Can the visual arts benefit health and healing?
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Arts
The present research aimed to investigate whether the visual arts could benefit health and healing. Three experiments were conducted testing two hundred participants in all. Experiments one and two were conducted in a University environment. The emotional response of eighty students in each experiment to a stressful experience was tested in four different visual environments (colourful art, scenery, provocative art, bare walls) under controlled conditions. Pleasant artworks (condition one and two) were associated with improved mood, more positive emotional memory and lower subjective stress ratings. The findings suggested that pleasant artworks may benefit health and healing. Experiment three was conducted in a hospital environment and compared the emotional state of patients on the basis of three different well-being measures. Forty patients in similar physical condition were tested in two visually different environments, a bare wall and an artwork condition. Experiment three, in the hospital environment with patients, could not confirm the results obtained at the University with students. It was concluded that the hospital research was contaminated with a number of uncontrolled extraneous variables having a positive influence on patients' stress experience. The stress experience could not be controlled for, thus leaving the effect of the artwork on patients' emotional state inconclusive. The implications of this research will be discussed and suggestions for future research will be given.