Is art really good for you? The role of the arts in healthcare is an exceptionally important subject for both the field of art history and future healthcare practice. It’s almost instinctive to associate art with wellbeing and healing, and it’s easy to suppose that art’s impact on wellbeing is simply aesthetic.
Art does have a powerful impact on an environment and, by extension, on our experience of that environment. It can humanise a harsh, clinical hospital hallway or enliven a dull office, emphasising the human and social functions of sterile or functional environments.Humanising and beautifying an environment has the effect of reducing anxiety and depression while improving general happiness and productivity - even serving for some as an inspiration for meditation or quasi-religious psychic renewal.
Beautification does play an important role in art’s effect on wellbeing, but to believe that this impact is down only to improving the aesthetic of an environment is to undermine the full power of art. If a purely aesthetic change is needed, then a change in architecture, a funky lightbulb, a comfortable chair and a new layer of paint would suffice.
The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Arts Health and Wellbeing published an Arts Health and Wellbeing report in 2017 summarising the findings of a two years’ worth of research. The report demonstrates that visual art improves psychological and physical wellbeing in a number of ways.
Medical professionals are now prescribing art, in various forms, as a means of illness prevention. Arts on Prescription, a project backed by Arts Council England, has shown that GB consultation rates drop by 37%and hospital admissions decrease by 27% when people actively attend galleries and museums. The report calls for a change in the culture of our healthcare, claiming that the UK has not yet realised the potential art has to aid medical practices.
Other findings follow suit. In 2006, the Department of Health Working Group on Arts and Health discovered that factors beyond wellbeing, such as length of stay in hospital and pain tolerance, were significantly reduced by the presence of landscape paintings in hospitals.
The parliamentary report notes that the UK lags ‘in significant respects behind other countries, such as Australia, Cuba and the Nordic countries'. Signifying art's serviceability is cross-cultural and geographical differences do not affect this.
We're proud of our Art For Care initiative, which has seen hundreds of art kits donated to children in hospital. We’re committed to having an active contribution to arts ever-growing place in hospitals and healthcare.
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The act of creating art itself has also proven to be beneficial to our health and productivity. Art classes are being introduced in medical schools, such as Penn State College of Medicine in the US, to promote a more personal approach to what has become an impersonal role.
Art classes aid and develop creative thinking skills, in turn developing creativity and productivity. Organisations like Arts Professional are trying to advocate this. Physical involvement and participation in the arts is just as effective as being in an environment that has art on display.
Over six hundred museums and galleries in the UK run programmes targeting health and wellbeing. Museums and galleries have become institutions for community-based public health promotion, with cost-saving benefits for the NHS. These initiatives prove that art functions beyond the level of aesthetic improvement - it serves as a genuine means of improving and sustaining wellbeing and can be instrumental in recovering from ill health.
Our recommendation? Make art one of your five a day.