What happens to your brain on art? with Ivy Ross and Susan Magsamen (Transcript)

ReThinking with Adam Grant
What happens to your brain on art? with Ivy Ross and Susan Magsamen
December 12, 2023

[00:00:00] Adam Grant:
Hey everyone, it's Adam Grant. Welcome back to ReThinking, my podcast on the science of what makes us tick. I'm an organizational psychologist, and I'm taking you inside the minds of fascinating people to explore new thoughts and new ways of thinking. My guests today are Susan Magsamen and Ivy Ross, authors of the New York Times bestseller, Your Brain on Art.

Ivy is Vice President of Hardware Design at Google, and she's also an accomplished jewelry designer. Her work is featured at museums around the world, including the Smithsonian.

Susan is the executive director of the International Arts + Mind Lab at Johns Hopkins University, where she brings together scientists and artists to grow the emerging field of neuroaesthetics. Our conversation is about the cognitive effects of art. And some creative ways of opening our minds.

It’s not every day I get to talk with a neuroaesthetics expert and a star jewelry designer turned Google hardware specialist.

[00:01:11] Susan Magsamen:
Really? You don't talk to those people every day?

[00:01:11] Adam Grant:
I mean, to be honest, Susan, I didn't even know those categories of people existed.

[00:01:16] Susan Magsamen:
It’s good we’re still creating new worlds.

[00:01:18] Adam Grant:
So I, I have so many questions for both of you and a ton to learn in this conversation, but let me begin by asking, how did you get interested in the neuroscience of art?

[00:01:30] Susan Magsamen:
So maybe I'll start. Um, you know, I've always been really moved by nature. Nature's been kind of a throughline for me my whole life, and I think feeling sun on my face and the smell of flowers, and I felt most alive there. But when I… I’m a twin. And when I was 12 years old, my sister had a very serious farming accident and almost lost her leg.

And if you know anything about twins, you know that we understand each other without words. We can sp—send messages to each other. Um, you know, we just read each other and, you know, we're born in relationship. And so when that happened, my sister really shut down her, now we know it, the BRCA region of her brain shut down.

She wasn't able to find words for what was happening to her, and I really felt very disconnected to the person that I was closest to. And so, um, my mom suggested that she start drawing to just get stuff out. My mom's a poet, not a professional poet, but was always writing poetry and that was really helpful for her.

But my sister started to draw these things that there were no words for, and they were symbols and metaphors, and they became ways for her to access what she was feeling. But it was also ways for me to know what she was feeling. As a very young age, I realized that there's lots of ways to share ourselves besides yapping and talking and trying to find the right words. And um, and that really, really changed my life and changed how I started to understand the world around me.

[00:03:01] Adam Grant:
Amazing. And Ivy?

[00:03:03] Ivy Ross:
Yeah. And I started as an artist and was always a little creative creature in my bedroom, making things as a way of expressing myself, and then as I entered the corporate design world, and most recently, instead of talking to the team about design thinking, started talking about design feelings.

Let's talk about how objects and things feel, because I think we've been optimizing for productivity and efficiency since the Industrial Revolution and pushed some of the sensorial nature of ourselves aside, and then I could just feel that we are craving that. And so even in how we design our hardware at Google, it's what textures can we add to a product so it's not just one surface.

I, too, did not know of this word called neuroaesthetics. I was just intuitively, um, understanding it until Susan reached out on LinkedIn and said she was with the Arts and Mind Lab. And I was like, “What is that?” Two of my favorite subjects together because I was, I studied Jungian psychology and I was an artist, and it's like wow, in one place, and I swiped right, and it led what was supposed to be a 30 minute conversation led to a three hour conversation that led to a salon in my home between artists and scientists, which led to this book.

[00:04:31] Adam Grant:
Wow, that's quite a connection. Well, I have to say, I think this book is maybe the best case I've ever read for putting an A in STEM. I, I came away from the book thinking, like, science, technology, engineering, and math are incomplete without the arts. And I imagine I'm preaching to the choir on that one.

[00:04:51] Ivy Ross:
Yes. Yeah. Well, thank you for saying that 'cause that is the greatest gift. We just spoke at a Women in Data Science conference, and we said to the woman organizing it, “Why do you want us to be the keynote speaker?”

