In recent years, we as a society have become more aware of our mental wellbeing and the increase in marketing of mindfulness apps has shown the popular demand for meditative techniques as an approach to calm our busy minds. There is also an abundance of information online including some great blogs (check out ‘Mindfulness 101’ and ‘Six Ways to Wellbeing’ by my fellow student bloggers Malaika Haider and Lauren Goodfellow!) And with this wealth of materials already out there, this blog is not aiming to add to it. Instead, it is an appeal to think of the humble museum when you think about mindfulness.
My latest trip to Manchester Art Gallery involved going to the ‘And Breathe…’ exhibition, an exhibit which is part of the Mindful Museum project. This project aims to promote mindfulness using art and cultural artefacts, working with a range of people to encourage the public to engage with the museum collection in a new way. You don’t need an arts degree to enjoy the artworks, but instead you need let yourself become present in the moment, paying attention to yourself, your senses, your breathing, as you let the artwork take hold of your mind.
Art has an enchanting effect on us. Alfred Gell, a social anthropologist, notably argued that artworks act as secondary agents through which we project our own agency onto. Through this distributed personhood artworks can inflict emotional responses in ourselves. In simpler terms, art has the ability to ‘speak to us’ through the projections we choose to place onto the artwork. This idea can help us to think about why art is such a great tool to be mindful with. Each experience becomes personal, we don’t depend on experts or curators to tell us what we see or feel. Instead, we become more in tune with how we are feeling by looking at art.
So, if art becomes the tool, the museum becomes the perfect space for mindfulness practice. They are free to go to, we have an abundance of them in Manchester, and to be in another space away from the Library can act as a way of refreshing your mind. As I wandered round the gallery space, I saw people lounging on sofas, transfixed by the paintings as if they were the latest show on Netflix, peacefully being in a non-judgemental and quiet space. The Mindful Museum project is trying to change how we use our museums and galleries and highlighting to us the potential benefits a trip to the gallery can have to our overall mental wellbeing. Next time you feel like you need some mindfulness and some peace why not pop down to the Manchester Art Gallery? Or the Manchester Museum? The Whitworth?… it only takes a short walk and there is no obligation to stay for long, but the zen feeling can last all day.