The Secret Power of Art Galleries
In Arts and Lit’s collaboration with Science, Print Science Editor, Elinor Jones, discusses the use of art galleries in psychiatric support.
As a health researcher, I often come across studies that aim to improve the wellbeing of people suffering from a range of conditions without the need for a pharmacological intervention, otherwise known as drugs. Pertinent as ever, the increasing demand to support people with psychiatric disorders means health professionals are keen to explore new ways of managing conditions, especially where traditional therapies have shown little benefit. From robotic seals for people with dementia to yoga for depression, recent years have seen a shift in attitudes towards the treatment of psychiatric and neurological disorders, away from medication.
A growing trend in health research and social science is using resources currently available to the general public, whether that’s through green spaces, libraries, coffee shops or museums, which could help improve aspects of an individual’s mental health if carefully managed. Emerging from these practices is the initiative of exposing people with psychiatric disorders to art, in the form of galleries and museums, a programme championed in Canada.
Art therapy, as it’s known, can take many forms, from passively or actively viewing artwork to creating new pieces. For some individuals, just being surrounded by the art improves wellbeing, whilst others find being involved in the creative process reduces symptoms. Studies have shown a beneficial effect for young people with severe mental health difficulties, notably due to the reflective nature that museums pose; many people with such conditions see themselves in the art, giving themselves a chance to reflect on experiences or perhaps share experiences with others in the group.
“For some individuals, just being surrounded by the art improves wellbeing, whilst others find being involved in the creative process reduces symptoms.”
For inpatients of psychiatric hospitals, artwork can transform their daily lives, with many centres, such as London’s Springfield University Hospital, opening their doors to award-winning artists to revamp the walls with contributions from the patients themselves. By creating an environment in which people with mental health problems and psychiatric disorders can appreciate, discuss and create art, people can begin to see small changes in their wellbeing.
Whilst more research needs to be done to fully understand physiologically how such therapies impact on symptoms of psychiatric disorders and to test alongside pharmaceuticals, science and society are moving forward to improve the lives of many, in a something otherwise forgotten in healthcare, creativity.