And she said, “Because you wouldn't believe this, Ivy. But people who are studying computer science and data science, they have dropped doing art or playing their guitar, kind of what their soul was happy doing because they're led to believe, like, oh my God, we have to focus on just computer science or just understanding data.”

And it's quite opposite, because to your point, Adam, we all have to be whole people. And we need the other side. And the scary thing is, also, people who are coding and getting into this field to not have the balance of the arts, we're gonna be in trouble, not only for their own health and wellness, 'cause we now know what it does to our brain and body, but for the sake of society.

[00:05:46] Susan Magsamen:
It's how we are physiologically, psychologically wired. You can't learn well without these kinds of stimuli. You can't find, you can't be creative. We're, we've left so much of our human capacity on the table because we've sort of stripped this out in all these different areas of our lives and, and I think, you know. It’s, it’s data scientists, but it's also people that are going into different fields, all, all fields that are starting to understand that this makes them, uh, more collaborative, more creative, more connected.

And I think that we're starting to see a shift back towards the beginning, barely at the beginning, of understanding the profound neurobiological impacts of these things that we've just kind of been, been told aren't as essential.

[00:06:30] Ivy Ross:
Or people stopped making art because they felt they weren't “good at it”, quote-unquote, and really to learn that it, it's not about being proficient at something. It's the act of doing it that, uh, changes the brain and body. So, so many people have written us and said, “Thank you for giving me permission to make art again.”

[00:06:49] Adam Grant:
You mentioned creativity as one of the benefits of engaging with the arts. And I immediately started thinking about this Ruth Bernstein et al. finding about what differentiates Nobel Prize winning scientists from their peers, and there's a stunning set of patterns around just the likelihood of have, of having artistic hobbies.

Nobel Prize winners are twice as likely to play a musical instrument as their peers. They're seven times as likely to draw or paint, 12 times as likely to write fiction or poetry, and—get this—22 times as likely to perform as actors, dancers, or, yes, magicians.

[00:07:26] Ivy Ross:
Wow! Cool.

[00:07:26] Adam Grant:
As a former magician, I was tremendously excited by that last finding, but—

[00:07:30] Ivy Ross:
I love that!

[00:07:30] Adam Grant:
My first instinct as a, as a psychologist is to say correlation is not causation. This is probably just a signal of a creative personality, and the kinds of people who have breakthrough scientific insights are also drawn to expressing themselves creatively and being curious about the arts.

I think your work suggests another factor at play here, which is there may actually be a, at least a small causal effect of engagement in the arts on your scientific creativity. Talk to me about that.

[00:07:58] Susan Magsamen:
That's really interesting. Well, you know, Jonas Salk, um, when he was really struggling to, to, to work on the polio vaccine, you know, he was working like in a basement in New Jersey, and it was not the greatest environment.

He went to Umbria and walked the cloister and really believed that it was that space and that aesthetic experience that allowing his brain to go to kind of a, a, a resting state that really allowed him to be able to come back and have that aha moment.

And we've seen that, you know, over and over again where, where there's this need for, um, a different way of knowing, mo—and moving into a flow state. Moving into a timeless liminal space, which is where you go when you're really engaged in some kind of art experience. And as Ivy said, whether you're the maker or the beholder, that's really sort of an incredible thing. And so, you know, I think we often too think that researchers are so logical and so cognitive, but researchers and scientists, you know, some of these Nobel Prize winners in different categories are incredibly creative, right?

That, that, that’s how they get to their solutions. That's how they get to their problem solving and trying trial and error, seeing what works and doesn't work. And I think we've sort of categorized artists as the creative and then everybody else isn't. And so I think we've gotta change that paradigm too, because it doesn't hold when you really start to untangle it.

[00:09:27] Ivy Ross:
Art experiences tend to be salient experiences that literally make new synapses in the brain. So I think being engaged in the arts not only gets you more in touch with yourself and self-expression, but it's also almost exercising that muscle of firing these new synapses because they're new experiences, which is helpful when you're trying to create, uh, breakthrough moments.

