How can art help you nurture your emotional awareness?

Research from the Mental Health Foundation highlights that being aware of our feelings and emotions can play a protective role for our mental health. Yet, we are never really given any formal emotional education. Your sort of just expected to understand what’s going on in your head. And as we all know, it isn’t always straight forward to figure out what’s happening in there! 

A foundational element of developing your emotional intelligence is our capacity to identify our emotions as they happen. One way to start nurturing these skills is to look at more art! 

Find connections with those who have gone before

One of the pernicious effects of ‘negative’ emotions is their tendency to convince us we’re completely alone in how we feel. However, in reality, this is never the case. Circumstances may differ, but there are threads of human experience that connect us through the years and across the centuries. Delving into artistic explorations of loneliness, anxiety and sadness can expose us to different perspectives. Broadening our understanding and providing new frames of reference for our inner emotional lives.

Explore emotions that are difficult to describe

I found I could say things with colour and shapes that I couldn’t say any other way; things I had no words for – Georgia O’Keefe

If you’re new to actively managing your emotions, figuring out the right labels can be difficult at first. Sometimes we don’t have the words. Viewing art can provide avenues for refining your emotional vocabulary. A great exercise I heard about on a podcast, was challenging yourself to sit in front of a new artwork for 10mins. No headphones, just looking. What emerges to you in the stillness?

A woman looks at images of black and white photography in a gallery. The gallery walls are bright yellow.


Practice analysing artwork to deepen your emotional response

Research has demonstrated that when we look at art, our brain tries to actively place ourselves inside the work. ‘This placement occurs through a process known as embodied cognition, in which mirror neurons in the brain turn things like action, movement, and energy you see in art into actual emotions you can feel.’ Interestingly the more you actively analyse the artwork as you look at it, the stronger the impact will be on your brain. The University of Arizona suggests, describing what you’re seeing and what you aren’t. Thinking about what the piece may represent and what it says about the artist. Discussing the work with others, comparing it to other artworks and your own life experiences.

How can you get some more art in your life this month? For the London based folks, here are three exhibitions to check out: 

Beatrix Potter: Drawn to Nature - Exhibition at South Kensington · V&A (

Cezanne | Tate Modern

Making Modernism | Exhibition | Royal Academy of Arts

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published