Great art might open up great opportunities for wellbeing. So far Medley has mainly explored art’s impact on people who themselves take part in painting, drawing or crafting. In this blog post the focus turns to how looking at art might in itself also boost wellbeing and enhance life in diverse ways.
How might enjoying artworks do this? It might be calming, mindful, a positive visual and mental stimulus. It lets you see the world through another person’s eyes, so it could free you from your own perspective for a while. It might brighten mood by creating a space for beauty. It could transport you to a different place and time. It might also inspire you to experiment with creativity yourself.
Specific impacts will depend on the art itself. Perhaps art’s emotional impact on viewers is more openly explored by 20th and now 21st century artworks than it was in earlier eras. This more experimental art clearly highlights knotty and difficult questions about mood and emotions, about life and death, about war and conflict: maybe through the use of colour, the brushwork or the subject matter. Think of Oskar Kokoschka’s paintings of the trauma of war, or of art focusing on isolation and loneliness, like Alberto Giacometti’s unusual figure scculptures, or of Abstract Expressionists like Mark Rothko or Barnett Newman who used colour to create emotion. Art like this might liberate the viewer and enable them to express – or to see reflected – their own pain or fear. But it might also be too disturbing or depressing.
Art might be more helpful as a refuge, an escape, a distraction, as a glimpse of beauty or order: maybe Impressionist seascapes or landscapes, or portraits painted centuries ago.
The charity Paintings In Hospitals was founded over 60 years ago to share art with people in health and care settings. Its unique collection of thousands of artworks is regularly loaned out to hospitals, as the name suggests, but also to GP surgeries, care homes and hospices. While the charity does also run art activities enabling people to respond to the loaned artworks creatively themselves, their main work builds on long experience of the hugely positive impact the sheer presence of artworks in healthcare settings has on patients. The charity works on a range of projects and recently cooperated with The Wallace Collection (a central London gallery) on a research study entitled Contemporary Art and Primary Care.
Initiatives like this brighten what could be impersonal, clinical settings and share great art more widely. More and more art galleries and museums now have outreach and wellbeing programmes engaging people in all different circumstances. But people may also find art helpful if they enjoy looking at art in books, online or on television. Technology has transformed this, with virtual tours of many art galleries only a few clicks away. Yes, this is a different experience from seeing art in real life, which many people would argue is richer and more authentic. But there’s a positive side to enjoying art virtually or through books, at your own pace: and it’s more practical for people who are too ill, frail or busy to get to agallery.
Maybe there are as many different ways to enjoy and respond to art as there are artworks to experience.