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Why Visiting an Art Museum Is Good for Your Mental Health

This Artist Was Inspired by Her Famous AncestorNew research shows a reduction in stress hormones after just 30 minutes in a museum.

Looking at art
Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

“There’s nothing more truly artistic than to love people,” said the famous painter Vincent van Gogh. The spirit of that comment might undergird new research findings that show spending time in an arts and culture museum has a number of positive mental health benefits, including measurably reducing the stress hormone cortisol.

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania reviewed more than 100 studies that explore the emotional experience of visiting a museum, and Katherine Cotter, a postdoctoral fellow, concluded that museum visits yield mental health benefits.

“When we enter a museum, we’re entering it with an intention,” Cotter told the PBS station WHYY.

Visiting a museum, she added, draws us away from the time and place where we live—in ways both profound and mundane—and pulls us into the experience of seeing the world through another person’s eyes. “We engage different mindsets and different cognitive processes,” she said, “Once we get into the meat and potatoes of the museum visit, we see ourselves more concerned communally, thinking about how things are interrelated in the world more broadly.”

Walking through an art museum, large or small, is about more than spending time in a cool, quiet and interesting space. Notably, Cotter identified a reduction in feelings of loneliness as one of the mental health benefits of visiting art museums.

Part of the reason for this could be the communal experience of observing artworks together with other, like-minded individuals. But it is also the art itself that brings us into a feeling of connection with other human beings—creators, thinkers, observers—who remind us that each of us has a point of view, something to say and something to teach and learn from the world around us.

And so we return to van Gogh’s observation. Perhaps we benefit from expanding our view of the world by exploring art and culture, in part, because the experience of being human is in itself just that—an art form.

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