Can Yoko Ono’s Art give your Brain a Boost?

by | Art and the brain, Brain Health, Brain stimulation, Brain training, Plasticity | 1 comment

Wish Piece by Yoko Ono (1996)

Make a wish
Write it down on a piece of paper
Fold it and tie it around a branch of a Wish Tree
Ask your friends to do the same
Keep wishing
Until the branches are covered with wishes

Would you wish for the possible or impossible?
Yoko Ono’s wish piece is based on a childhood memory of visiting Japanese temples. People would write wishes on paper and tie them to trees using ribbon. If you are in Johannesburg, visit the Nirox Sculpture Park, for Yoko Ono’s Wish Trees for Hope.

I wonder how many wishes were fulfilled? Or even if they weren’t, how this act of expressing a wish, changes people.

Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up. Pablo Picasso

Why is art important to me as a neurologist, with an interest in brain health ?

My personal interest in art developed as a child, as I learned to paint from my patient father, and visited galleries with my parents, who loved art. As I studied neurology, and then focused on brain health, I became aware of the many ways art can help people and communities. Art is used throughout the world in temples, forests, caves, city streets and even cars (Esther Mahlangu, also on at the Nirox Sculpture Park). Besides communicating ideas, thoughts and facts, art can heal and lead to better mental health, and a healthier brain.

How does art help your brain?

1. Increases psychological resilience.
This is the ability to withstand the harsh realities of life, and find ways to overcome them.

2. Improves understanding of self, and others by activating the default mode network.
This network, consists of different parts of the brain that work together when the brain is resting, including during meditation and day dreaming. It is important in self-reflection, memory of personal events and understanding the perspective of others.

3. Makes you feel better.
The reward centre of the brain is stimulated.

Do you feel constantly stressed and fatigued?
Do you have 20 minutes a day to transform your life?

How else does art help your memory?

Art, and artists stimulate your brain, which protects your memory. Meeting people in galleries, discussing or disagreeing about art, and making new friendships helps your memory by increasing plasticity, which is the ability of your brain to grow and adapt. Art improves observation, so if you want to understand yourself better…
In Alain de Botton’s article in The Guardian, on the power of art, he discusses how viewing art can lead to hope, empathy, sorrow, and understanding. All are essential for a healthy brain, and this helps us to function well, and live well.

Creating art can help us to increase psychological resilience which is the ability to cope with and heal from stressful events.

On Yoko Ono, art, and brain health
Initially, best known for breaking up The Beatles, Yoko Ono is now acknowledged as an incredible artist with an amazing mind. (So incredible, I think you might even be tempted to leave The Beatles.)

Here are 3 extracts from her book, Grapefruit


Put your shadows together until
they become one




Write all the things you want to do.
Ask others to do them and sleep
and sleep until they finish doing them.
Sleep as long as you can.

1960 Winter



Buy many dream boxes.
Ask your wife to select one.
Dream together.

1964 spring

What did you think about when you read them? Did you just dismiss them? Did you smile or laugh? Did you get angry?


Her other work includes:
A real apple placed on a stand (like a sculpture would be placed).
What do you think about this?
This was on display when John Lennon and Yoko Ono first met, and John Lennon took a bite from the apple.

Painting to be stepped on
Really a painting you can step on

To see the sky
A spiral staircase leading to a skylight.

Did you start thinking? Did you start imagining a different world? (Yoko Ono has recently received credit for co-writing Imagine, with John Lennon.)

Yoko Ono’s art may not be easy to understand, appreciate or even accept. This is where the beauty and power of art lies- in that it challenges, provokes and delights. Normal thought processes will not help you to understand, and so, in trying to solve this, different brain pathways are activated. This is referred to as desire lines (of the brain) by Jonathan Friedman. (Desire lines are paths created spontaneously by people finding their own way through a field.). This changes your thought patterns, increases your creativity, and problem-solving capacity. You may see the world a little differently. As Friedman say, art ‘disrupts our normal activities, breaks down social hierarchies that separate us, and causes us to open up to strangers…we find our emotions somehow more accessible and we suspend our disbelief. That, in turn, makes us look at the most ordinary things around us as if we were seeing them for the first time.’

And, inspired by Yoko Ono



Make a secret wish
Seal it in a blue envelope
Give this to the first person you see
Wait for Bruce Springsteen to read it

Create your own wish piece. Visit a wishing tree. Make a wish. Share those secret wishes on this page, because as Yoko Ono says, ‘A dream you dream alone is only a dream. A dream you dream together is reality.’

Be inspired. Stay Motivated. Keep on learning.

Kirti Ranchod

1 Comment

  1. Jayshree



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