Arianna Huffington: At a recent health conference, Alice Walton, founder of the Heartland Whole Health Institute and the Alice L. Walton School of Medicine, told me Your Brain on Art: How the Arts Transform Us is one of her favorite books and gave me a copy. And now I can say it’s one of my favorites, too. Written by Susan Magsamen, executive director of the International Arts + Mind Lab Center for Applied Neuroaesthetics at Johns Hopkins, and Ivy Ross, VP of Design at Google, the book details the science of the many ways in which art can have a powerful impact on every aspect of our well-being.

As Magsamen and Ross note, we all know we can get lost in a piece of music or art and feel moved. “But we now have scientific proof that the arts are essential to our very survival,” they write. In fact, the impact of the arts on our physiology has given rise to a new field called neuroarts. And the discoveries are already beginning to come into mainstream medicine, being used to help those with Alzheimer’s, postpartum depression, attention deficit disorder, cancer and more.

It’s an idea that’s deeply aligned with Thrive’s mission of helping people make small changes in their daily behaviors that can have a big impact on health outcomes. And in my book Thrive, I devote an entire chapter to how experiencing wonder and awe can boost our well-being. As Magsamen and Ross make clear, the arts are essential to our health. And if we’re ever going to reverse the trend lines on chronic diseases, we can’t afford to ignore such a powerful tool.

We tend to think of the arts as an escape of some kind or just entertainment. “But what this book will show you is that the arts are so much more,” the authors write. “They can be used to fundamentally change your day-to-day life. They can help address serious physical and mental health issues, with remarkable results.”

You can get a copy here.

We both still remember the first time we connected on the phone in 2018. It was the result of a Linkedin message Susan sent to Ivy inviting her to learn more about the Luminary Scholars program at the International Arts and Mind Lab, Center for Applied Neuroaesthetics. What was scheduled as a thirty minute call turned into a three hour deep dive about creativity, science, the arts and humanity.  In hindsight, we both now realize this was the exact moment we planted the seeds for the work we would do together over the next 6 years.

Susan was at the beginning of the development of the NeuroArt Blueprint, a bold new initiative with The Aspen Institute. Ivy offered to host a salon at her home in Mill Valley to bring together diverse stakeholders to explore the intersections of the arts and sciences. We jokingly called this gathering the “Noah’s ark” of neuroarts with two researchers, philanthropists, artists and arts practitioners. 

The conversations at the salon were inspiring, but it was clear that building a new field would take years. Yet, one important message kept emerging throughout the day: Evidence-based arts practices were already happening around the world and there was rigorous scientific proof that could be shared now. At the end of the salon, Susan turned to Ivy and said, “I’ve always wanted to write a book about the science of the arts. Would you like to do it with me?”  Ivy’s response set the wheels in motion when she responded, “This is the book I have been waiting for.” 

It took the two of us over four years to write Your Brain on Art: How the Arts Transform Us. Our goal was simple: To share the science of the arts with the general public. The book is a true love letter written to the world with over 120 interviews with artists, researchers, indigenous cultures and people with lived experience from all ages and all walks of life. 

Random House published Your Brain on Art on March 21, 2023. Remarkably, in just six days, the book made the New York Times Best Seller List. Our publisher told us that it was extremely rare for a book on the arts to make the list or have the trajectory it is having. Today, we are in our 11th reprinting and have international rights in almost a dozen countries.  

We are honored, and humbled, that Your Brain on Art was selected for a number of awards throughout the year. Among them are: “Best General-Interest Science Books” (Amazon), “Best Science & Nature Books of 2023” (Barnes & Noble), “Business Leaders Pick the Year’s 58 Must Reads” (Bloomberg), “Our Favorite Books of 2023” (Greater Good), “2023 Amaeyzing Visionary Award” (Kids & Art Foundation), “Most Shareable Book 2023” (Inc Magazine), and “March 2023 Must-Read Books”  (The Next Big Idea Club). The book’s companion website also has received a number of accolades.

Over the past year, we have engaged in over 100 different live events, interviews, webinars, articles, podcasts, and presentations, sharing how the arts and aesthetic experiences measurably change our brains bodies and behavior, and how this knowledge can be used to positively impact our health, wellbeing and learning. We have also had the  privilege of hearing from many people around the world, listening to amazing stories of how the arts and aesthetic experiences have profoundly changed their lives.  

As we reflect on the book’s impact, here are a number of important recurring themes that resonate with us.

First, the book validates people’s art experiences and confirms their deep beliefs about the power of the arts.  It has put words to what many already know intuitively. In a recent letter, a reader shared this humbling message, “For as long as I live, I will do everything I can to promote your book and this creative revolution, overall. On behalf of all creative, struggling adults like myself who are trying to bring creative empowerment to young people, thank you for your vision and leadership.” 

