In this section we discuss displayed art (painting, sculpture, etc.).

For a discussion of art showing nature scenes, please go to the section, “Nature and Nature Art”

For a discussion of art-related activities (creativity and art-making), please go to the “Activities” section and see “Creative Expression


Restorative Properties

For this project, we are committed to focusing on elements that are demonstrated by research to have restorative properties. It cannot yet be reliably stated that observing art (except, arguably, for art showing nature scenes) has that kind of restorative effect. A recent expansive literature search aimed at exploring the connection between visual art and physical restoration concluded: “Over the past two decades, the potential for the visual arts to help create a healing environment has become widely acknowledged. While there is little scientific data to support this supposition, arts programs are proliferating in healthcare settings.”1[emphasis added]

More recently, a three-year study completed in 2002 in an English hospital (referred to as “the world’s first scientific and clinical evaluation of the arts in healthcare”) suggested a connection, finding that anxiety levels were 18 per cent lower after exposure to visual art and depression levels were 34 per cent lower.2 Moreover, “exposure to visual art during childbirth reduced labor time among first-time mothers by more than two hours. The women were asked to look at an artist-designed screen, covered in abstract forms in calming, earthy colors. The aim was to reduce the stress and fears which could inhibit labor. . . [T]he duration of labor was reduced compared with a control group, so too were requests for anesthetic epidurals.”3

A research study conducted by Roger Ulrich suggested that abstract works may create more anxiety than no picture at all. In a Swedish intensive-care unit, “Patients who had undergone open-heart surgery were randomly assigned a nature picture (dominated either by water or trees), or one of various abstract pictures, or no picture (control group). Those exposed to the nature with water picture experienced less postoperative anxiety than either the patients exposed to other types of pictures or the control group.  Patients exposed to abstract pictures had higher anxiety than patients without any picture.”4


Examples of Use/Application

Below are some discussions of visual art that is asserted or considered to have restorative properties.

1. This report appeared in the Journal of the American Medical Association: 5

At Paradise Valley Hospital in San Diego, “community groups collaborated with local artists to create the ‘Healing Journey’ project and respond to the question, ‘What does healing mean to the different cultures served by the hospital?’ Result: more than 100 multimedia works installed throughout the medical center. . . .

“In many cultures, the support and nurturing of family and community are important factors in the healing experience. Through participation in family and community festivals and celebrations, we enhance our emotional and physical wellbeing. Accordingly, one local artist and a community photographer captured a year’s worth of celebrations. The renderings of these events line the hospital’s main corridor with the message that time spent with family and community in celebration is healing. . . .

“Everywhere we are delivering medicine in communities entrenched in belief systems that intertwine spirituality and healing. If we can honor those communities’ beliefs and cultures through art that shares these stories and brings delight, perhaps this art will, at the least, alleviate some fearfulness, and that is surely therapeutic.”


2. In 2003, the Institute of Contemporary Art, in Boston, presented an exhibition, “Pulse: Art, Healing, and Transformation.” It said of the exhibition, “This groundbreaking exhibition examines the complex relationship between healing and the creative process in the work of fifteen international artists whose artistic practices promote curative effects."6


3. Images of art considered to have healing properties are included in the following books and website:




One Source, Sacred Journeys: A Celebration of Spirit and Art edited by Gary Markowitz (Markowitz, 1997)



Art That Heals: The Image As Medicine in Ethiopia by Jacques Mercier (New York: The Museum for African Art, 1997)



The Arts and Healing Network and Arts As A Healing Force combined to create an archive to serve as, in their words, “a testament to the richness and power of the healing arts.”

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4. Gazing at certain artworks is said by proponents to be restorative. In many cases, the arguments for such restorative properties can be traced back many centuries.

