The Healing Power of Art

Art, when done well and in the appropriate environment, can provoke strong emotional reactions. Can those emotions be used in healthcare to help patients? The evidence seems to be saying yes.

We know that healthcare environments, and their layouts and design, can have an out-sized impact on the healing process. We have written on this extensively, and it appears that the idea is starting to go mainstream. Even something seemingly as simple as the art on the walls can have an impact on the patient experience and the healing process.

From a recent article in the Wall St. Journal:

Researchers are learning more about the precise ways paintings and other works of art help patients and families in the healing process. With studies showing a direct link between the content of images and the brain’s reaction to pain, stress, and anxiety, hospitals are considering and choosing artworks based on the evidence and giving it a higher priority than merely decoration for sterile rooms and corridors.

In a time of sweeping change, healthcare organizations shouldn’t overlook an asset that’s highly leverageable and pivotal to their success: their spaces. Healthcare needs to go beyond simply treating illness, to a focus that includes wellness and wellbeing. Engaging patients in health has become a new clinical paradigm, one that stretches beyond the stethoscope to a more holistic approach, that takes into account new technologies, the effect of patient and waiting room design on stress levels and the healing process, and, yes, the very art on the walls.

It’s absolutely necessary to design for the human factor. As it says in the Steelcase Health Insights and Applications Guide: “Spaces have the ability to profoundly affect people’s attitudes and behaviors, and how they relate to each other. Designed correctly, healthcare spaces can help organizations to humanize, empower, and connect stakeholders to information, technology, more positive emotions, and ultimately, better outcomes.”

It’s exciting as well to see even the choosing of a hospital’s art take on an evidence-based approach:

For help with choosing art works, consultants, hospital curators and art committees turn to studies such as those gathered in the nonprofit Center for Health Design‘s “Guide to Evidence-Based Art“. Research suggests patients are positively affected by nature themes and figurative art with unambiguous, positive faces that convey a sense of security and safety.

The terrific healthcare designer and thought leader Sara Marberry recently asked a similar question on her blog: “Why Not Some Abstract Art for Healthcare Facilities?

This focus on and appreciation of art hits us particularly close to home, thanks to the world’s largest art festival, ArtPrize, taking place right now in our neck of the woods, Grand Rapids, MI. Here’s a complete guide to enjoying the event!

Leave a Comment