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Art gallery therapy: my failsafe cure for the winter blues | The art of wellbeing – Gündem Haberleri

Art gallery therapy: my failsafe cure for the winter blues | The art of wellbeing

I know it’s as dreary as winter drizzle to gripe about inclement weather and the unending darkness of UK winters, but it is also true that winter can do a number on our wellbeing – seasonal affective disorder affects some 2 million Britons, after all.

Luckily, I have a remedy, a prescription for the soul – visiting art galleries. It often costs nothing but time (see: the Tate galleries, whose main collections are completely free), and is available to everyone. Communing with art is a year-round life enhancer and an antidote to loneliness, sadness, frustration and stress, but, in my experience, the soothing properties of public art galleries are best experienced during winter. In these months, walking from the grey-sky gloom into a dazzlingly light and airy space full of treasures, colour and history is a salve for my spirit – an instant hit of hope, the happiest of distractions.

Looking at art in a public space presents a chance for unity among strangers, but that’s not to say it doesn’t sometimes feel intimidating. Alongside deep wells of beauty and connection, galleries invariably hold challenging concepts, priceless masterpieces, learned curators and sometimes posturing co-visitors. But public art spaces don’t require you to be clever, informed, or rich. The moment I let go of the belief that there was any expectation of me, that I was somehow being tested or judged, or that a lack of knowledge meant anything other than a chance to learn, I won. All you ever need is an inquiring mind (and on more torpid days, just an open one will do).

‘Slow looking’ is the practice of taking time to really absorb an artwork (Paule Vézelay, Five Forms, 1935 and Ben Nicholson, June 1937 (painting), 1937). Photograph: Lucy Green/Tate

Not all art is perceived as beautiful – indeed, not all art is created to be perceived as beautiful. However, it is worth noting that new research shows that when viewing things we find beautiful, activity in the pleasure and reward centres of the brain goes up. So when I don’t have the bandwidth, time, or energy to take on challenging new themes or ideas, I return to the comfort of my favourites: the blue in David Hockney’s swimming pool, Agnes Martin’s faint, delicate lines, the rich, intense narratives spun in paint by Leonora Carrington, John Constable’s cloudy Brighton summers, or Paula Rego’s stunning rage.

And did you know that even on the busiest of days, in the busiest galleries, there is meditative potential? Mindfulness is an elusive unicorn for me – my head seems permanently to be a tombola of shopping lists, decade-long grudges, and bridges from pop songs I don’t know the names of – but time spent in a gallery is the closest I get to being truly present. Part of this is down to “slow looking”, which is exactly what it sounds like – the practice of taking time to really absorb an artwork rather than giving it a glance, reading the accompanying blurb, having another quick look and moving on. It’s no surprise that many of us look at art in this perfunctory way given how society is increasingly geared towards haste and efficiency – but slow looking is the perfect antidote. Like any meditative practice, it can feel weird at first – there’s panic: “What am I supposed to be thinking?”, “Am I meant to be having revelatory thoughts?” – but if you can find the strength to sit with these feelings, the experience can be powerful and illuminating.

The top floor of Tate Modern offers spectacular views of London’s landmarks. Photograph: Joe Humphrys/Tate

That’s not to say you should force yourself to settle in for half an hour to look at something that leaves you cold. Life’s too short. But when you find a piece that arrests you, intrigues you, or sparks joy, why not commit to intently considering it for minutes, rather than seconds?

Often, I visit galleries alone to gather my thoughts. Often I don’t want anyone else’s hot takes, I just want the company of form, colour, texture – I want to visit the chaos of Gin Lane or behold the livid galvanising text of Jenny Holzer by myself. But sometimes I’ll meet a friend or take my daughter. Joy, to me, was walking her, aged four, to Matisse’s the Snail at Tate Modern and watching as her eyes widened in awe, tiny fingers pointing: “Do you see what I see?” Telling her: “Yes … but also no.” This principle, this axis of communion and individual interpretation is so simple and so complex, much like the multicoloured mollusc itself. That we all see these things in a different way is such an important lesson that reaches into every part of our lives. Remembering that perception is personal is invaluable for me. This knowledge keeps me sane.

With friends, galleries are afternoons of meandering. It’s meeting outside and familiar dialogue: “What do you want to see first?”, “I’m going on ahead, if that’s OK?”, “This is weird – in a good way, don’t you think?”, “Hmmm. I prefer the drawings over there.” Then the cake or wine and – if we’re at Tate Modern – the stellar views of London’s jewels from the top floor. And always the shop for the postcards for my fridge or faraway friends and the superior birthday present selections.

I can’t loftily claim that any art gallery feels like home, but when I visit – whether it’s for a 10-minute pitstop to say hello to the Firemen of Alijo or smile at Cy Twombly’s Untitled Bacchus (and feel it might even be smiling back at me), or a longer look at Joseph Mallord William Turner’s legacy – I always feel welcome. And when I leave, I don’t know whether what I’ve seen will star in my dreams, make a surprise entrance during a seemingly unrelated conversation months later, or never cross my mind again. I’ve seen the permanence and certainty of paintings, photographs and sculpture. I leave with both answers and questions. But, in that moment, when I’m in the gallery, my cup is always full. I was there. I was connected. There is potential. There is light.

Banish the winter blues and boost your wellness with a visit to a Tate gallery. Entry is free, and there’s no need to book. Start planning your visit at tate.org.uk/visit

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