Researchers are learning more about the precise ways paintings and other works of art help patients and families in the healing process. With studies showing a direct link between the content of images and the brain's reaction to pain, stress, and anxiety, hospitals are considering and choosing artworks based on the evidence and giving it a higher priority than merely decoration for sterile rooms and corridors.
"These are not just accoutrements or aesthetics anymore," says Lisa Harris, a nephrologist and chief executive of Eskenazi Health, affiliated with the Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis.
With a $1.5 million budget from donors, she says, the health system commissioned 19 artists to create original works to support "the sense of optimism, vitality and energy" for the Sidney & Lois Eskenazi Hospital, which opened last December. "This is right down the fairway of what we need to be doing to promote health," Dr. Harris says.
"Paths Crossed," by Maine artist Aaron T. Stephan, is a large, spiraling wooden sculpture composed of six intertwined ladders suspended from the ceiling in the hospital's two-story main concourse.
To Dr. Harris, it is a visual representation of the hospital's approach to care, with "lives intertwined as we go from health to sickness and back to health again," she says. People have reacted differently, she notes. "Some see it as DNA, and some see it as a roller coaster."
Anne Berry, 81, says, "It makes me think of flying." She visits the hospital for procedures and tests such as a mammogram and always takes time to look at the artworks. She has "white coat syndrome," which makes her nervous about going to a doctor, but she says, "I have found the art and the environment at Eskenazi makes it less stress-inducing for me."