Want to improve your ability to use memory techniques almost overnight? I promise it’s super-easy. All you need is the willingness to support your nearest art gallery and your awareness of the following 17 reasons going to an art gallery is good for your memory.
When you’re using memory techniques, you draw upon visual imagination. Even if you’re only using words in your mind when developing mnemonics, you’re using visual words.
The more visual iconography you’ve seen in your life, the more potency the visual words you use will hold.
Exposure equals experience. Experience leads to substance. When you use the words “run,” “hit” or any other verb, the more art you’ve seen, the great depth of meaning these words will have.
If you’ve been to an art gallery lately, you’ve undoubtedly seen how modern artists use words. Pop artists use comic strips. Futurists made a big deal out of typefaces. You don’t even have to enter an art gallery to see words used in graffiti on nearly every street in your city.
Looking at art and paying attention to how artists use words is especially great for inspiring how you can use your visual imagination to memorize foreign language vocabulary and phrases. Next time you’re in an art gallery, pay particular attention to how words appear in the exhibits.
Looking at art is never just about “looking.” As your eyes meet the graphic displays, ideas emerge. In fact, “art” happens the moment that you start thinking about what you’re looking at or noticing your emotional responses.
You can become conscious of what you’re thinking and feeling and use your awareness to become more visual. Reflect on how the visual experience has triggered your thoughts and responses.
Also, journal what you’ve thought while at the gallery. By writing down your responses, you access your memory. Accessing your memory exercises your mind, which helps keep it fit.
It’s not just that art often depicts different parts of the world. Art galleries also exhibit art by international artists.
Pay attention to the international names and locations of where the art originates. This will exercise your geographical imagination and give you more facts to remember. It’s also great memory exercise to remember the names of the artists you see and include their home countries.
For bonus points, you can also use the Major Method to add the dates of their lives and when they created the pieces you’re admiring. The more experienced you become with memory techniques, the more information you can memorize at a single go.
Plus, the location of the art itself within the gallery amounts to a Memory Palace station. Using the location gives you great practice at using your spatial memory in addition to all the other tools mnemonics draw upon, such as association, semantic memory, episodic memory and the like.
Yes, you can memorize the raw data of dates when going to an art gallery. But you also expose your memory to information about historical periods.
Artists love to reference other eras and historical events. Some artists have even made careers out of referencing history. Fluency in art equals fluency in history, which is always good for your memory.
Let’s face it: A lot of art doesn’t make much sense.
At least, that’s until you give it some thought and learn about how to interpret art. Believe me. Interpretation matters.
After all, a huge part of art interpretation is creating meaning. To have created meaning, you have to remember the meaning you created. Ergo, going to art galleries and interpreting what you see is good for your memory.
And if you’re practicing memory techniques, handling abstract ideas your mind is perfect for practicing the art of remembering challenging and abstract ideas. Art history is loaded with them.
Being puzzled by something is different than having to create meaning. To be puzzled, after all, you must have already understood something. Two (or more) things are separated and you know they go together …
You just have to figure out how. Visiting art galleries gives you that experience and to fit the pieces together, you need to hold them in memory.
The benefits of being puzzled are massive because it always exercises your memory as you work things out. Even if you give up before you’re satisfied, your memory abilities will have grown.
Looking at art not only forces you to create meaning and solve puzzles. It also creates unsolvable mysteries that you will carry throughout your life.
Take “The Persistence of Meaning” by Salvador Dali. What exactly does it mean? No matter how many times you see this painting, it still mystifies. The enigma of surrealism persists precisely because it resists meaning.
And yet, we can continuously connect to the enigma and try puzzling out new meanings even if we know we’ll never come to a conclusion. In Critical Theory, this is called “indeterminacy” and it is a powerful tool in art, cinema, theatre and literature.
For a cool memory exercise, take a painting like “The Persistence of Meaning” and try to remember the first time you saw it.
Even if you’re wrong, right down your earliest memory. For me, my earliest memory is in Collier’s Encyclopedia. I believe it was in black and white.
My next memory is seeing it in a book in high school. After that, I remember buying an art book, cutting it out and hanging it on my wall.
Although I surely saw it countless times after that, my next memory is seeing the painting itself in Manhattan.
My most recent memory is in seeing watch sculptures in Zürich-based on the melting timepiece in the painting. And that triggers my memory of hearing Alejandro Jodorowsky tell me about the time he met Dali as a boy and the story of finding a watch in the desert.
You don’t have to use “The Persistence of Time” when you do the exercise, but give it a try. List as many exposures to the artwork as you can and then free associate. You’ll find that your memory expands the more you use it, and all the more so as you engage in memory games of this sort.
Even if you go to art galleries alone, you’ll often find yourself in disagreement. Many artists go out of the way to polarize audiences, and using tools like “indeterminacy,” they often pull your heartstrings in opposing directions.
Conflicts like these are perfect for memory because you’ll remember how you felt looking at the painting at a deeper level. You’ll have more interesting inner dialogs which also encodes longer term memories.