[00:09:58] Susan Magsamen:
Um, and I think that's where experiential learning is so important too. Like, you can't have enough, uh, wonderful experiences that are str—really building those strong neural pathways.

[00:10:09] Adam Grant:
I love the phrase “your brain on art”. Um, I, I guess it reminded me of watching those, your brain on drugs commercials as a kid. And this is the positive alternative. What happens to my brain on art?

[00:10:20] Susan Magsamen:
So it's a, a lot of neurons that you come into this world with, and the only way that you really create those synaptic connections and strong neural pathways is through your sensory systems, right? So how you bring the world in.

It turns out that the most salient experiences are these highly aesthetic experiences, and arts fall into that category. Now, sometimes, salient experiences can be traumatic too, right? So I, I, it's not all salient experiences are positive, and not all art experiences necessarily are positive, but they, but they are the ones that resonate and build these synaptic connections that create, that connect the neurons.

See, and we're starting to see those neural pathways are the things that connect all the different parts of the brain. And so when you're thinking about structure and function, there’s neural pathways that are being built, but you're also activating other physiological systems like the circulatory system, the respiratory system, the e-endocrine and muscular systems.

And so what's amazing about these art experiences is they have a neurobiological physiological impact, and it's simultaneous. So where you know, certain drugs might, uh, activate a particular neurotransmitter, different arts experiences might be igniting the reward system, so it's igniting things like, uh, dopamine or serotonin or oxytocin, but it may also at the same time be activating something like cortisol and lowering cortisol.

So, the complexity of these experiences from a neurobiological perspective are quite extraordinary. And I think because we now have some additional technology to get inside our heads, we're starting to understand the basic science. So, we talk about this idea that there's an art for that. You know, if you understand the basic physiology, you can start to think about, well, how do you use this to activate against different, um, problems that you're trying to solve for, or issues that you're trying to bring forward in your life? Whether that's wellbeing or flourishing or learning, or something that might be around some kind of health issue.

[00:12:26] Adam Grant:
Heh. You talk a lot about how engagement with art can be stress reducing, and I was shocked by tuning forks of all things.

[00:12:35] Ivy Ross:
I think you're referring to the story in the book where I carry tuning forks in my bag when I've worked at various corporations to alleviate stress. So, uh, essentially, I’ve been saying sound and vibration for about 30 years, and they're now finding out potentially that sound releases nitric oxide, which puts you into a relaxed state.

But my tuning forks, they're a C and a G, which is known to be potentially the sound that's at the center of the Earth's core. And you strike them on a hockey puck and hold each one to each ear and circulate it, and immediately you feel your entire blood pressure, your nervous system just absolutely relax.

And so it's probably one of the most immediate remedies that I've seen for stress re—other than walking out in nature. It's been shown that 15 minutes in nature lowers the cortisol level, but tuning forks is, is definitely something handy to have in your, on you, in your briefcase.

[00:13:37] Susan Magsamen:
I just wanna, like, add to that because, you know, I think sometimes people are like the arts, they're so soft, or “This is woo woo,” or “Sure, that's gonna work,” right? But I think when you start to apply some of the scientific methods that are helping to understand why that works, you kind of go, “Oh my God, the things that, you know, we were told not to do, that were waste of time or that seemed irrelevant, turn out to be incredibly important,” like humming and doodling and singing in the shower.

This tuning fork piece is interesting to me because you could say, oh, well it's a placebo effect, but what we do know is that sound is vibration and we are so wired for resonance. You know, we're 60% water. So it makes so much sense, and I think that's what a lot of people also have, uh, resonated with the book, is that these are things that we've intuitively and felt and knew worked. But now we're really being able to add another layer of knowing to this work where you go, “Ah, I can understand where I could use this as a tool in my pocket to help with something that has felt intractable.” And that doesn't require different kinds of other interventions, like whether that's pharmacological or surgeries. I mean, it's kind of a “yes, and…” And so I think that's, that's also really one of the things the book is lifting up.

[00:14:57] Ivy Ross:
We realized when did even the word art come into play? Because before we had the word, it was the way we lived. We sang, we danced, we told stories, we did graphics in caves. We didn't have to call it art. It was the way we expressed ourselves. And so there's something there. I do believe we're at a time where we have to go back a little to move forward.

