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Can Art Improve Your Health?

Can Art Improve Your Health?
It’s not news to most of us that our environment can have an impact on our mood. A cloudy day. Working in a cubicle farm. Growing up in poverty.

But can it also impact our health?

There’s a growing body of research that suggests the beneficial effects of picking and hanging the “right” artwork in hospitals, to help healing and improve patients’ mood:

Nanda, who has a doctorate in architecture with a specialization in health-care systems and design, says scientific studies show that art can aid in the recovery of patients, shorten hospital stays and help manage pain. But she says it has to be the right art – vivid paintings of landscapes, friendly faces and familiar objects can lower blood pressure and heart rate, while abstract pictures can have the opposite effect.

Nanda and two university professors did a study at Houston’s St. Luke’s Episcopal Hospital using two types of art. In the first group were images that had been proved to calm patients, including green landscapes, water scenes, cultural artifacts and emotionally expressive pictures of people. The second group contained abstract pieces. When asked which they preferred, most patients chose images from the first group.

Not surprising, since that opinion reflects most people’s opinion about those two groups of artwork in the real world. Ambiguous artwork, such as much abstract paintings, provokes anxiety in many people, while familiar scenes of people and the outdoors are more serene and something most people can identify with. The article theorizes that people feel more at ease with such paintings, allowing them to project their own feelings of uneasiness or anxiety onto them.

In April, their company helped refurbish the joint unit of Baylor Medical Center at Irving, Texas. The hallways, which were previously dull and outdated, are now lined with paintings of trees, flowers and fields. Patients trying to regain mobility after hip and knee surgeries are met with motivational pictures every 25 feet to keep them energized. These distance markers, adorned with inspirational quotes and pictures of plants, replaced plain pieces of tape that were used before the art was installed.

Can you imagine how simple and inexpensive making hospitals look, well, hospitable is, compared to all the fancy imaging equipment and latest micro-surgery tools? And yet, these components can be just as important to a patient’s recovery as taking the right pills at the right time. Sterile white hallways might make for a clean environment, but it does nothing for the needs of being human in such places. After all, hospitals aren’t technology clean-rooms — they are where we treat people. And people are emotional and social creatures who value the familiar.

Many psychiatric hospitals could also do with a makeover. I’ve seen some pretty drab and depressing looking inpatient facilities in my time, places where healing one’s emotional hurts seems as unlikely as growing a flower without light.

Of course artwork isn’t going to heal anybody’s wounds, but it can help speed the healing process after-the-fact.

Read the full article: Medical units display art to help patients feel better

Can Art Improve Your Health?

John M. Grohol, Psy.D.

Dr. John Grohol is the founder of Psych Central. He is a psychologist, author, researcher, and expert in mental health online, and has been writing about online behavior, mental health and psychology issues since 1995. Dr. Grohol has a Master's degree and doctorate in clinical psychology from Nova Southeastern University. Dr. Grohol sits on the editorial board of the journal Computers in Human Behavior and is a founding board member of the Society for Participatory Medicine. You can learn more about Dr. John Grohol here.

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APA Reference
Grohol, J. (2018). Can Art Improve Your Health?. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 31, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 1 Sep 2009)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.