What is healing art and how does it work?
By Wilma Burton
I have spent over 15 years working in the public service field and community affairs area, this was a perfect opportunity for me to learn and research the topic in which I have focused my artwork. Healing Art is unknown by many and in some cases a number of people are not able to find out what it really means or how it really works. There are many interpretations and definitions of what and how Healing Art works, and how it affects a person’s emotion and well-being.
I started my research many years ago in the healthcare field. I used to produce television documentaries and medical shows as well as public service announcements. I have also served many on non-profit organization boards like The American Cancer Society. This allowed me to come across this subject by spending time in hospitals, clinics, and health care facilities.
For example, I worked on a project at Los Angeles Children Hospitals in California. I spent time studying and analyzing how special rooms were created to help children cope better with their illness, which in some cases were terminal. A special room with vivid colors, whimsical images and peaceful environment were key elements in the recuperation and improvement of these little patients.
For many years hospitals and other healthcare facilities have been using art to ease the mind of those who can be find a hospital setting very stressful, or feel intimidating by medical equipment used for diagnosis or treatments. Likewise, big white walls and long empty hallways can be uninviting and in some way frightening to patients and visitors.
I remember the first time I had a CT scan. I was somehow terrified by looking at the big machine and being enclosed in a very small space with an IV in my arm. My heart was beating faster and faster, but as I laid down, I noticed a beautiful piece of art on the ceiling, it was a mural with clear blue skies and a beautiful tree with colorful flowers. I tried to focus on this mural as I try to forget the machine, my stress decreased and I felt deep relaxation. At that point I knew I wanted to do something special with my art.
In all sorts of unexpected ways, art in hospitals has significant benefits proven by special research conducted by experts in the field. For instance, member of focus groups who look at beautiful paintings experience less pain and less stress, and these experiments were confirmed by their brain’s electrical activity.
Moreover, there is evidence that art really makes a big difference, hospitalized patients who are surrounded by visual art decrease their length of stay as well as their need for pain relief.
I consider that healing art should not be just limited to a hospital setting. If art works there, then it will work in any kind of environment whether it is someone’s home or office. However, not every piece of art has this benefit, this art has to produces or transmit a positive emotion and healing effect. It is up to the individuals’ personal taste to find an artist that has the ability to create the right composition, colors and images to provide them with optimizing peace of mind, joy and hope.
Most of my art collectors find my paintings very soul uplifting, making them experience happiness and positive emotions. I found interesting that in more than one occasion, some of them position my artwork in their bedroom, when I asked them why, they have a similar answer: “That is the last thing I want to see when I go to bed, and the first thing to see when I wake up.” Some located them in areas of their home where the art is visible from different angles.
So you might ask, how can my art have that healing effect? First, I use compositions that are considered pleasant like nature and its elements. I incorporate images that have spiritual significance such as hummingbirds. It is also believed these birds restore health and balance. Likewise, butterflies are a symbol of transformation, faith and joyous times. It is important to paint images people can relate to, images the mind can associate with goodness. For example, abstract art has the opposite effect in people because the mind is afraid of the unknown.
According to Upali Nanda, Vice President of research for American Art Resources, a health care consulting firm in Houston, she explains: "Healing Art 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." Part of this theory is that if a patient is under stress and anxiety, the person tends to react negatively to images that are ambiguous.
I tend to give my images a whimsical effect with harmony and the feeling of a fairy tale with lots of glitter and a certain magic. It is not surprising to me that children find my art appealing, and in most cases it is that enchanted scene that is perceived well by their innocent minds, they are more open and receptive to this.
Colors also play a big role in healing art, and they are considered a powerful communication tool, used not only by artists but also interior designers. People tend to have a different reaction depending on the color. Some colors are very beneficial and some can produce negative emotions. Studies on the subject have proven the effect colors can have in a person’s mood and help with a specific medical condition.
For instance I use in some artwork lots of blue and green. These two colors have a calming effect resulting in lowered blood pressure. Yellow helps invigorate and also helps those suffering from depression. Purple is the color of healing and spirituality, but also it stimulate inspiration and serenity and helps the immune system. Oranges and reds can increase energy levels. I use lots of colors in my artwork, in particular pastel colors, making them rich and vibrant to produce a happy feeling. Another element in my work is acrylic glitter that produces that magical fairy tale feeling.
Finally an important factor in my healing art is the love, dedication and passion I put in every single peace I create. There are times, I paint according to the benefit needed, finding the right inspiration to convey images that I know will produce a particular benefit either a mood effect or to improve a certain medical condition. Nevertheless, the main purpose of my art is to change a person’s attitude from stress to relaxation and from anxiety or fear to inspiration.
Artist Wilma Burton is a member of the Art and Healing Network