[00:15:19] Adam Grant:
This goes to the question of does the medium matter? What are the implications of different types of art? So maybe to lead into this, one of my favorite findings from personality psychology is that if you're interested in markers of openness to new experiences and curiosity, one of the clearest ones across cultures is hav—having aesthetic chills. The shivers on your spine or goosebumps, and some people get them when listening to beautiful music or when engaging with poetry, or when going to a museum. I get them mostly when looking at nature or sometimes outer space or extraordinary architecture, but more often from what I think is a brilliant idea.

And I'm like, “Okay, wait a minute.” So, these experiences are not all created equal, even though physiologically we might all look the same when we have the, these aesthetic chills. So I wondered, like, how, how you think about that and how I know what kind of artistic engagement is relevant to me.

[00:16:19] Susan Magsamen:
Anjan Chatterjee, who is at the University of Pennsylvania, um, started to look at some of this with his aesthetic triad, the theoretical model that kind of says, “Why is my perch uniquely my perch?”

And he combined kind of three circles in a Venn diagram with that peak experience at the middle, which, as you're describing it, I'm hearing awe, and it's kind of a combination of things that you know, so where you come from and what you've experienced, your sensorial responses to those, and they can be very different, right?

Like you might have better hearing acuity or better visual acuity, where I might have more tactile acuity. We all have sort of a honing of our physiology that's uniquely ours, as is our cultural backgrounds and our elective experiences. And then the third is you, like what matters to you, what's important to you, and, and how do you sort of value that in terms of importance?

And at the center of those is this sort of peak experience. And so I think that the arts and aesthetics probably are one of the most personalized medicines that we can have because it really does reflect us individually. And I love that. And I'll just give one other example that I think illustrates this.

There's so many great anecdotal reports around autobiographical music and dementia or Alzheimer's where people just light up and they wake up. It's as much of an awakening for, for that time. But it's different music based on where you come from, what you know, what you've experienced.

[00:17:50] Ivy Ross:
And I have to say, Adam, I absolutely get those chills. I've made business decisions based on those chills, so I use it as my guiding light. I know exactly what you mean, but the beauty of this is that when we say art, it's not just visual art, it’s architecture as well as all of these art modalities… Singing, dancing, painting, sculpting. It's really about what makes you e—more connected to yourself and allows you to self-express.

[00:18:18] Susan Magsamen:
And there are art forms that are being used for specific things. So the form may be, like, singing for Alzheimer's as an example, but it's the contextual cultural element that differentiates, or dancing in Parkinson's, right? We know that dancing in Parkinson's increases gait and cognition and mood and even sleep.

So, there are art forms that are being used for specific things. What Ivy's also talking about, though, is how you use art as practice, how you use it in your daily life for flourishing, for creating a sense of ease or comfort or relaxing. And so I think what's so amazing about this work to me is that it's ubiquitous. It really does fit in every part of our life if we allow for that. And I just love that you said curiosity 'cause I think that is one of the drivers in, in this work is being curious and being willing to play around and explore kind of your sensory systems. And to be a maker and a beholder.

That's what Ivy and I call the aesthetic mindset. And so being open to that is really important.

[00:19:23] Ivy Ross:
And you know, we learned even from Sharon Salzberg that art is the highest form of meditation.

[00:19:28] Adam Grant:
I’m really drawn to the idea that nature has a universal effect, but art has a much more particular and idiosyncratic one. And you're making me feel like it's not entirely a terrible thing that I walk into a museum and I look at a painting, and I think it's amazing that you could create that, but I don't know why you wanted to.

And I feel nothing looking at this, like, why am I cooped up in a room—

[00:19:53] Ivy Ross:

[00:19:54] Adam Grant:
—when I could be looking at the, the actual landscape or mountain or ocean that you painted? Uh, like, it doesn't do anything for me.

[00:19:59] Susan Magsamen:
The average amount of time that someone looks at a piece of art in a museum is seconds. So, if you spend time really understanding how it makes you feel, and it, it's, I think it's about personal growth, but also about understanding the other, so empathy and perspective taking and how that can help us be more whole human beings and, and this idea of meaning making. You know, I think that right now the world is really crazy and maybe crazier than ever. And how do you make sense? How do you make meaning? How do you get a respite? And that's where I think beholding can be also helpful as well as making.

