When Art Is the Best Medicine

OBIT_Footers_022*This article is from ART.COM*

Hospitals are the work-horses of the building world. Rarely are they constructed with an eye to decadent style and design sophistication. Rather, they’re built for utilitarian purposes: to house, support and employ a hive of life vs. death activity—24/7.

That’s a lofty and important purpose.

However, in the last thirty years, countless studies have shown that art can soften the institutional feel of these imposing concrete structures, help combat the draining effects of persistent artificial light, reduce
debilitating stress levels and even have a hand in healing.

This is about more than art for art’s sake.

An Inside Job

On the grounds of hospitals participating in an arts renaissance, you’ll
often find evocative sculptural installations, well-tended flower gardens
and sometimes even decorative ponds, alive with colorful Japanese Koi.
These accents do more than make your entry to a high-anxiety
environment more pleasant. They set the tone for your visit and speak to
a hospital’s overall commitment to care, which can result in a major win
for public relations.OBIT_Footers_017

However, the real magic is happening on the inside. Because, unless
you’re getting elective surgery or having a baby (and even then, stress is
still a huge factor), a visit to the hospital can be frightening. That’s why
austere corridors, bland cafeterias and tense waiting rooms have been
enriched and enlivened with art that performs a surprising variety of
functions.

Form and Function

It’s not hard to imagine why Vincent Van Gogh’s View of Arles with
Irises might be a welcome distraction to someone being wheeled
down an endless hallway on a squeaky gurney. It makes sense on an
emotional level that Mary Cassatt’s Mother and Child would be
soothing for new moms in a maternity ward. It’s even easy to
comprehend why little ones would be so receptive to whimsical
animal prints set to the tragic backdrop of a children’s hospital.

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But, it’s the healing function of art that’s most fascinating. And, it’s
not just conjecture. There are cold, hard facts to back the notion that
art has a physical and emotional impact on patients, visitors and staff:OBIT_Footers_020

  • A study by Roger S. Ulrich for the American Association for the
    Advancement of Science, found that “[Surgery patients] who saw trees
    recuperated almost a full day faster and required fewer doses of pain
    medication than those facing a brick wall.” (No, you don’t need to start
    demoing walls and planting fast-growing saplings. A framed forested
    print will suffice.)
  • According to an Americans for the Arts study, 78% of healthcare facilities
    delivering on some form of arts programming have cited measurable
    benefits to patients, including shorter hospital stays, better pain
    management and less medication
  • A comprehensive survey performed by The Cleveland Clinic revealed that
    73% of respondents found the hospital’s contemporary art collection to
    be calming, and more than 60% reported a reduction in stress.
  • According to a 2011 University of London study, viewing beautiful art
    increases blood flow to what’s known as the “joy response” part of the
    brain. Thus, viewing a beautiful piece of art can alter your physiology or
    change your mind.                                                                                                                         Of course, beauty is entirely subjective, and in the proverbial eye of the beholder. But, it’s not difficult to select art that pleases a wide array of artistic palates.

Framing the Feeling

Much of the research about the impact of art in hospital settings tends to also reveal optimal genres,colors and subject matter. A survey conducted in Italy involving 345 cancer patients suggests that healing stems from exposure to lush, serene landscapes, tranquil water scenes and emotionally expressive pieces featuring warm pops of color and happy people doing ordinary things. This representation of normalcy
can instill a great deal of hope and optimism in a patient battling for their life.

As you might suspect, evidence also suggests that aggressive abstract art or something like Picasso’s Weeping Woman would be far too triggering for a hospital environment. In fact, steer clear of any pieces that might seem confusing or unsettling to someone who’s not well.
The right art should emotionally connect patients, visitors and staff with
the life awaiting them on the outside of what can be a jarring and
surreal microcosm. And, if the subject matter is universal in nature, it
can even help bridge cultural gaps and engender a feeling of oneness—
something our fractured society can certainly benefit from. OBIT_Footers_019

Justifying the Cost

If you’re concerned that there’s no budget for the arts in healthcare, consider this, according to an Americans for the Arts report, nearly half of the nation’s healthcare institutions provide arts programming not just for patients, but for families and even staff. Also, 40% of veteran’s medical centers have rotating art exhibitions, permanent art collections, commissioned paintings or sculptures.

OBIT_Footers_014Hospitals simply can’t afford the detrimental effects of bare walls. There’s too much research and data to support the fact that art is integral to the healing process and the well-being of visitors and individuals working in these high-stress environments.

We’re never returning to an era of sterile corridors and blank, brick walls. This humanistic approach to healing and well-being is thriving and gaining momentum. You might call it the (healing) wave of the future.

Suffice it to say, art is no longer a “Wow, this reception room is stark” afterthought. It’s being built into hospital budgets, worldwide. Granted, not every facility will be able to afford the breadth and depth of work on display at the renowned Cleveland Clinic,

*This article is from Art.com’s Art Work division can help you assemble a collection that reflects your hospital’s mission and works for your budget.