Ø      Here are two excerpts from works extolling the restorative powers of mandalas:

“Mandala is the Sanskrit word for ‘sacred circle.’ Mandalas have been used for thousands of years in Native American, Hindu, and Buddhist Tantric practices to express illuminated states of consciousness and to facilitate healing of body, mind, and spirit. In our century, the famous psychiatrist C. G. Jung first introduced the mandala for use in integrating the fragmented psyche and as a means of accessing the ‘unconscious’ or soul as a source of deep knowledge.”7

“By gazing at a mandala, or by creating one ourselves, we tap into otherwise inaccessible sources of transformational help. Whether we understand these sources to be within ourselves or coming from spirit beyond, we can be greatly enlivened by their gifts. . . . I speak of this art with passion because I have been helped very deeply by contemplating and creating mandalas. During a recent health crisis that could not really be addressed by allopathic medicine, these images have been a constant source of comfort and inspiration. In a very real way, I have drawn on mandalas as a source of ‘beauty-medicine.’”8

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Here is some commentary about the compelling power of religious icons. (Note that these are particularly Christian symbols, and are not viewed with favor even by all Christian sects. They might not be appropriate wall art for many restorative spaces available for general public use.)

“The purpose of an icon is to take us into the world of the Spirit, where we can experience the transforming power of divine grace.”9

“Every time I entrust myself to these images, move beyond my curious questions about their origin, history and artistic value, and let them speak to me in their own language, they draw me into closer communion with the God of love.”10

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Ø      "Many Buddhist images are believed to have healing or restorative effects. In particular, gazing at an image of the Healing Buddha, “Bhaishajyaguru,” (in Japanese, “Futsunushi no Mikoto,”) is associated with restoration. Here is part of a commentary on one work:

The means of invoking the power of Bhaishajyaguru are also outlined in the sutra and include: sincere recitation or concentration on his name, performing puja or offerings to the sutra itself, as well as, reciting and disseminating it, and performing puja before an image of the Master of Healing. The work presents a visual meditation concerning the true nature of the healing offered by Bhaishajyaguru, that being the healing of physical illness as a metaphor for and road to the healing of the illness of delusion.11

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Ø      The book, Zen Art for Meditation, contains specific advice for gazing at Zen Art.12

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[1] “The Effect of Art on Venipuncture-Induced Stress”
venipuncture_stress.doc, citing Palmer, J. and F. N. Nash.  Humanizing the Health-Care Environment: Models for a New Arts-Medicine Partnership.  Current Research in Arts Medicine.  (Chicago: a cappella books,1993). This study, for a number of reasons, was inconclusive (and it used a nature-art painting), but there is considerable interesting discussion about art, color, and other topics in its report.

[2] Starikoff, R.L., J. Duncan, et. al. A Study of the Effects of the Visual and Performing Arts in Healthcare

[3] “Healing Art and the Medicine in Music.”

[4] From Ulrich, R. “How Design Impacts Wellness”, citing Ulrich, R. S., Lundén, O., and J. L. Eltinge. “Effects of exposure to nature and abstract pictures on patients recovering from heart surgery.” Paper presented at the Thirty-Third Meetings of the Society for Psychophysiological Research, Rottach-Egern, Germany. (1993) Abstract published in Psychophysiology, 30 (Supplement 1, 1993): 7

[5] Ridenour, A. “Creativity and the Arts in Healthcare Settings” Journal of the American Medical Association 279 (5)(Feb. 4 1998): 399-400

[8] Bell, B. “Mandala Blessings: Art That Heals and Transforms”

[9] Baggley, J.  Doors of Perception: Icons and Their Spiritual Significance (Oxford: A. R. Mowbry & Co., 1978): 56

[10] Nouwen, H. J. M.   Behold the Beauty of the Lord: Praying with Icons (Notre Dame, IN: Ave Maria Press, 1988): 15

[11] Sawyer, C. “The Buddha Bhaishajyaguru”
sama/*Essays/CS93.013Bhai.html See also, The Buddha’s Art of Healing: Tibetan Paintings Rediscovered by John Avedon, et. al. (Rizzoli, 1998)

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