I believe strongly in the healing power of art. I recently had the opportunity to revisit one of Array’s projects that opened back in November. It was incredibly rewarding to hear the hospital’s staff tell me about how positive
visitor and patient reactions have been to the art installations. It truly emphasizes the importance of incorporating art in designing healing environments.
There is a human tendency to project anxiety and discomfort onto nearby objects and people when under stress. In his book, The Heart’s Eye: Emotional Influences in Perception & Attention, P. M. Niedenthal developed the concept of “emotional congruence” — when a person is presented with an assortment of environmental stimuli, those parts that match the emotional state of the viewer will most likely be the focus of their attention. Thus, abstract art that is seen as interesting or challenging by a non-stressed person may be perceived as frightening or threatening by someone in a state of anxiety. Therefore, in settings such as hospitals which are known to elevate symptoms of stress, it is essential that art, sculpture and other human-made design elements be decidedly positive in their message. Complex abstract art which may be suitably challenging in a museum or corporate foyer is not always appropriate in a hospital.
Research indicates that patients prefer familiar representational nature or landscape themes. For instance, those recovering from heart surgery exposed to landscape photographs of water and trees had lower anxiety and required lower doses of pain medicines than those in control groups with abstract scenes or no artwork. Often times local artists bring the most appropriate perspective for this reason. They have a tie to the community and are able to translate imagery that makes patients and staff feel at home. This evidence supports the economic benefits of lower medication costs, reduced length of stay and increased staff and patient satisfaction.
While there are guidelines to the selection of evidence-based art, it is the responsibility of the design team to ensure the most appropriate art for the community and organization as well as a complement to the building, interior design and landscape.