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Susan Magsamen & Ivy Ross: Your Brain on Art


Susan Magsamen & Ivy Ross

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Kelly talks to Susan Magsamen and Ivy Ross about the science behind art. The pair have written the book "Your Brain on Art: How the Arts Transforms Us."

I was trying to figure out how to enter this conversation and I realized we had a management meeting where we began by playing the improv game “Red Ball:” A game where we had to toss an imaginary ball in a circle and it really connected us as a group.

“Bravo! That's good for you, and just so you know, I have always brought improv into everywhere I've worked in maybe 10 Fortune 500 companies. I always brought it in and now science is proving that even when you doodle you are able to focus more. And I think that's what the game that you're talking about is actually saying is that you remember. And I played that exact game - that you can remember people's names better.”

It’s always stunning to me that the arts aren’t as centered in education given their impact on learning – we should know this especially given the state of the world post COVID.

"It wasn't even the pandemic when we agreed to write the book. We had no idea the shape the world would be in, and the world needs it more now than ever, because it is our birthright. I mean, in tribal times - and still today - with indigenous tribes, they don't even have a word for art. It is the way they live. It's their culture, which is the way we as humans are wired. We are wired to have storytelling, dance, theater, graphics, all of that, as just the way we live. And we've gotten so transactional and so optimized for productivity that we push aside these arts. And now, more than ever, it's clear: We need to bring them back into our diet, and the consequences for leaving them on the sidelines, I think, are some of the things that we're feeling now.”

The need for arts is beyond nice to have – this need is profound to us as a people.

“We're getting further and further away from each other. And when you really stop and think about the neurobiology of this, it's really profound. Of course, this started with the industrial revolution. And you know, we learned that science was the way forward. Rational thinking was a way forward, and we really stopped exploring these emotional states of being as knowledge, as embodied knowledge. And I think what we're seeing now is the marriage of arts and sciences are really coming back together to show us that it’s balance and harmony that's really required for truly being human and thriving as humans.”

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