A Visit to the Art Museum Makes You Healthier, and We Can Prove It!

High Museum of Art
High Museum of Art
Published in
5 min readMay 3, 2024


This Mental Health Awareness Month, Julia Forbes discusses how art museums can improve mental health.

By Julia Forbes, Associate Director, Institutional Research

Visiting art museums is good for your mental health! Research confirms that art museum visits

  • stimulate positive emotions and promote feelings of engagement,
  • reduce stress,
  • make you feel connected and less isolated, and
  • can lead to the building of a like-minded community. [1]
Photo by Alphonso Whitfield.

In his book The Value of Museums, museologist and researcher John Falk characterizes visiting an art museum as activating four dimensions of well-being: personal, intellectual, social, and physical. He shares that “for those people who utilize museums, the museum experience appears to consistently result in positive feelings, feelings that typically result in some combination of all these well-being-related outcomes.” [2]

In The New York Times bestseller Your Brain on Art, Susan Magsamen and Ivy Ross share their belief that the arts have the power to transform us. They talk about the four attributes of an aesthetic mindset: curiosity, playful exploration, sensory experiences and awareness, and engaging as a maker or a beholder. [3]

And at the national level, in January, the White House Domestic Policy Council and the National Endowment for the Arts convened an inaugural national summit, “Healing, Bridging, Thriving: A Summit on Arts and Culture in our Communities.” Leaders from all areas, including the public, gathered to talk about the valuable impact the arts can have on our daily lives. They spent the day exploring how the arts can contribute to our health and well-being, animate and strengthen our physical spaces, and support stronger communities.

How can you put this into practice in your life?

Even a short visit to a museum to spend time in the galleries looking at works of art and letting your mind engage with the artists’ ideas and stories or the colors and textures in the artworks can have a healing effect on your brain. If you need a little help getting started, use this simple approach to looking at art the next time you visit an art museum. Try some slow looking!

Slow Looking

  • Find a painting, drawing, sculpture, or decorative arts piece that you like the look of, get a positive feeling from, feel inspired by, or engages your senses in some way.
  • If you need help finding a work you like at the High, just use our fun and easy tool, heartmatch. It’s like a dating app for art and can quickly help you find something you like and even create a map to help you locate the work in the galleries.
  • Once you get to your chosen work of art, don’t read its label yet. While standing at least two feet away, spend one minute (maybe longer) closely looking at the artwork. The first few times you try this, you might even set a timer for yourself.
  • Start with where your eye is drawn first. Look slowly at each area of the work. Try to stay focused on the looking, really seeing.
  • Next, move in a little closer (but remember to keep about two feet away); then, step back and look from across the gallery; take the piece in from a few different perspectives.

After you complete your slow looking, ask yourself a few questions:

  • Does the work remind you of anything or anyone? Think about that for a bit.
  • Does the piece make you feel a certain way? Consider why.
  • Do you have questions about the piece? If so, check the wall label and see if it answers anything for you.

What’s really great about an art museum is that there are no right or wrong answers, and there’s no one way to experience or understand something. Our responses and feelings are valid, and that’s what keeps us coming back.

Want a more organized experience? Participate in a program. We have something for everyone at the High!

Oasis: This monthly program (takes place on the third Saturday starting in June 2024) offers you the opportunity to engage with art and mindfulness. Each program invites visitors for art-based contemplation and connection. Activities such as quiet gallery viewing, yoga, tai chi, sound baths, guided meditations centering works of art, mindful art making, and Seeing with Spirit lectures (conversations at the intersection of spirituality and art) offer different opportunities for rejuvenation.

Access for All: This is a free event for lifelong learners that takes place on the third Wednesday of every month and includes a suite of dynamic programs such as in-gallery conversations, art-making experiences, and interdisciplinary performances. Additionally, the High offer’s sensory-friendly hours for people who experience sensory sensitivity due to disability, neurodivergence, dementia, or mental health issues. Sensory-friendly hours take place outside of regular museum hours to allow for a quieter, less crowded experience of the museum. These events include hands-on experiences and other gallery activations that provide tactile exploration and consider the strengths of diverse learners.

Art Conversations: Join Conversation Pieces on the first Tuesday of the month to explore a work of art for thirty minutes. Take a guided tour with one of our trained docents, daily at 1 p.m., or enroll in one of our classes.

Friday Jazz: On the third Friday of each month, enjoy a drink and light bites, head to the galleries to explore the museum’s works on view, or join a docent-led tour for a detailed look at the collection. We also have live jazz performances featuring two musical areas where musicians play throughout the evening, layering notes and improvising melodies.

Arts For EveryBody

Join us in supporting a new national initiative called Arts For EveryBody. Click this link to take a very short survey about your participation in the arts, your well-being, and your perceptions about how these things are related.

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[1] Katherine N. Cotter and James O. Pawelski, “Art Museums as Institutions for Human Flourishing,” Journal of Positive Psychology 17, no. 2 (2022): 288–302, https://doi.org/10.1080/17439760.2021.2016911.

[2] John H. Falk, The Value of Museums: Enhancing Societal Well-Being (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2022). John H. Falk, “Why Well-Being Is at the Heart of Museum Experiences,” Alliance (blog), American Alliance of Museums, January 10, 2022, https://www.aam-us.org/2022/01/10/why-well-being-is-at-the-heart-of-museum-experiences/.

[3] Susan Magsamen and Ivy Ross, Your Brain on Art: How the Arts Transform Us (New York: Random House, 2023).



High Museum of Art
High Museum of Art

The High is Atlanta’s art museum, bringing creativity to your everyday. Our collections, exhibitions, and programs are always here for you.