Thursday, 27 January 2011
Art and Health
As part of the 800th celebrations, Quentin Blake, renowned illustrator presented the University with a 70-foot-long mural depicting famous alumni from the University of Cambridge. This was placed in one of the main corridors at Addenbrooke's Hospital, and forms part of Addenbrooke's Art Walk. I'll return to the mural later.
The Art Walk and the Art in Hospitals movement raises some interesting questions about the place of art in hospitals. The question is not so much about whether there should be art displayed in hospitals, but whether there is any health gain in them being displayed.
On the other hand, Dr Lee Elliot Major, writing in The Telegraph, and after initial scepticism, argues the case for giving us art for health's sake. She noted that nearly 400 academic papers had been identified showing the beneficial impact of the arts. She draws attention to one study carried out by Dr Rosalia Staricoff at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital. It found that the length of stay of patients on a trauma and orthopaedic ward was one day shorter when they experienced visual arts and live music, while their need for pain relief was significantly less than for those in a control group. Visual arts and live music also reduced levels of depression by a third in patients undergoing chemotherapy. Dr Major quotes Carol Jennings, the renal transplant co-ordinator at Great Ormond Street Hospital as saying, "The opportunity to take part in something creative can offer optimism, a welcome break in a life preoccupied with blood tests and the knowledge that their existence can never be as carefree as that of their friends".
The fact that some people do not want to see pictures of jaunty fishing boats, does not detract from the overall value of this kind of art for the vast majority of people. Roger Ulrich and Craig Zimring, in their work, The Role of the Physical Environment in the Hospital of the 21st Century, say, "Results suggest a consistent pattern wherein the great majority of patients respond positively to representational nature art, but many react negatively to chaotic abstract art. Although nature pictures and other emotionally appropriate art elicit positive reactions, there is also evidence that inappropriate art styles or image subject matter can increase stress and worsen other outcomes".
I like the words of Kathy Hathorn, President of American Art Resources, "Throughout time, art has reached out to the human soul and touched the spirit of the beholder. Its ability to provide solace, inspiration and hope, makes it an indispensable element of the total health care environment".
The mural is well worth seeing. Described as Cambridge's answer to the Bayeux Tapestry, it consists of 15 original drawings depicting different episodes from the University's history. Quentin Blake is a graduate of Cambridge, and his unique style will be well known to readers of Roald Dahl's children's books. He depicts well known, and less well known important characters over the centuries. Do click on the link below to see a slide show of the mural, narrated by Quentin Blake himself.
Any comments on the slide show or art in hospital will be welcomed.