Art Heals

Research shows us that Art Heals!

Over the past few decades, hospital designers and architects have begun to understand the science and spirituality of healing art and have determined what types of artwork are more likely to soothe patients. Nature scenes are emphasized in Western culture healing processes, and research has shown that landscapes and other environmental factors can influence mental disorder treatments, according to a survey by M. F. Miles titled “Art in hospitals: does it work? A survey of evaluation of arts projects in the NHS.”

A study done in 1984 compared two similarly treated groups of patients who were recovering from cholecystectomy: One group looked out onto trees and nature landscapes, and the other looked onto a brick wall. The “tree” group recovered in 7.96 days on average while the “brick” group took 8.70 days. This may not seem like a significant difference when accounting for other factors of the healing process, but it definitely deserves further research to examine. Since then, further studies have been conducted to assess the impact art has within hospitals.

In 2006, it was stated by the Department of Health Working Group on Arts and Health that art has a “clear contribution to make and offer major opportunities in the delivery of better health, wellbeing and improved experience for patients…” In a study conducted across three UK hospitals, paintings were classified in terms of pleasure and arousal. Those with high levels of pleasure and low arousal induced states of calm within patients, while others with high arousal and low pleasure caused discomfort. Patients all-around preferred paintings of landscapes, confirming the research findings from decades before.

A possible reason for the preference of nature and landscapes is because it takes us back to an escape from urbanization and the desired arcadia of simpler times. The blue and green calming hues of nature paintings were more likely to assist patients than modern art of geometric figures. Within the “art of medicine,” there are psychological healing aspects that science still cannot determine the root causes. Pleasurable art within hospitals can have positive effects on health outcomes, shorter lengths of staying in hospitals, increased pain tolerance, and decreased anxiety according to a study titled “Visual art in hospitals: case studies and review of the evidence.”

Not only does the type of art matter in the healing process, but it also depends on where the art is located. Our minds process stimuli everywhere around us, even if we are not consciously aware of it. The hospitals in the 2006 study took care to put art wherever they could, including the parking garage (which also helps to remember where your car is), the windows, and the wards and waiting rooms. These are all important to establish a sense of comfort to those visiting the hospital, regardless of how long they stay there.

Hamish McDonald, an artist and cancer patient at one of the examined UK hospitals said this about art: “I am a firm believer in the power that art has to inspire and help alleviate suffering and that it can play a key role in lessening the burden that illness brings.” His art depicting life with cancer can be seen at the Medical School Building in Glasgow.

As an artist, I find great solace in my art and work towards creating art that creates emotion. As artists, we can choose what emotion we would like to create for the observer. For me I want people to feel a positive affect…happiness, joy, calm, tranquility.  These are the emotions that are stirred in me when I create…along with a good dose of frustration at times! But overall creating lifts me and gives me the chance to fully connect to my deep spiritual creativity. If I can convey that in my art then I am happy.


Research-based on a blog by fellow artist Ora Sorensen

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