Second, people feel like they have been given permission to make art again. So many of us have been creativity shut down in childhood or shamed later in life because we were not “good at art.”  A central tenet of the book is that anyone can make art or participate in aesthetic experiences regardless of their skill or proficiency.   This has resulted in many innovative ways to connect to the arts including art date nights, books clubs, creative cafes, art trips and more.  People are developing daily arts practices, just like they do with exercise, and seeing amazing results.   

The science of the arts is amplifying and accelerating the adoption of arts practices in literally every sector in society from healthcare, architecture, and education to cultural arts organizations, libraries, businesses and governments.  New arts integrated curriculums are being created in schools to build executive function and emotional literacy. Medical education is integrating the arts to humanize medicine. Museums, performing arts centers and libraries are integrating neuroarts as they expand their role as community centers. Colleges and universities are reading the book across entire campuses, creating interactive experiences, coursework and cross-community discussion groups. Business leaders are incorporating the arts to enhance collaboration and creativity.  And this is just the beginning.

Third, the book is a catalyst for building the field of neuroarts. The NeuroArts Blueprint is well-on-its-way in solidifying the foundational building blocks required to ensure the arts in all its forms become part of mainstream medicine and public health. From the Neuroarts Resource Center, the Neuroarts Scientific Advisory Board, the Renée Fleming Investigator Awards, and the Community Neuroarts Coalitions, this work is rapidly expanding. And the Blueprint is not alone as many global and national leaders including World Health Organization, National Endowment for the Arts, Americans for the Arts, the Global Brain Health Institute and National Institutes of Health are increasing awareness and encouraging sustainable policy for research and practice. 

Finally, Your Brain on Art is illuminating the potential of neuroarts to deliver on the promise of humanizing medicine, of democratizing healthcare, public health and education. Over the last year the book has been shared with members of Congress who are advocating for financial appropriations. 

One of the most important legacies of Your Brain on Art is the new and growing public awareness that we are wired for the arts. We now know the arts are our birthright and have the power to help us heal, flourish, connect, and learn. The book makes a radical statement: We are standing on the verge of a cultural shift where the arts can deliver potent, accessible and affordable solutions to billions of people. 

The seeds planted during our first meeting have been nurtured, cultivating critical new ideas in the public’s mind about the integration of arts, science and technology to solve some of the most intractable issues of our time. The two of us believe the book has been so successful because the world is hungry for better solutions to support the lives of our children, our communities, and ourselves and to build meaning, purpose, and hope.  

What is next? The past year was all about spreading the word through Your Brain on Art, initiating conversations, and introducing the framework of neuroarts to new audiences. In 2024 and beyond, we are focusing on activating the message by translating the science and the stories through the creation of engaging and immersive experiences, partnerships, and programs around the world.

We are thrilled about the impact of Your Brain on Art and the future of neuroarts – a true marriage of arts and sciences. There are no limits to the good this burgeoning field offers. Like all great movements, they begin in the hearts of each of us, with an unquenchable desire for something more, something better. Movement and new fields expand when we come together through shared ideals and values for a better world. 

It doesn’t take much imagination to see what the world would look like as neuroarts continues to grow in every community. But, for all of the success and wind-in-the-sail, the sustainability of neuroarts requires determination and steadfastness to make this movement a lasting reality.  

We look forward to working together to achieve long-term success. We want nothing more than for our grandchildren to inherit a world where the arts are valued and part of everyday life.   

Excerpted from YOUR BRAIN ON ART copyright © 2023 by Susan Magsamen and Ivy Ross. Used by permission of Random House, an imprint and division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.


  • Susan Magsamen, the founder and executive director of the International Arts + Mind Lab at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, is the co-author (with Ivy Ross) of Your Brain on Art: How the Arts Transform Us.
  • Ivy Ross is currently the Vice President of Design for the Hardware Product Area at Google, which was officially formed in 2016. Since 2017, she and her team launched a family of consumer hardware products ranging from smartphones to smart speakers, earning over 200 global design awards. This collection established a design aesthetic for technology products that is tactile, bold, emotional and undeniably Google. Previously, Ivy has held executive positions spanning from head of product design and development to CMO and presidencies with several companies, including Calvin Klein, Swatch, Coach, Mattel,, Bausch & Lomb and Gap. Ivy has been a contributing author to numerous books, including The Change Champion’s Field Guide and Best Practices in Leadership Development and Organizational Change. She has also been referenced in Ten Faces of Innovation, Rules of Thumb, and Unstuck, among other books. Ivy was a speaker at Fortune Magazine’s Most Powerful Women Summit, and has been cited by Businessweek as “one of the new faces of Leadership.” Most recently she was ninth on Fast Company’s list of the 100 Most Creative people in Business 2019. A renowned artist, her innovative metal work in jewelry is in the permanent collections of 12 international museums. A winner of the prestigious National Endowment for the Arts grant, Ivy has also received the Women in Design Award and Diamond International Award for her creative designs. Ivy’s passion is human potential and relationships. She believes in the combination of art and science to make magic happen and bring great ideas and brands to life.