The Brain and the Arts Natalie Biel

The Visual Arts


Our brains have an amazing ability to make sense of the world (real and imagined) through creating images.

  • Imaging: the visualization of the mind's eye of something that the person has actually experienced.
  • Imagining: depicts something that the person has not yet experienced and, therefore, has no limits.

Implication for learning

Research shows that individuals can be taught to search their minds for images and be guided through the process to select appropriate images that, through hemispheric integration, enhance learning and increase retention. When the brain creates images, the same parts of the visual cortex are activated as when the eyes process real-world input. We need to teach children to search their long-term memory for images in a movie-style, not in a picture-style. This will help them recall information in greater detail. Studies on the impact of visual imagery on learning is limited. Most studies relate imagery to sports. The more time that an athlete devotes to imagery, the better the outcome. Similarly, students who use more imagery during learning display more creativity in discussions, modeling, and assessment.

How can we use this information in the classroom?

The following skills are learned in art class and can be carried through to other domains:

  • Develop Craft: Students learn to work in different media and to use and care for tools and materials appropriately.
  • Engage and Persist: Students learn how to engage themselves in a project and to persist with it even when challenges arise. This includes learning how to stay forcused and to resist quitting when frustrated.
  • Envision: Students learn to use mental imagery to envision what they cannot directly observe and to imagine underlying structures in their drawings and how that structure could be shown.
  • Express: Students learn to express beyond words through moods, atmosphere, or sounds and to create works that convey a strong personal meaning.
  • Observe: Students learn to look beyond the obvious, and to examine their own works and those of others for structure, line, color, style, and expression.
  • Reflect: Students learn to think about their work and to explain their processes, decisions, and intentions when producing it. They also learn how to evaluate their own work and the works of others, to be self-critical, and to reflect on how they could improve.
  • Stretch and Explore: Students learn to extend beyond what they have created, to explore and see what happens, to take risks with new ventures, and to learn from their mistakes.
  • Understand the Art World: Students learn about the domain of art and how they relate to it. This includes understanding the art communities of museums, galleries, and curators and to think about how they might fit into these communities.

Class Strategies

Using imagery:

  • Prompting: say things like "form a picture in your mind of..."
  • Modeling: Describe your own mental image to the class
  • Interaction: Have images and items interact in your mind in order to create a richer image.
  • Reinforcement: Have the students talk about their images and how it helped their learning. Encourage them to give each other feedback.
  • Add Context: Add context to the interaction to increase retention and recall.
  • Avoid Overloading the Image: Never more than 5-7 items.

Visualized Note Taking:

  • Stickperson: Ideas to brain, hopes to eyes, words to mouth, actions to hands, feelings to heart, movement to feet, weakness to Achilles' tendon, strength to arm muscle.
  • Expository visuals: Graphic organizers
  • Notebook design: Organize into different sections
  • Mind mapping: This is a visual note-taking process that shows the relationships between ideas.


Movement and the Brain: The Role of the Cerebellum

The cerebellum coordinates learned motor skills such as walking, driving, tying shoelaces, etc. It also plays an important role in attention, long-term memory, spatial perception, impulse control, and the frontal lobe's cognitive functions (the same areas that are stimulated during learning). Now, studies are linking the cerebellum to working memory, speech tasks, and emotional processing. These connections show the link between movement and learning/memory.

Exercise Improves Brain Performance

Studies show that exercise improves brain function because of increased oxygen in the blood. This is why taking a walk sometimes helps you come up with solutions to problems.

Implications on Schools/Learning

Recess is important for many reasons. It boosts blood flow gives students a chance to develop communication, gross, and social skills. Although many schools are cutting or reducing recess time, the benefits of recess significantly outweigh the pitfalls of taking the students out of class. Movement activities provide the following benefits:

  • Refocus attention
  • Allow for implicit learning
  • Improve brain function
  • Meet basic needs (belonging, freedom, fun)
  • Improve the students' state of mind
  • Differentiate instruction for kinesthetic learners
  • Engage the senses
  • Reduce stress
  • Enhance episodic memory

Classroom Strategies:

  • Energizers (brain breaks)
  • Act out key concepts
  • Role-playing
  • Act out vocabulary
  • Verbal to physical tug-of-war


Created with images by Supernico26 - "Crayons de couleur" • haidi2002 - "crayons children to draw" • kaboompics - "quote chalk chalkboard" • GSLCMedia - "kids crafts arts and crafts" • Wesley Fryer - "Willowood Technology Summit 2013 Takeaways (Visual Art)" • Unsplash - "swing swingers playground" • cwwycoff1 - "Playground Primary Colors" • acme - "IXX_0026"

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