To say a piece of art is enlightening, refreshing, empowering or even just simply pleasant is not a problematic concept – art aims to stimulate and elicit feelings. Art speaks to us on an emotional level, appealing to our sub-conscious selves. German philosopher Friedrich Schelling takes this a step further – he professed that geometrical forms can influence a person’s emotions. A straight line can symbolise brutality, a curved line signifies flexibility, oval shapes for tenderness and a wavy lines mean life. Although in art, the strongest psychological influence is achieved through colour.
Above: Can art heal? At this time of year we could use some help! Photo courtesy of William Brawley
Colour and Well-Being
Colour therapists believe colour has the ability to alter our state of well-being. Colour itself is simply light of varying wavelengths, different colours have their own particular wavelength and energy. This energy can be absorbed by the eyes, skin, skull and our aura (magnetic energy field). Therefore the energy of colour affects us on all levels, physically, spiritually and emotionally. Dinshah P Ghadiali, a Hindu scientist, went as far as to say that for every system of the body there is a particular colour that stimulates and another that inhibits functioning.
It is a fact that imagery ‘language’ comes before verbal language. Symbols, shapes and colours affect us on a far deeper level. If a picture is more powerful than words – Can visual art alter our emotional and even physical state? Does art have the power to heal?
Above: Art therapy with lego – Mondrian style! Photo courtesy of Afroboof
Pink in Prisons
There are many examples where colour therapy has been put into practice to alter mood and behaviour. Prison inmates in Texas now wear pink jumpsuits, not only is this humiliating for them but it is said that pink is a calming, soothing colour; we are first comforted by it in the womb. This is actually quite common, pink exposure has been scientifically proven to lower blood pressure. As a direct consequence, the potential for aggression is said to drop within minutes.
Glasgow, Scotland, introduced blue street lighting to improve the city’s landscape in 2000. After a period of time, the number of crimes in areas illuminated in blue noticeably decreased. This could have been a coincidence but there is a plethora of research that indicates that blue is calming. Also, blue is associated with a police presence, suggesting it is an area of stricter law enforcement.
What about Visual Art?
It’s well accepted and applied that colour can affect our mood, we even have green walls in hospitals to promote calmness but the evidence mentioned above suggests it can actually affect us physically and alter our behaviour. It’s not so extreme then to suggest that visual art can heal. Here are some examples of research and people, businesses and programs that use art to heal the mind and the body.
Above: Hospitals can be intimidating and a little depressing at the best of times – livening things up a bit with high quality artwork is now the norm in most health environments. Photo courtesy of London Matt
A hospital setting is very stressful, clinical research published in 2004 by the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, concluded that the placement of original works of art within healthcare environments has tangible benefits. Those were; a reduction in levels of anxiety, stress and depression, a reduction in the use of some medications and increased staff morale.
Artist Alexander Melamid is founder of the Art Healing Ministry, a storefront clinic in New York. People can come in by appointment and be treated by means of exposure to fine art, for a variety of psychological ailments including stress and eating disorders. He uses the works of Raphael, Botticelli, Picasso and Lichtenstein to help you live a happier, healthier life. “We all know the power of art, its power to galvanize, fortify, stimulate, rouse, soothe and enlighten,” he remarked at the opening.
It is also proven that the creative process itself can help people with psychological trauma. Children who were victims of the floods in Pakistan and the Haitian catastrophe have benefited immensely by expressing their feelings in art through art therapy programs.
In Irritable Bowels
The story of artist Brent Atwater is an interesting one. After she was commissioned to paint ‘Irritable Bowel Syndrome,’ Atwater became compelled to channel healing energies into another layer of the painting which she painted on top of the original image. The IBS painting was scientifically tested measuring viewers heart waves, respiration rates, body temperature, energy fields and brain waves and they concluded that positive changes to their physical energy fields did indeed occurs after 5 seconds of exposure to the painting.
She argues that each light ray consists of colours that have different wavelengths and vibrational frequencies that affect your mind, cells, and body chemicals differently. By receiving colour, texture and image information through our eyes, their frequencies communicate to our brain to direct the various bodily functions to respond accordingly. Atwater has since founded Paintings that Heal, to showcase her healing art; paintings are available for specific ailments, diseases and conditions.
It is fact that the creative process can help heal psychological trauma, this does makes sense as it is cathartic and helps you express inner angst. We can also say for certain that colour and visual art can have a profound effect on mood and emotion.
Whether you believe that art can physically heal depends largely on how you feel about the mind/body connection. Science tells us that negative thoughts and emotions cause stress on the body which depresses the immune system. If art can talk to our subconscious mind through symbolism and colour and the mind can communicate with the body through imagery – you could argue that art was the best way to speak to the body.