Can Art Make You a Better Person?

art make you a better person

How can art make you a better person? And more importantly, how does it play a role in cultivating decency? I’ve got four reasons to share with you.

You’re reading the transcript of an episode of the How to Be a Better Person podcast. If you’d rather listen, click the play button below.

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The first is that art helps you feel connected to other people

And connection is one of our primal needs. We all long to feel seen, heard, understood, and part of a community, and engaging with art creates a space for us to do all of those things. When we read or watch a story about a character who maybe is completely different than we are–in terms of gender, class, nationality, personality, what have you–but they do or say or feel something we can identify with, it’s a reminder that we are all humans. When we hear a song lyric that reminds us of something we’ve lived or felt, it makes us feel less alone. In this way, engaging with art can be like a hug for your psyche.

Art can also help you see life through someone else’s perspective

And get your eyes opened to what life is like for people who aren’t you. It’s like an empathy vitamin–you feel for the mother who is searching for her lost child, or the man who got wrongly accused and sent to prison, or the person from the 18th century whose face is gazing out at you through a portrait. And that’s going to help open your heart to people you might not otherwise think much about. It’s like the Grinch–it can help your heart grow two sizes. And now that I think about it, it was the Who’s singing that really got the Grinch in the end, wasn’t it? See? That’s the power of art!

One of the main reasons I turn to movies or music or books or paintings is that it helps you FEEL in general

The way a line from a song can make you cry, or a character in a book can remind you of someone you miss, or a painting can make you feel soothed, or challenged. Getting those feels from art helps you acknowledge the emotions you might otherwise want to avoid, and helps you do it in a way that’s low-stakes, so that when you interact with people who might trigger those feelings you’re already well-versed. It’s like taking your emotions out for a nice stroll–you feel healthier afterward.

And let’s not forget that art can also teach us things about the world that we would never otherwise encounter

Whether it’s a documentary about mushrooms, or a movie about drug trafficking, or protest art that’s highlighting an injustice that doesn’t directly impact our day-to-day life but that is nonetheless happening and affecting a large group of other people.

Remembering our connection to each other, understanding another person’s point of view that you may never have considered before, feeling your emotions, learning about things we didn’t know about before–these are all important parts of developing as a human. And best of all, it comes wrapped in these packages that are often beautiful and lovingly crafted, that speak to more than just our minds but also to our hearts and the part of us that transcends blood and bone.

I hope that giving some thought to the deeper meaning of art will either help inspire you to seek it out, or to help you feel better about the time you spend engaging with it, or both.

The rest of this week on the podcast, I’m going to share some surprising ways you can engage with art

I’ll also share the 5 books that I read in 2021 that I know helped me be a better person. And, my interview this week is such a love letter to reading. I’m talking with Becky Karush, who is a writing teacher and the host of the fabulous Read to Me podcast, where every week she reads a short passage of writing and then talks about all the reasons why she loves it.

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