When I spend the day in my studio — my favorite kind of day — I like to have some kind of noise for company. I play my favorite stations on Pandora, or I listen to an audio book, or I have the TV on. Lately, I have been playing a British mystery series call New Tricks, as in teaching old dogs. It’s a charming show about a beautiful female police superintendent in charge of a group of retired policemen who successfully solve cold cases. It’s well-written, heartwarming and I can go through the episodes without looking up from my canvas. It’s perfect studio noise, and it runs for twelve seasons.
I like the premise and the title, New Tricks, which serves as very good advice. Recent studies are suggesting the benefits of exercising the brain by learning skills that are new to us — and the more challenging, the better. Learning new tasks, especially mentally challenging ones, are thought to improve cognitive functioning. By actively engaging in the demanding mental activity of mastering a new endeavor, we can help keep our minds sharp as we get older, and experts believe continued and challenging learning can aid in keeping a stronger memory.
Engaging the brain with unaccustomed activity is believed to stimulate and strengthen communication between brain cells. “It seems it is not enough just to get out and do something — it is important to get out and do something that is unfamiliar and mentally challenging,” says Denise Park, psychologist and lead researcher at University of Texas, Dallas, in a Psychological Sciences article. “When you are inside your comfort zone you may be outside of the enhancement zone.”
As artists, it can be relatively easy to find mentally activity that is challenging enough to exercise our brains. Trying or mastering a new medium, method or subject matter as long as it pushes us out of our comfort zone and involves skills we don’t usually use can aid in maintaining brain fitness. And, artists’ creativity is an added benefit since creative activities are thought to reduce stress and increase positive emotions.
So, start something different. Challenge yourself. Find new tricks. Make a new kind of art to help you live longer, healthier and happier.
As Henry Ford said, “Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young.”
Artist Ora Sorensen (orasorensen.com) was born in New York but grew up overseas. She has owned a gallery in Delray Beach, Florida for 20 years, and has also been represented by other galleries across the country. Sorensen now lives and paints in North Carolina, and her paintings are collected worldwide and have been shown in numerous exhibitions.