People taking in Barnett Newman's "The Voice" [1950]

Bruce Louis for Art-Sheep

Painter Barnett Newman was famous about spending his career running after the sublime. Merriam-Webster ‘s definition of this feeling is one “tending to inspire awe”. Newman was after integrating this beautiful experience into his art and subsequently communicating it to the viewers. Standing in front of one of his massive “zip” paintings today, one can feel effortlessly the sensation his art was soaked in.

People taking in Barnett Newman's "The Voice" [1950]
People taking in Barnett Newman’s “The Voice” [1950]

But it seems that when gazing at Newman’s work one might not only have psychological gains but physical ones as well. “Positive Affect and Markers of Inflammation: Discrete Positive Emotions Predict Lower Levels of Inflammatory Cytokines” is a new study published in the journal “Emotion” and it found that ventures that stimulate awe can in truth improve the immune system.
This conclusion was reached by scientists at the University of California, Berkeley through experiments that involved 200 young adults. The participants were initially asked simple questions about their day, like what they and how they felt about doing it and other emotions they had during the day. Following that, was a gum and cheek tissue sample taking which was tested for their levels of cytokines -proteins that are the cause of inflammation when a threat is perceived, or, in plain words, a warning for the immune system to start working harder. When there is a strong presence of cytokines it means that the body is in battle with an infection or a disease, while excessive amounts indicate type-2 diabetes, heart disease, arthritis and Alzheimer’s. Cytokines have also been associated with depression. They are thought to be responsible for obstructing valuable mood-controlling hormones and neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin.

Detail of "Cathedra" [1951]
Detail of “Cathedra” [1951]
"Dionysius" [1949]
“Dionysius” [1949]

It was discovered by the researches that those who accounted for having experienced positive emotions, and in particular awe, had some of the lowest levels of cytokines. Lead author Jennifer Stellar explains in a statement that the feeling of awe is important due to its association “with curiosity and a desire to explore, suggesting antithetical behavioural responses to those found during inflammation, where individuals typically withdraw from others in their environment”. What the study suggests with its results is that activities which encourage such feelings -like absorbing a Barnett Newman work of art- may as well be as health-giving as going to the gym.
“That awe, wonder and beauty promote healthier levels of cytokines suggests that the things we do to experience these emotions — a walk in nature, losing oneself in music, beholding art — has a direct influence upon health and life expectancy”, University of California, Berkeley psychologist and co-author of the study Dacher Keltner says.
But, as expected, there are warnings. The size of the sample is small and also, the researchers themselves confess that there is the possibility of having low levels of cytokines which makes people feel happier and not the opposite. Nevertheless, the fact that a regular dose of art can possibly a have a physical impact on our bodies is compelling. Looks like Newman might have made quite an important discovery out of pure, artistic instinct.

via hyperallergic

"Onement I" [1948]
“Onement I” [1948]
"Who's Afraid Of Red, Yellow And Blue"
“Who’s Afraid Of Red, Yellow And Blue”