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Leading scientist’s findings show art recreates the feeling of being in love

A detail from Morris & Co's Angeli Ministrantes Museum, National Art Pass

A detail from Morris & Co's Angeli Ministrantes Museum, National Art Pass

In a series of pioneering brain-mapping experiments, Semir Zeki, Professor of Neurobiology and Neuroaesthetics at University College London, has revealed what happens in our brains when we view art – and it can give us just as much pleasure as being in love.

Professor Zeki has found that viewing art triggers a surge of the feel-good neurotransmitter, dopamine, into the orbito-frontal cortex of the brain, resulting in feelings of intense pleasure, similar to the states of love and desire.

Subjects were shown images of art on a screen, including works by Botticelli, Constable, Turner and Cezanne, inside an MRI scanner where their brain activity was mapped.

The findings coincide with David Cameron’s interest in measuring the nation’s well-being, which led him to commission the ‘Happiness Index’ in April.

With art engendering such a feel good factor, the launch of the National Art Pass by national fundraising charity the Art Fund, giving free and discounted access to hundreds of normally-charging museums, galleries and exhibitions, is set to be good news for the Government, as well as the population at large.

“A nation’s well-being is not as easily measured as its GDP or economic growth, but it is probably more important. And our well-being is bound fast to the riches of our culture. Beautiful paintings that are sold and leave our country do not return, and their loss damages our collective health.  The Art Fund plays a vital role in retaining our priceless heritage and needs our generous support; our well-being depends on it.” said award-winning author Ian McEwan

Dr Stephen Deuchar, Director of the national fundraising charity the Art Fund, said ‘Works of art can have a great impact on individuals. Our role is to support museums and galleries build outstanding public collections, and in helping the public make the most of them.  Through the National Art Pass, which gives people free entry to over 200 museums, galleries and historic houses across the UK as well as discounted access to major exhibitions such as the current Miro at Tate Modern and The Cult of Beauty at the V&A, we are making art available to as many people as possible.

The money we collect from purchases of the National Art Pass goes towards helping museums and galleries buy and show art. If you own a National Art Pass, you’re not only Never Without Art but you’re also playing a vital role in ensuring that UK collections are also  Never Without Art.’

Over the last five years, the Art Fund has given over £24 million to museums and galleries and helped them buy works such as Titian’s Diana and Actaeon, the Staffordshire Hoard, Antony Gormley’s 6 Times and Turner’s Blue Rigi.

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