Art work in the health care environment.


Sophie Clements, artist and filmmaker, installed a series of photographs in the games room at the Phoenix unit. London.

The Guardian 15 February 2017 reports the re -decoration of a mental health unit in London by “award winning artists and patients”.

Under the headline – ‘Creativity improves wellbeing’: art transforms mental health ward, this article, accepts the evidence based findings of all the research which advocates the acceptance of improved mental health from art work in the environment.

Not all reactions to the change in the unit were reported as positive, the article continues –

“One man scoffs when asked about what he thinks of a picture of flowers: “I can’t stand it.” No one seems bothered that the art elicits such negative reactions, though. Instead, it’s viewed as a development. Dr Charlotte Harrison, a consultant psychiatrist on the ward, says: “Part of the idea of the project was not just that everything look pretty but that the artwork would stimulate conversations. Sometimes with the patients we look after it’s difficult to start a conversation … I think what the art has done is enable people to say ‘I really don’t like it’. That has opened up a conversation about what is it that makes them have those emotions.”

So should the art work evoke stimulation? conversation about emotions? or be a positive non verbal therapy agent… ? Or all of the these elements?

Arguably as humans, we differ in likes and dislikes and no art, as far as I’m aware exists with out some detractors. 🙂

But who makes the choices of the art put forward to benefit clients/ patients? This policy of introducing art work is clearly increasing. Hospital Rooms the charity involved with the reported work above, offers this observation on the charities website –


The work of “Assemble” – a group of artists, architects and designers who collaborate with Hospital rooms.

“We commission museum quality artists to create inventive, compelling and compliant environments and artworks for mental health units. Our artists work collaboratively with service users, psychiatrists, allied health professionals and public health researchers to create inspirational spaces that enrich quality of life, encourage conversation, enhance self esteem and deepen ties between people.

In addition, we programme art workshops for mental health service users that illuminate these environments and encourage meaningful participation in artistic activity. These sessions are effective in helping people to acquire new skills, build resilience, find new means of expression and form friendships.”

So… the work is collaborative with the clients themselves…. excellent in my opinion.

The increased awareness over the last few years is inspiring, even with the lack of resources within the NHS, the art community is responding positively to the evidence and needs of a discriminated part of society, the mentally ill.

Paintings for hospitals ( as I reported in a previous blog, have focussed research on what is helpful to clients and what has found to be unhelpful. Interesting research results are found on their website, including the preferences of people suffering from dementia, autistic patients and mental health patients. To summerise and oversimplify some of the findings, abstract art was generally reported negatively, figures, nature, positively. This was found for all the groups above. Readily understood visual interpretation welcomed, particularly for autistic clients who enjoyed their own interrogation of the forms in a picture and the stimulation of colour.

NHS Wales in 2004 published – Lighting and colour for hospital design. Within this paper it reports the need for patients to be given, a fresh environment, consider the hues of the paints used, light the darkened corners of tired rooms and make a homely atmosphere….

Its a considered report in that it does acknowledge the need for change from the institutionalised ward scenario we all know, and does discuss the benefits colour and light can give. What I feel it had not quite reached, in 2004, in its research, is where we are 2017 the general awareness of the need for research in to colour use and art has increased considerably. Not that we are aiming for just homeliness, refreshment, but that we are adding colour, light and art as a therapeutic force.

raisingkayne_pw11-1440x1920-1.jpgJames Turrell – Raising Kayne (2013)

The work of James Turrell, light and space evokes something deep with in us… take that to a ward and I feel we are moving most definitely in the right direction.





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