This is not going to discuss Art Therapy – the medicine of the creative process in art – one of several medicines to create peace in the patient’s mind. But rather how two or three-dimensional artistic images encourage reflection – we meditate on them and “listen” to what they have to tell us. It is not that some heal and others do not. It is not that bright colours cure depression (would that it were so easy!), or help conquer fear when our bodies fight and we contemplate our own mortality. But rather Art itself which addresses people’s inner, emotional lives.
The non-material side of life is a basic human need and indeed a human right – a necessary component of both mental and physical health. The power of art is extraordinary. It can be held quietly and unpossessively in the attention, “eternity in a grain of sand”, yet is a steady, visible, enduring good in an unreligious world. Aesthetic values enhance daily life and reduce its many stresses. They feed the spirit.
The Paintings in Hospitals charity was founded back in 1959 by Sheridan Russell, cellist, medical doctor and patron of the arts. In the conviction that art has an important role to play in the healing process, it lends quality works from its diverse collection of almost 4,000 artworks to health and social care sites. The whole idea of art as a route to health and wellbeing has been seriously explored since the 1980’s. Indeed, ‘Paintings in Hospitals’ partners the Arts Council Collection and is recognised by the Department of Health and NHS England as a leading provider of arts in social care services and health (clinics, surgeries and hospices as well as hospitals). It gave initial funding to the independent Art in Healthcare charity in Scotland and operates regionally in England, N. Ireland and Wales.
The charity provides insurance, secure fixings and information labels and keeps in touch by evaluating the service and gathering evidence of the art’s impact. A recent study in the Royal Marsden Hospital showed that 74% of patients, carers and visitors believed that artworks should be rotated. Artwork rental makes it easy, affordable and flexible. Whenever a space changes function, the artwork can also change.
Chelsea & Westminster Hospital was the first, or the first I have heard of, hospital to use art to improve clinical outcomes. It measured the reduction in medication and patients’ length of stay in hospital.
I believe in the value of art and its contribution to the quality of life. It is not critical or vital, but important in that it inspires better health and wellbeing for everyone. It helps the well to stay well.
As a patron, I’ve given Paintings in Hospitals a collection of paintings suitable for those with autism. Reactions are sometimes totally unexpected. A very quiet John Miller painting appealed to one autistic boy to the point of obsession. He liked it. He licked it. There was spittle all over it. Pictures were hung at child height so it was moved higher but…! Another autistic adult felt all over a statue in much the same way as a blind visitor did.
People are surprised to see original art in such areas, but damages are not significantly greater than in any public place and to see them brings a positive presence.
Florence Nightingale is quoted as saying: “The object and colour in the materials around us actually have a physical effect on us, on how we feel”. The ancient Greeks believed that contact with mosaics and sculpture could heal both mind and body. Over and over again, across the years, one can see examples of how art can reach out. I believe that, like a martini is only complete with an olive, both old and new buildings need artistic and therapeutic visual transformation to provide welcoming and soothing spaces.