, art is good. Pierre Lemarquis, neurologist and graduate in Chinese medicine, retraces in The Art that Heals the Arcana as well as the detours, now proven, of a pleasure called "aesthetic empathy".

"The brain has two functions. It allows us to stay alive, and gives us the will to live, stated the etiology specialist. These two systems are complementary and necessary. A computer will never be able to replace it. "We often compare the dual ability of the brain to a rider on his horse. The first represents the intellectual brain, while the second symbolizes that of pleasure and reward. "But sometimes the rider struggles to lead a horse that does not intend to obey him. And, fortunately, it is always the horse that wins," he summarizes. Thus are born errors, fantasies, or specific desires that move us away from rationality but also define us as humans.

Sculpted brain, caressed brain.

"However, a work of art addresses the two faculties of our brain," continues the scientist. "It sculpts him by making him discover what he doesn't know. It caresses him, giving him pleasure and reward. This phenomenon has been studied a lot in music, and we have shown that it also operates in the field of visual arts. "One of the experiences to do this was to quantify and measure the reactions of a museum visitor - his heart rate, sweating - facing a work he observes.

If the visitor likes the art, his stress decreases because cortisol production (the hormone used to wake up in the morning and kick in) slows down. The heart beats less quickly, the body relaxes, while the brain (from pleasure and reward) secretes dopamine (the hormone of the joy of life).

More so, endorphins (which give the impression of well-being) and oxytocin (hormone of attachment and love) - about which it has been shown to be produced during listening to music - could, by extension, be part of the chemical arsenal that unfolds in us in front of a work of art.

In terms of perception, Italian biologist Giacomo Rizzolatti has studied the golden ratio. "The harmony induced by its use in sculpture is aimed at our "evolved" or Apollonian brain but does not necessarily convince that of pleasure and reward, dedicated to Dionysus. Rizzolatti, who was the first to identify mirror neurons [which control mimicry], scientifically revealed that one could appreciate an artwork for its aesthetic qualities, for its proportions, and to find it beautiful without liking it. "This means that our "two brains" can function independently. Between them, there are ways of connection, an area called "insula," seat of the aesthetic empathy, which unites the intellect with the emotion.

Of the interest of beauty

These findings have found various applications. In addition to the prescription of visits to the museum - which is practiced, for example, by certain doctors of the Pitié-Salpêtrière Cardiology Institute, in Paris, who can prescribe, by museum prescription, a visit to the Château de Compiègne, in Oise -, many initiatives in France have already borne fruit. The association L'Invitation à la beauté, founded by psychologist Laure Mayoud and chaired by Pierre Lemarquis, bringing together scientists, caregivers, and artists, has been granted Unesco's patronage for its research at the cellular and neurological level. , psychological and social.

In the Lyon-Sud hospital's internal medicine department, patients who wish to do so can choose a work to hang in their room. "In the same way that a book can do as much good as an antidepressant, a work that one can hold on to in times of suffering provides the balance necessary for healing. When they left the hospital, patients changed their relationship to art," insists Pierre Lemarquis. Could it be thanks to the effect of art on man that beauty exists? Plato, transported by the sensation of the beautiful, was he saying something else?

The materiality of the works, the durability of the museums that house them testify to a reassuring vitality at a time when live performance and cinema are severely hampered. In the museum, as in the books, art is combined daily.

A privileged space for aesthetic empathy takes you beyond yourself. "The German philosopher Robert Vischer explained the feeling that one experiences in front of a work," recalls Pierre Lemarquis, sharing the conviction of the thinker according to which "each one becomes the work that he observes". If one contemplates The Mona Lisa we become a little Mona Lisa. Then, you will take your memory and a bit of human genius with you, whatever your culture. Because art speaks to everyone, science has demonstrated it. Whether his perception is sensitive, chemical, or cognitive, he feels and experiences himself. To believe that it would be reserved for an elite would be wrong.

© Le Monde.