[00:20:36] Ivy Ross:
And, you know, nature is the most neuroaesthetic place you could be because it alivens the senses. It has shape, texture, temperature, sound. It, it encompasses all of your sensory systems, which, as E.O. Wilson says, we have grown up there. And so it's no wonder that these systems are so important for us to feel healthy and alive. And nature is a great place to feel that.

[00:21:04] Adam Grant:
There's a, there's a Graddy and Lieberman paper that looks at, uh, what happens to paintings that artists make in the year after losing a relative or a close friend. And not only did they fail to find evidence for a benefit of being a tortured artist, they find a cost. I think on average, the paintings they do in the first year, this is French and American artists, the paintings they do in the first year after losing someone close to them sell for about 50% less.

[00:21:30] Susan Magsamen:

[00:21:31] Adam Grant:
Now, we don't know whether people find the topics sad or whether, you know, the, the grief actually constrained their creativity, but that does not track with the idea that artists have to suffer from, from mental health challenges in order to be creative. I, I do think there's some work on poets being a potential exception to that, um, that there is a possibility that in their most depressive periods, sometimes the, the poignance of their poetry increased.

[00:22:00] Susan Magsamen:
That’s interesting because professional artists that are making their living at art, there is a financial value that's put on that work. Right? Which isn't to say that it's not incredibly valuable to the artists to make that work, but whether it's gonna sell, whether it's seemed as commercially viable or aesthetically pleasing—whatever that means, right—is a different question.

Yet you look at somebody like Van Gogh who suffered mightily, and he didn't sell a painting when he was alive. You know, if people didn't get it… And it, and then his, you know, his brother inherited the work and then his brother died and the sister-in-law was the one that went to a gallery owner and said, "This work moves me. I get this. I feel these emotions.” And when Van Gogh's work finally came out, and it was touching that feeling, people really responded to it, but it took a long time for that to kind of happen. And I think it can be very arbitrary, you know what, what becomes popular.

[00:23:06] Adam Grant:
So I think it's time for a lightning round if you're up for it. First question is, what is the worst advice you've ever gotten?

[00:23:13] Ivy Ross:
Don’t express yourself.

[00:21:14] Susan Magsamen:

[00:23:15] Adam Grant:
Hahaha. Touché. What's a form of art that more of us should engage with or even be aware of?

[00:23:22] Susan Magsamen:
Dancing. Dancing.

[00:23:24] Adam Grant:
Favorite artist?

[00:23:25] Susan Magsamen:
Mary Oliver.

[00:23:27] Adam Grant:
Do you have a favorite exhibit?

[00:23:28] Ivy Ross:
There was one called Ashes and Snow by a photographer, Gregory Colbert, years ago that was in a shipping container. It was an incredible immersive environment. It was sound, images. I mean, it was the most neuroaesthetic experience. And I think this was about 20 years ago in New York, but it was called Ashes and Snow.

[00:23:49] Susan Magsamen:
I'm gonna say the Sagrada Familia 'cause I was just there. And if you wanna be in awe, everybody's head was up.

[00:23:57] Adam Grant:
What's something you've rethought over the course of doing all this work on art and the brain?

[00:24:01] Susan Magsamen:
I think I've doubled down on this idea of feeling. People talk sometimes about six main feelings. We probably have more like 30,000 feelings, is that the complexity of human nature is so extraordinary.

And to be open to all of these feelings, which takes bravery, right? And to be connected to others who are also having these feelings that maybe they don't express or share, but to, to really think about what self-expression is of your truest sense, your truest feelings, and what that does for us in terms of connecting us to each other.

[00:24:39] Ivy Ross:
And I would say it, it renewed my need to play more.

[00:24:44] Adam Grant:
And what's a question you have for me?

[00:24:46] Susan Magsamen:
What's your favorite art form?

[00:24:48] Adam Grant:
Well, magic, clearly, but after magic it's probably poetry and musical theater.

[00:24:55] Ivy Ross:
I would love to know: before you read this book, did you intuitively know how important the arts were from your other studies?

