The Healing Power Of Art

In recent years artists, therapists, collectors and curators have begun to recognise the power of art to bring beneficial health effects. During times of personal and global crisis, art can offer a positive counterpoint to the endless cycles of bad news and even bring relief for conditions like anxiety and PTSD.

Research has long demonstrated a strong connection between art and health. In 2007 a British study reported on art’s “positive effects not only on patient well being but also on health outcome such as length of stay in hospital and pain tolerance.” More recently in 2019 Chelsea and Westminster Hospital found that having art present meant less anaesthetic was needed, hospital stays were an average of one day shorter, and levels of cortisol nearly halved for patients undergoing surgery.

Interestingly, different types of art can have differing levels of effectiveness. Many hospital art collections shy away from overly abstract pieces which could add to the stress, unease and unfamiliarity patients are likely already feeling when admitted to the building. Other considerations include use of colour, with bright colours bringing greater benefits, and carefully-chosen subject matter.

“At a time when patients and their loved ones feel the most vulnerable, or out of control, this is not the place to challenge them”, commented Jennifer Collins-Mancour, Coordinator of Arts and Health at Duke University Hospital in Durham, North Carolina. As far as health benefits are concerned, inspiring landscapes, city scenes or attractive portraits are all good choices and feature on many hospital walls all over the world.

One place that has long recognised the healing potential of art is the Phillips Collection. This  Washington D.C. art museum was founded in 1921 by Duncan Phillips in memory of his father who passed away in 1917 and his brother who died from the Spanish influenza in 1918. From its earliest days Duncan Phillips conceived the collection as a place of meditation where people could experience the “joy-giving, life-enhancing influence” of art.

Rather than selecting works systematically, Phillips acquired pieces which he found truly moving. Opening his collection up to the general public was Phillips’ way of helping others to enjoy the healing benefits of art which had helped him overcome personal tragedy. “Pictures send us back to life…with the ability to see beauty all about us”, he wrote in his 1926 book about putting together the collection.

During these times of uncertainty there is much to be said for slowing down and embracing the meditative, healing power of art. Fine art is a unique form of investment which can bring immense joy and beauty to its owner as well as offering an excellent opportunity to safeguard your capital.