The Healing Power of Symbolic Art

Last Updated September 14, 2010

History of Art in Healthcare Settings
The Benefits of Positive Art
Innovative Hospital Decor
Floral Paintings for Offices and Homes

History of Art in Healthcare Settings

healing artThe role of art in healthcare settings goes back at least as far as the ancient Egyptians. Apparently aware of the fact that images of nature induce healing, they painted murals of nature, usually with blue ceilings to represent the sky and green floors to represent the earth, in their healing temples. Likewise, the Greeks included beautiful paintings as well as statues of healthy athletes in their healing temples—perhaps to inspire the ailing? In the Americas, the Navajo Indians used art in the form of sand paintings to aid in healing the sick.

In more recent centuries, hospital art has been of four types: religious, honorary, medical and charitable. Religious art has often depicted the glory of heaven and the trials of earth. This type of art has questionable value for someone whose assumed goal is to remain on earth. Honorary art depicts donors to the hospital, and has little or no meaning for patients. Medical art originally depicted actual medical procedures including surgery and autopsies. For a patient, these images were likely to have been distressing, frightening and even horrifying.

Although the emphasis in the medical field has shifted to patient-centered care, remnants of some of these types of art remain in almost every hospital and doctor’s office. Posters donated from pharmaceutical companies often hang on the walls of examination and treatment rooms. These may depict various stages of ear infections or lung diseases and give information about the medications or antibiotics that can be prescribed. Alternately, posters depicting medical procedures such as the anatomy of knee replacement can still be found in many medical offices. Other common images include anatomical charts of the muscular or skeletal systems. Fortunately, art depicting medical conditions and anatomy are rarely found in patient rooms today.

The Benefits of Positive Art

art historyThe benefit of positive art, usually scenes of nature, has been studied in depth by Roger Ulrich, Ph.D. Studies conducted by him and others indicate that “healing art” images affect the autonomic nervous system, hormonal balance, brain neurotransmitters, the immune system and the blood flow to all organs in the body. Neurophysiologists have further determined that art connects us to the worlds of imagery, emotion, visions and feelings. This connection can be critical in the healing process.

Other researchers have determined that colors have different effects on emotions and can therefore be therapeutic. Warm colors (red, yellow, orange) can help improve a depressed mood and stimulate metabolism. Cool colors (green, purple, blue) promote calmness and relaxation. A blue, calm ocean scene may be helpful for someone who needs rest and healing. A bright meadow full of yellow flowers could be stimulating for someone who is depressed or someone whose immune system is low.
Other medical facilities and healthcare practitioners have tried a variety of innovative approaches to using art for healing. A dentist’s office commissioned an artist to create a mural of the underside of a pond on the ceiling in their treatment room. This lighthearted mural included the bottom half of a duck complete with feet sticking out into the room. The mural served to distract and amuse patients during dental procedures.

Learn more about the effect of environments on patients through the article link below. This article was written by Barbara Schmock, RN, MSN and utilized research from this website and from other recommended sources:

Effect of Sacred Space Environment on Surgical Patient outcomes: A Pilot Study (PDF)

Innovative Hospital Decor

At the University of Maryland, an “Enchanted Forest” was created for the children’s ward. Trunks from enormous trees were used as the theme for a place for children to play, doctors to relax and families to unwind. For patients who must lie on their backs for extensive medical tests, some hospitals have installed painted or stained glass covers on their overhead lights. The colors chosen are generally cool and relaxing and the images are gentle, curvilinear patterns similar to ripples on a pond or clouds in the sky. These projects demonstrate the wonderful role that art and creativity can play in the lives of patients—just when they may need uplifting and inspirational influences the most.

The Healing Power of Flowers

Can using flowers in the decor in a room help relieve stress? A 1996 study conducted by Virginia Lohr and others showed that rooms and offices decorated with plants and flowers helped reduce stress as measured by decreased blood pressure and pulse rates. Researchers have further determined that there is a direct link between flowers and life satisfaction.

flower bouquetA study done at Rutgers demonstrated that flowers decrease anxiety, depression and agitation. Flowers also lead to a higher sense of enjoyment and increased contact with family and friends. Flowers make a home more welcoming and create a sharing atmosphere.

Additional research by Diane Relf of the Virginia Polytechnic Institute has shown that people communicate better in the presence of flowers or plants and they tend to eat more slowly. Others studies focused specifically on seniors and tracked improvements in memory in the presence of flowers.

Floral Paintings for Offices and Homes

floral artBy decorating your home or office with flower paintings rather than fresh flowers, you introduce flowers into your decor that will never fade. Having flowers as a permanent element into your home can be a positive influence for both inhabitants and visitors. With all of the prints and posters available today, choose a flower painting to decorate any area of your home or business is relatively easy.

Floral paintings can be used in almost every area of a home or business. Small flower paintings are perfect for bathrooms, hallways, entryways or bedrooms. Large flower paintings add cheer and color to dining rooms, living rooms and family rooms.

For businesses or offices, flower paintings are traditional for waiting areas and reception areas. Flowers have universal appeal and work well in just about any decor to lower stress and uplift everyone's mood!


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