[00:25:06] Adam Grant:
I think I’ve felt like the arts have gotten short shrift, and I feel that way about the humanities too, in an increasingly—

[00:25:14] Ivy Ross:

[00:25:14] Adam Grant:
—technological world. I, I hadn't thought hard about the neuroscience component and, you know, really unpacking the, the physiology of why engaging with art affects the way we think, feel, and act. That was a big takeaway for me of your book.

[00:25:31] Susan Magsamen:
Can I ask you: what, if anything, are you doing differently or seeing differently because you now know that information?

[00:25:39] Adam Grant:
One thing I started doing that I wasn't doing before was playing Color Cue with our kids. Uh, it's Sudoku, more or less. It feels like there's a little bit of aesthetic engagement, but it also appeals to, I guess, like, my left brain tendency to wanna solve puzzles and sort of use logical reasoning to rule out options.

And it's been a lot of fun. And what, what I've really loved about it is, you know, the way that, like, sometimes you just look at a pattern and you immediately know what's missing or what belongs and thinking it through won't get you there.

[00:26:14] Ivy Ross:
That’s beautiful.

[00:26:14] Adam Grant:
I think you make a compelling case that even if 15 or 45 minutes of art, um, not even having to do it daily, but monthly art experiences can have a whole range of psychological benefits. What should parents do with that knowledge with their kids at home?

[00:26:31] Susan Magsamen:
You know, home is a place where there's a lot of different states of mind that are really important for kids. So I think of food, for example, as a way to really use an aesthetic experience. Think about how you prepare food, how you think about taste, you know, how you come together in rituals and traditions around food. Eating together creates more collaboration. It makes people more generous, it makes them more tolerant. How do you start to help kids learn those social skills that are so important? And using something like food and mealtime and those rituals, I think, is really important.

I think tapping into the parasympathetic nervous system with young people is really important, so helping them understand that getting in the shower, taking a bath is really lowering their cortisol. Helping them regulate their emotions is super important for young kids and showing them that light sources, lowering light sources, finding the right light sources, certain scents, and, and you don't have to preach it to kids.

One of my kids always says to me, “You know, mom, this is not a teaching moment.” But you can. You can model it, right? You can do it. And I think if you start to set those things up for kids, it makes a really big difference about how they start to take on those activities as part of their rituals and their practices.

[00:27:46] Ivy Ross:
And I would say expose them to as many different kinds of art modalities, crayons, clay, collage. I know something my dad did is he paid attention to what got my attention, and then the next day I had more of that on my doorstep in my room because this idea about giving kids a selection of ways to make and express themselves, and then when you find what they connect with, 'cause those little souls, they know exactly who they are. I, I think as they get older, we do things to them that strips them of that. But while they know who they are, to amplify that at all costs so that they stay true to that would be my advice.

[00:28:32] Adam Grant:
Mm-hm. And then at school, it seems like art is the first thing to go when there's a budget cut or a financial crisis. And I think that leaves a lot of teachers scrambling to try to figure out how do we fill in those gaps.

[00:28:46] Ivy Ross:
Yeah. In fact, we just spoke at the Getty Museum to 500 California school superintendents, 'cause California is putting, uh, money into getting one art teacher into every school. And what we begged them to do is not just check the box to get an art teacher, but use that mindset of art throughout the entire program because the, you know, art is about embodying things. And so whether it's science or math, to use art as a way to embody ideas is what I think we should be doing in our school system.

Also, not slapping kids' hands for doodling because, actually, a fun fact I found out through doing this book with Susan is that when you are doodling, you're actually remembering what you're listening to much better.

[00:29:32] Susan Magsamen:
And also I think the spaces that schools create make a huge different. These ideas around enriched environments and making sure that the spaces really are enriched. They're novel, they have surprise, they change.

And I think helping educators feel more comfortable with that. So it's not the art teacher, it's not enrichment, but it's really integrated into all of these different spaces. And if you buy this argument that we're making, which is that we're wired for art, and it's how we learn and grow and change, kids will learn better.

And that's really what you want. You want them to be great learners and to have that neuroplasticity and to have resiliency, to have better SEL, you know, social emotional skills and that happens through these art experiences.

