The ‘art of science’ is often spoken about in its quest to merge two opposing realms that, together, capture the essential expression of ‘humanness.’ The ‘art of healing’ however, is rarely spoken about in conventional medicine, as these disciplines are frequently considered too polarised for the medical canon.
Waiting rooms, clinics and doctor’s offices are usually devoid of art, favouring informational posters reminding patients to wash their hands and check in with their bodies. Art's role in medical centres, however, has been proven to have various benefits for patients and staff, and there is a notable rise in the popularity of exposing patients to the healing power of art.
Art can have positive effects on health outcomes
Mural at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital
There is increasing evidence to suggest that displaying art in medical institutions can have positive effects on health outcomes.
It’s not suggested that staring at a painting can cure patients, but rather an Original Painting can lower anxiety levels, which results in a higher threshold for pain.
A study by Exeter Healthcare Arts Project found that being surrounded by visual art in a medical setting has a significantly positive effect not only on patients, but also medical staff and visitors. According to the study, 43% of frontline staff believe displaying art in clinics has an immediately positive effect on mental health and mood. Meanwhile, 24% claimed that treating patients in rooms with art on the walls actually improved clinical outcomes.
Colours can positively affect emotions
There is a large body of research on how colour can affect our mood, because certain hues trigger particular emotional responses and, well, because science says so.
The trick is to find the perfect colour combination that both lifts patients up and also calms them down, eliciting positivity at an undoubtedly anxious time.
Mural at The Royal London Children's Hospital
A study by the JRSM showed that saturated tones are great for inducing pleasure in viewers, whilst greens and blues have been proven to produce feelings of calm. The research concluded that ‘colour may be one of the reasons why patients prefer paintings depicting nature scenes, since these are often dominated by blue and green.’
Paintings provide a positive distraction for patients
Mural on glass in clinic
Positive distraction doesn’t just come in the form of a Netflix binge after a long day, but it’s a real term used to describe how environmental factors can influence our feelings. Positive distraction is anything that can hold attention and interest, which subsequently reduces stress and fear.
Art has such a powerful positive distraction effect on the brain, due the increased blood flow it promotes. Professor Semir Zeki, a chair in neuroaesthetics at University College London, explains that when a viewer is presented with an artwork, the brain immediately gets to work to solve the ‘puzzle’ before it. Unravelling colour, lines and subject matter is an immensely satisfying brain activity, because it utilises distinct areas in the frontal lobe, unifying “memory, experience, [and] learning.”