The Psychology of Art in Medical Settings

GUEST BLOG | by Christina Colón


Do you remember what hospitals and doctor’s offices used to look like? They used to be synonymous with stark white walls and an overall awful, sterile feeling, right? All that started to change some years ago. Walking down the halls of most wings of a hospital or sitting in any number of doctor’s offices, it’s easy to notice the art that adorns the walls. From calm oceanside views and rolling meadows to more abstract pieces that encourage you to look deeper, there’s almost always something there, just waiting for you to get lost in them. Well, there’s a reason why things changed. 



Art is not just pretty, it has a power and purpose that tends to be forgotten from time to time. Have you ever looked at a piece of art, no matter the kind, and had it do something to you? Has it ever surprised you how much emotion or thought it stirred up in you? That’s the power of art and you know what, there’s science that backs it up!

An incredible experiment was conducted by Professor Semir Zeki, chair in neuroaesthetics at University College London, in which, participants in the study were shown 30 paintings by major artists. “We wanted to see what happens in the brain when you look at beautiful paintings.” and “whether it is a landscape, a still life, an abstract or a portrait – there is strong activity in that part of the brain related to pleasure,” Zeki said. During the study, the participants had brain scans performed while being shown the paintings. When seeing the paintings they found to be the most beautiful, the scans "lit up". The participant’s blood flow increased by as much as 10% in the medial orbital frontal cortex part of the brain - this is the equivalent of gazing at a loved one! This effect on our brains proves why art is a tool for healing.

Another study was conducted in a psychiatric clinic in the U.S. where patients were regularly given antipsychotic injections to calm “aggressive and agitated behavior”. During the study, posters of realistic nature scenes were hung in a multi-purpose lounge of the clinic and remarkably, the number of injections administered decreased by 70%!


I grew up in hospitals and doctor's offices. My dad was injured a year before I was born and that injury turned into a chronic pain disease that, at the time and for many years, was incredibly rare. Between doctors visits and long hospital stays through coma after coma and complication after complication, I saw countless waiting rooms with countless pieces of art. From a young age, I had bouts of anxiety from fears that this time he was in the hospital would be the last.

Those thoughts were hard to ignore and made concentration incredibly difficult. During those times, I was able to find moments of peace here and there in the paintings that hung. I could mentally run away; it was a way to cope. I can distinctly remember long walks down hospital corridors to the cafeteria or, on the way out to get a quick shower and change of clothes. I would find myself stopping to examine different paintings, even if I had seen them a thousand times, I could always find something different in them. Those instances allowed me to feel something different, think of something different, even for just a minute.

I’m not saying that a random landscape in corridor H or a picturesque beach scene in Dr. Davito’s waiting room took away all the pain of what I was experiencing. I simply say that the art hanging in those areas helped me, in some way, cope. I can still remember those momentary feelings of peace, I can still feel those feelings after all these years and I’m grateful.




What if you had the power to change a hard experience for a patient? If you had a way to console someone after bad news or quickly calm them as they took a seat in your waiting area? You'd do it in the blink of an eye right? As you've already read, art does this very thing, it's silently working in the background, infiltrating your patient's senses in ways they don't even realize. It's incredible, it's proven and it's at your fingertips! We understand the power of art in medical settings and so, we want to help make it a bit more attainable for you. We're offering 30% OFF your bulk orders so we can help change the experiences of your patients one watercolor print at a time!

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