As an abstract language of emotion, art reaches parts of your brain that may otherwise lay untouched. Or, it keeps alive a part in you that enhances your being. When you are looking at art, your brain is working to make connections. It is working to make sense of what you are seeing but then also trying to connect it with how you are feeling. I think all types of art does this to some degree. You know you are looking at something that is flat, 2D but it has depth. You might be looking at a painting of flowers, but the flowers have been edited by the artist. You try to understand those edits, even if it is at a subconscious level. You try to reconcile what your brain is seeing with what you believe should be there and why there are differences.
This is even further challenged when looking at more abstracted pieces, or surrealism. You are challenged to figure it out for yourself. Even if you understand the artists’ work, your brain is spending energy looking, identifying, connecting. Sometimes it is the colors we respond to, or the shapes, or lines, or the imagery itself. It evokes a feeling as well. And we want to understand how this thing in front of us has caused us to feel.
What am I feeling? What is it about this that is making me feel this? Do I like this feeling?
When you are paused by a piece, these are some of the things going through your mind. You may not be aware of it, but from having many conversations with people about art, I do believe that this is the basis of what goes on. You are trying to figure out the connection you have or don’t have. So your brain is engaged and different parts of your brain are activated. So, in truth, I don’t know if you can say art makes you measurably smarter, but I think it awakens your brain and connects with your soul which definitely creates opportunity for you to be more than you were before.