Why Artwork in Hospitals Is So Important

Going to the hospital for surgery or even visiting someone who is suffering from illness can be a very sad experience. Having to look at sterile white walls in rooms and wander through freezing cold corridors, it's no wonder many patients feel a sense of hopelessness, as if they are trapped within an institution with no way out. As a result, more hospitals than ever before are using local artist work to help give patients a sense of optimism, vitality and energy.

There’s actually growing medical evidence that the right artwork can help reduce stress for patients and increase their overall satisfaction with the medical care provided by the hospital. Researchers have studied how the brain processes certain images and how viewing artwork can impact a person’s reaction to pain, stress and anxiety. Based on these results, many hospitals have decided that artwork is more than just a way to make the facility look more beautiful – it’s also a way to improve the overall healing process.

“My personal experience with this gave me a sense of comfort and peace,” says Floy Ealy Edjole, an abstract artist who has seen the impact of artwork in hospitals from two different perspectives – as a patient and as an artist creating new works to help people deal with the feelings they experience during moments of pain and loss.

“I know for me after having two pacemaker implants and many doctor appointments, walking into these places and seeing beautiful art pieces put a smile on my face,” she says. “I was able to escape for a moment and not focus on what was about to happen.”

So what type of artwork is most successful in giving patients a renewed sense of optimism and vitality? According to studies, such as those available from the nonprofit Center for Health Design, patients are most positively affected by nature themes and artwork that contains clearly recognizable happy faces that connote security and safety. As might be expected, soothing nature images are especially powerful in reducing stress, anxiety and restlessness.

And there’s also room for abstract art to play a role in helping patients deal with sickness and all the negative thoughts created by that sickness. According to a 2014 study by the Cleveland Clinic, patients viewing abstract and nonrepresentational imagery reported a significant positive effect on their experience and on mood, stress level and overall comfort.

Of the works that she has painted to help her and others deal with deep emotional loss, Floy Ealy Edjole says that a few stand out as examples of what would be most appropriate for a hospital. For example, there’s “Infinity,” a piece that uses black and white paint carefully brushed onto the canvas and the universally recognizable Infinity symbol. For her, the symbol exemplifies her love and affection toward her mother and father. For patients in a hospital, it could also become a powerful symbol of love and affection, as well as one of eternal, infinite hope.

Art has the ability to give patients a burst of energy and strength to keep fighting. Art is for the healing of the mind, body, and soul. And now hospitals are recognizing that fact, turning their art collections into a powerful way to inspire positive energy, hope and a sense of optimism about the future.