Sue Chambers Three Rivers Yorta Yorta Country

Can art help your mental health?

Blog by Chloe Green | TuneFM team member

I still remember the first time I visited an art gallery in high school and the sense of calm I experienced amongst the paintings. Even now, as a university student in the middle of exams, I recently found myself wandering through the Reconciliation Week Art Exhibit at the UNE Oorala Aboriginal Centre. Taking a break from my studies to look at the artworks gave me a moment of peace to clear my mind and de-stress.

If you haven’t visited an art exhibit or wandered through a museum or gallery, then you may not relate to what I am talking about. However, there is evidence that supports my experiences and proves that art can positively impact mental health.

Research has found that viewing or making art stimulates the release of dopamine (the motivation drug), which is highly suggested in the treatment of anxiety, ADHD, and depression. Semir Zeki, a specialist in Neuroaesthetics, found that looking at art activated the same areas of the brain that falling in love does. He said,

“…when we look at things we consider to be beautiful, there is increased activity in the pleasure reward centres of the brain. There is a great deal of dopamine in this area, also known as the ‘feel-good’ transmitter. Essentially, the feel-good centres are stimulated, similar to the states of love and desire.” 

Additionally, a study carried out by the University of Arkansas found that students demonstrated higher critical thinking skills and historical empathy after visiting an art museum. In the study, Jay P. Greene stated that viewing the museum’s art collection had a “transformative effect on the students.”

What these studies prove, is that art is capable of moving us and changing how we feel, not only in relation to ourselves but in relation to the world more broadly. If we accept this as a fact, then it makes sense that we should try to expose ourselves to as much art as possible.

If you work or study on the Armidale campus, or are able to visit, there are a number of opportunities to view art at UNE. Currently, as part of Reconciliation Week, the Oorala Aboriginal Centre is hosting an exhibition that showcases work from local artists, the Armidale Cultural Centre & Keeping Place, the New England Regional Art Museum Collection, and the UNE Art Collection. The exhibition ends on the 24th of June, so if you haven’t been to see it yet make sure you do!

For anyone on or off-campus, there is the Our Place Your Country Photography Competition which encourages you to flex your creative eye behind the camera lense and acknowledge the history of where you study and work and live. Entries close Sunday 17 July 2022!

two girls looking at an artwork

There is also an exhibition of works from the David Phillips Collection of artworks by the Hermannsburg School, which can be viewed on the first floor of Dixson Library.

 If you won’t be able to make it to campus to view these exhibits before they close, don’t worry!

Luckily for us, Armidale is full of opportunities to experience art. Not only does Dixson Library regularly host exhibits, but we have a Natural History Museum on campus that is open throughout the year. If you look off-campus, you will discover the New England Regional Art Museum as well as the Armidale Art Gallery, both of which are home to beautiful collections and events.

Lastly, if you study online and do not live locally, then I’m sure there will be a number of places for you to visit in your own town or city, only a quick google search away.

During times of stress, it is important to find outlets that work for you and will help you manage university life and beyond, so if you haven’t given it a go yet, try looking at some art and see how you feel!

The image accompanying this blog is titled ‘Three Rivers – Yorta Yorta Country’ (detail) and is by the artist Susan Chambers. It can be viewed as part of the Oorala Art Exhibition until the 24th of June 2022.

The team at Advocacy and Welfare offers confidential support to students! Contact them here.

Student Success also has confidential counseling for students, you can find them here.

Lifeline is also a 24/7 hotline and you can call them on 13 11 14