Decorating For Health – The Role of Art in Healthcare Facilities

By | May 21, 2023

The role of art in healthcare facilities goes back at least as far as the ancient Egyptians. Apparently aware of the fact that images of nature induce healing, they painted murals of nature in their healing temples, usually with blue ceilings to represent the sky and green floors to represent the earth. Likewise, the Greeks decorated their hospitals with beautiful paintings as well as statues of healthy athletes to inspire the ailing. In the Americas, the Navajo Indians used art in the form of sand paintings to aid in healing the sick.

In more recent centuries, art in healthcare facilities has been of four types: religious, honorary, medical and charitable. Religious art has often depicted the glory of heaven and the trials of earth. This type of art has questionable value for someone whose assumed goal is to remain on earth. Honorary art depicts donors and has little or no meaning for patients. Medical art originally depicted actual medical procedures including surgery and autopsies. For a patient, these images were likely to have been distressing, frightening and even horrifying.

Although the emphasis in the medical field has shifted to patient-centered care, remnants of some of these types of art remain in almost all healthcare facilities and doctor’s offices. Posters donated from pharmaceutical companies often hang on the walls of examination and treatment rooms. These may depict various stages of ear infections or lung diseases and give information about the medications or antibiotics that can be prescribed.

Alternately, posters depicting medical procedures such as the anatomy of knee replacement can still be found in many medical offices. Other common images in healthcare facilities include anatomical charts of the muscular or skeletal systems.

Fortunately, art depicting medical conditions and anatomy, which have no value for healing, are rarely found in patient recovery rooms. The benefit of positive art, usually scenes of nature, has been studied in depth by Roger Ulrich, Ph.D. Studies conducted by him and others indicate that “healing art” images affect the autonomic nervous system, hormonal balance, brain neurotransmitters, the immune system and the blood flow to all organs in the body. Neurophysiologists have further determined that art connects us to the worlds of imagery, emotion, visions and feelings. This connection can be critical in the healing process.

Other hospitals and medical practitioners have tried a variety of innovative approaches to using art for healing. For example, a dentist’s office commissioned an artist to create a mural of the underside of a pond on the ceiling in their treatment room. This lighthearted mural included the bottom half of a duck complete with feet sticking out into the room. The mural served to distract and amuse patients during dental procedures.

At the University of Maryland, an Enchanted Forest was created for the children’s ward. Trunks from enormous trees were used as the theme for a place for children to play, doctors to relax and families to unwind.

For patients who must lie on their backs for extensive medical tests, some hospitals have installed painted or stained glass covers on their overhead lights. The colors chosen are generally cool and relaxing and the images are gentle, curvilinear patterns similar to ripples on a pond or clouds in the sky.

These projects demonstrate the wonderful role that art and creativity can play in healthcare facilities and in the lives of patients, just when they may need uplifting and inspirational influences the most!