[00:30:19] Ivy Ross:
And also to help them understand the world is full of possibilities. Because right now, that's what we need. We need people to be imaginative and understand possibilities.

[00:30:29] Adam Grant:
Well, I have to say I'm, I'm pretty encouraged by one of these revelations in particular as a lifelong doodler.

[00:30:36] Ivy Ross:
Oh, really?

[00:30:37] Adam Grant:

[00:30:38] Ivy Ross:

[00:30:39] Adam Grant:
I, I think this is relevant at work, not just at school.

[00:30:41] Ivy Ross:

[00:30:41] Susan Magsamen:
Oh, yeah. I can't tell you how many times I've been sitting in a meeting, and y’know, started drawing cubes or faces, and then I feel like I have to, I have to cover the paper because somebody's gonna think that I'm distracted or not paying attention. I'm like, “No, this is how I focus.”

[00:30:55] Susan Magsamen:
Mm-hm. Mm-hm.

[00:30:55] Ivy Ross:
Exactly. Exactly. It's amazing once you understand how the brain works.

[00:30:59] Susan Magsamen:
And we don't learn that, right? We don't learn sensory literacy, we don't learn brain literacy. Um, we don't know it as kids. We don't know it as adults. And so when you do, you make better decisions. And what, and there's also some great epidemiology work that talks about how when youth make art and they make it on a, you know, consistent basis, they actually stay in school longer, they do better in school, and they actually make better decisions across their lives.

[00:31:26] Adam Grant:
One other thing I didn't expect from reading your book was it actually gave me a new lens on podcasting. I never thought about it as an aesthetic experience for people. I guess I never really thought about sound as an aesthetic medium, but, ha, one of the things I've learned from our producers over the years is that some of the work they do is making audio art. And I think that's what a great podcast often does. So thank you for that.

[00:31:52] Ivy Ross:
Absolutely. Dialing in and tuning in is an art form in terms of the depth of the sound, the range of sound, absolutely. And I think we're not conscious of it, but you can tell the good ones between the, the person's voice and the technical work.

[00:32:07] Susan Magsamen:
Also besides the sound, which I think is a really beautiful thing, you know, the way your voice resonates and, and really flows into us, this is an improv. You know, I don't know what you're gonna say. Ivy doesn't know what you're gonna say. It is improv, right? And so we're creating something wholly new. And I think that's really powerful too. You know, we're making art together, and, you know, conversation is art, and so, there's something really beautiful about that in the nature of it.

[00:32:36] Adam Grant:
I think so too. And yeah, I mean, I love improv. So this is obviously a natural fit for scratching that itch, but I just wanna thank you both for helping us all appreciate the importance of aesthetics in our lives and the stress reducing benefits are clear; the creativity upsides are clear. Um, but also, it just leads to a richer conversation. Uh, so thank you both.

[00:32:58] Susan Magsamen:
Thank you.

[00:32:59] Ivy Ross:
Thank you.

[00:32:59] Susan Magsamen:
Thank you for appreciating it.

[00:33:01] Ivy Ross:
Make more magic.

[00:33:02] Susan Magsamen:
Okay. Yeah.

[00:33:02] Adam Grant:
I won't take that literally, but thank you.

My takeaway from this discussion is that we need to stop thinking about art as just a hobby and start treating it as an important priority, not just because it's enjoyable, but because it expands our minds.

ReThinking is hosted by me, Adam Grant, and produced by TED with Cosmic Standard. Our team includes Colin Helms, Eliza Smith, Jacob Winik, Aja Simpson, Samiah Adams, Michelle Quint, Banban Cheng, Hannah Kingsley-Ma, Julia Dickerson, and Whitney Pennington Rodgers. This episode was produced and mixed by Cosmic Standard. Our fact checker is Paul Durbin. Original music by Hansdale Hsu and Allison Leyton-Brown.

[00:34:00] Susan Magsamen:
Dance, dance, dance. Dance, dance, dance.

[00:34:02] Ivy Ross:
Ah, I was gonna say the same thing. We're very, we, you know, Susan is a twin, and then after working with me, she says, now she's a triplet. It's scary.