The Art We Need Now

Take a stroll down Washington Street... and find yourself momentarily pulled out of your usual mental state.

by Lynette Woelfle Steger
Sculpture Walk Peoria
L-R: Selene by Nathan Pierce; Depth of Form by Jacob Burmood; Sunrise Sunset (Sawblade) by Matthew Duffy; My Pi by John Adduci. Photos courtesy of J. Gordon

When you drive or walk down Washington Street in Peoria between the Riverfront Museum and the Bob Michel Bridge, you’ll find yourself momentarily pulled out of your usual mental state by large-scale public art. This is by no means an accident—it’s brain science. And it’s why, more than ever, we need art in our lives. 

When we look at artwork that has no physical resemblance to ourselves, we experience an emotional response to understand what this image before us means. There is no right or wrong to abstract art. It answers no questions and is open to interpretation. As your brain experiences new things and becomes familiar with the topics they represent (in the case of art: lines, shapes, colors, forms, textures, etc.), it enhances your curiosity. This in turn sparks innovation—allowing the brain to address complex thoughts and feelings.

Neuroscientist and Nobel Laureate Eric Kandel believed that abstract art had the ability to make people happy based on the idea of reductionism. If you reduce a problem to its simplest elements, then it will be accessible to a wider audience and more easily understood. How many of us around the world were moved during quarantine by videos of musicians playing from balconies, neighbors dancing from doorsteps, and families cooking and playing together? Expressing our emotions in creative ways boosts our happiness by reducing the stress hormone cortisol. Research has even found this to be true of those viewing art during their lunch hour!

So take a moment this month to visit the Walk, download the Otocast app to take a self-guided tour narrated by the artists, or visit—where you can take a virtual tour thanks to the generosity of the Kottemann family and the many community sponsors who have made 2020 Sculpture Walk Peoria possible. PM

Lynette Woelfle Steger is a board member of ArtsPartners of Central Illinois and chair of Sculpture Walk Peoria, an ArtsPartners initiative.