If you want to help yourself remember more, keep a journal of the conflicting opinions you experience while looking at art just before you sleep after visiting a gallery. The reason to do this before you go to sleep is that memories consolidate during the night. Some studies have shown that the closer to sleep that you review information, the more likely your brain is to consolidate it into long term memory.
After you’ve looked at the art in the gallery, you wind up seeing a lot of it over again in the bookstore.
Don’t get annoyed at the upselling. It’s good for your memory.
Plus, there are often cool books you can buy and read to learn more about the art you’ve encountered. Interview books with the artists themselves appeal because you find out more about their personal stories, theories and opinions at the same time. It’s a very cool way to make sometimes difficult information more concrete.
One of the reasons interviews with artists makes the ideas easier to remember is because you get stories and examples, but also the questions of the interviewers. Interviewers bring particular perspectives. If you pay attention to them and absorb their character, their attitudes instantly make the ideas under discussion more memorable.
Often artists use everyday objects within the art gallery to change our perspective of the outside world. But when you deliberately remember more of what you’ve seen inside the gallery, you will find that you also see the outside world differently.
For example, I just saw “Michael Jackson and Bubbles” by Jeff Koons for the first time in Oslo. You often read about the effect that it has in art criticism, but it’s not until you’ve seen it with your own eyes that the kitschy art in stories takes on the intended effect.
Art galleries are idea-generating machines. After all, every piece of art started with an idea – even if it was just the idea to throw paint at the wall.
The more ideas you encounter and the more you play with those ideas in your mind, the more likely you are to come up with ideas of your own. Kind of like one of my favorite students does when creating brain games like these.
Plus, you might walk away with the idea of actually creating some art.
If you do follow through, that might be the best idea of all.
No matter what happens to the art you create, you learn so much just by taking action.
Be honest: You wish you were a more interesting person.
I know I do, and the secret is in always feeding yourself new and exciting things to discuss.
“Hey, did you see the new exhibit at our local gallery?” is a powerful conversation starter, for example.
Plus, you’ll be supporting art in your community by inspiring others to see art and helping them experience a better memory in the process.
Art galleries don’t always make the best Memory Palaces, but you can still use them for the exercise.
Plus, as I mentioned, each piece of art automatically provides its own station.
As with historical sites you encounter while on vacation, I recommend that you make your art gallery Memory Palaces as simple as possible. Use the entrance, one or two simple rooms and the exit only.
You don’t want to overwhelm yourself with multiple floors, stairways and those weird nooks and crannies. Unless they’re crucial to your success, skip the complicated parts of art galleries and focus on the parts that are dead simple to remember.
All of us struggle with not having enough FOCUS. So if the art gallery you visit offers a guided tour – take it.
One of the best ways to extend your concentration is to focus on lectures filled with data. I like to repeat the information I’m hearing in my own voice to help extend my focus.
It’s perfectly fine if your attention wanders. Just gently bring it back and enjoy how with practice you can extend the amount of time you hold focus during the tours you take.
For another kind of memory exercise, you can record the audio presentation and later use the How To Memorize A Textbook training to get the key points rapidly into long-term memory.
You might even want to give tours or your own by taking friends to see the art gallery later. You can practice your memory in a substantial way by telling others what you’ve learned and sharing your conflicting opinions.
Listening to their responses is another great way of practicing focus and developing your memory. You cannot lose by taking and giving art gallery tours.
During a recent art gallery visit in Helsinki, I met an interesting landscape artist. She gave me a personal tour of her works in the gallery, explaining her thoughts about color and telling me where exactly she was when creating the art.
Not only did this make the visit to the gallery more memorable to me, but I had the chance to ask her about her own memory. She said that she can paint from memory, but prefers to compose in the environment so that she can respond to the present moment.
Fascinating ideas like these make living a life devoted to memory even more interesting.
At the Astrup Fearnley Museum in Oslo, I almost crapped my pants when I saw Zhou Tao’s “”Chicken speak to duck, pig speak to dog.”
It’s a video installation with a weird dude yelling and squealing while up in a tree.
I had a hard time figuring out what it was all about until I read the title and description, but the combination of emotion, enigma and solving the riddle by reading the information consolidated the experience in memory.
Even better, I’m practicing what I preach right now by writing about the experience as my last job before going to bed, all of which will help consolidate the memory of this experience.
There are loads more reasons why going to art galleries can improve your memory. You see so much art in so many different mediums that it gives you an incredible amount of exposure to vibrant information that you’ll want to remember.
Are some of the pieces you’ll see meaningless fluff?
But it’s all part of experiencing the world of art and expanding as a visual person.
And the more visual you become, the easier it is to use memory techniques.
Give yourself the gift of visual exposure and plan to visit an art gallery today.
Seriously. In most cities, it doesn’t have to cost a dime. Usually, art galleries open their doors once a week for free.
Plus, your city might have local galleries featuring independent artists. Restaurants often feature works by local artists.
You can even arrange viewings of private collections in the homes of collectors with a simple Google search.
Trust me. It’s worth it and will make your life more memorable.