Art and Healthcare

I am very interested in art and healthcare. Having spent more than a decade working in Chicago area hospitals, first as a speech-language pathologist and then as a rehab program adminstrator, I have thought a lot about optimizing recovery and outcomes in healthcare settings. Focusing on creating optimal 'healing environments' makes so much sense. Hospital environments are impersonal and intimidating, patients often expressed the feeling of a loss of control in this unfamiliar, regimented setting. And, as a healthcare employee, I was constantly aware of the aesthetic void of hospitals, literally craving natural elements, fresh color palettes and real art (badly framed prints of sunflowers and water lilies didn't cut it).

So I was delighted when Float was commissioned for the new Loyola Medical Center in Burr Ridge, Illionois.

Float (2011) detail from panel 3

I believe art can play an integral role in healing and recovery, providing important visual input that encourages cognitive engagement. Thinking beyond what we can see and exploring the world of the possible forms new synaptic connections, changing the brain and contributing to a rich life experience. Compositions in glass are uniquely able to capture and sustain visual attention owing to intense color saturation, literal depth in the glass and extreme contrasts between matte grout and sparkling glass. Glass compositions are dynamic as ambient light interacts with the work causing different patterns of reflectance.

As I've been reading about current trends in healthcare and arts, I am excited to find that art is being prioritized and funded in healthcare architecture and design. Art is being recognized as an important tool in the healing and recovery process. Using patient survey methodologies, researchers are investigating patient art preferences and developing 'evidence-based art programs' accordingly. Recent research by Upali Nanda et al of American Art Resources is finding patient preferences for representational, nature imagery. These researchers are concluding that art in healthcare should be drawn from this genre. In article abstracts, there is mention of art as a means of 'escape' and 'distraction' for patients.

Clearly such research initiatives are of value given both the data-driven nature of the health-care industry and the challenge of developing art programs that meet a wide variety of patient and employee preferences, as diverse as those of the general population. However, given my background in cognitive rehabilitation and my decade working in that environment, I contend that there is another angle to consider in researching and designing art programs: art as a mechanism for cognitive stimulation which goes beyond distraction to engagement. In the same way that healthcare professionals have attended to the negative effects of bedrest, we need to explore the potential neurophysiological benefits of cognitive engagement in the hospital setting. Artists are uniquely suited to offer novel stimuli to engage another neurological system. Limiting art in healthcare to a very specific genre is a lost opportunity for the creative engagement of artists and viewers (both patients and healthcare workers) in exploring new dimensions and realms that could simultaneously offer cognitive stimulation and respite from the impersonal hospital environment. I would love to see progressive, engaging art programs become an integral part of healing environments.