Living Longer as an Artist / by Jeannine Cook

Years ago, I remember seeing a wonderful film about Marc Chagall in which he came across as a vigorous, delightful man, even though he was by that time well in his eighties. At the time, I was impressed at how, clearly, being an artist was an invigorating, rewarding way of life that kept one healthy and vital.

the Concert, Marc Chagall, 1957, oil on canvas, Private collection

the Concert, Marc Chagall, 1957, oil on canvas, Private collection

Little did I realise at the time that I would myself become an artist - I was a linguist, a writer and many other things but not yet an artist. However, the more deeply I became immersed in the world of art, the more I found it to be deeply satisfying and rewarding. So it was with amusement and interest that I recently read of yet another study which confirms that creative people live longer. In fact, they apparently live on average seven years longer than the average population. And that is not all. More sexually attractive, more charismatic, and better at finding new ways to solve problems: artists are no longer just regarded as bohemians, apparently!

The aspects of problem solving make a lot of sense, in fact. New ideas being formed show up as activity in the front part of the brain, which in turn are changed and assimilated by the memory and experiences part of the brain, found in the centre of the brain. All this activity means that the various neural connections are activated and enhanced. Everybody can be creative, artists don't have any exclusivity in this domain, and everyone can enhance their brain activity. If you go for a random walk or do something you don't normally do, avoiding any preconceived plan or pattern, you open the way for new ways of seeing or reacting to the world about you.

Interestingly, this ability to embrace new concepts and then assimilated and remember them has also led humans (and a few other primates) to be one of the only species able to perceive reds and yellows in the colour spectrum. It is theorised that man watched fruits turning red or yellow and learned that that was a sign of the fruit being ripe enough to eat. In turn, the fruits evolved to ensure that their signs of ripeness, reds and yellows, were clearly visible: they would then be eaten and their seeds disseminated for furtherance of the species.