Medicine & Art

Medicine & Art

Medicine & art, at first glance they seem unlikely bedfellows. One is scientific, utilitarian and utterly essential; the other is conceptual, decorative & often seen as a luxury.  For most people, the stereotypical image of a hospital, or primary care clinic, would not include oil paintings on the walls or sculptures in the corridors.

But the truth is more nuanced than this. Medical facilities throughout the UK - indeed worldwide - own thousands of highly regarded works of art.  Largely donated from generous, or perhaps grateful, benefactors.  From Aberdeen Maternity Hospital in the north to West Cornwall Hospital in the south, the UK’s medical estate is rich in paintings, sculptures and other art forms.  While many of the artworks on display in UK hospitals are by local artists who may not have immediate name recognition, there are also pieces by internationally recognised artists including Andy Warhol, Anthony Gormley and Quentin Blake.

This art isn’t just there to cover the walls.  There is a growing school of thought that art can do more than divert our attention for a few moments.  The right artwork, in the right location at the right time, can in fact act as a boost to good health and be of benefit to the recovery from ill health.

2003 study  by the academic Dr Rosalia Staricoff looked at the effects of being exposed to artwork among patients at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital.  Interestingly the study, titled ‘Effects of Visual & Performing Arts in Healthcare for Chelsea and Westminster Hospital’ found not only that artwork had a noticeably beneficial effect on patients suffering from mental health issues, but also that there was a positive effect on physical health.  The study concluded that patients took on average 70mg less pain medication per day when artworks were introduced into their care environment.

The importance of art in medical facilities is something that’s not lost on Art UK, the charity that exists to collate and make available on its website all publicly owned and displayed art in the country.  In addition to all the artwork contained in the UK’s world famous galleries the site also lists 230 medical institutions, with all the artwork contained within them.

This extraordinary collection of art is detailed within the ‘medical institution’ section of the Art UK site.  In a few clicks you go from viewing the art on display in a tiny community hospital in Bromyard in Herefordshire (the study of an Egret in flight by Michael Oxenham is particularly good) to perusing the thousands of pieces owned by the medical charity, the Wellcome Trust.  

The scale and variety of the art contained in our medical facilities is extraordinary.  Its healing potential is not lost on Art UK.  The benefits of the art was explored in a July 2018 article produced by the charity.  The piece identified 10 ways in which art can benefit health.  In addition to the Staricoff study detailed above the essay identified dealing with morbidity, treating dementia, supporting stroke recovery and helping patients and medical staff deal with stress as just some of the benefits of showing art in medical facilities.

The phenomenon is something (med)24 is taking seriously.  Intense work is ongoing to find the right artworks to display in our Paddington clinic.  Not just this but architects and designers have been working hard to create the correct physical environment for healing.

We hope the visual impact of the clinic will surprise, entertain and stimulate our patients and members.  We will be bringing you more on this as we get closer to our opening date.  Until then, here’s two thoughts about the subject of art and medicine, one from the medicinal side, the other artistic.  First the World Health Organisation & its definition of holistic health:

“…viewing man in his totality within a wide ecological spectrum, and … emphasising the view that ill health or disease is brought about by an imbalance, or disequilibrium, of man in his total ecological system and not only by the causative agent and pathogenic evolution.”

The second thought is from Pablo Picasso, who described the health benefits of art in beautiful simplicity:

“…art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.”