October 6, 2008

Art heals the spirit, which in turn heals the body, by Lin Bee

An article by Lin Bee
Pictures by Susa Kleeberg and Friedemann Rink,
"Rot" series, Model Jenny

How effective art can be as a healing tool.

" Chris St James has realised something which not many folks figure out : just how effective art can be as a healing tool.

A recent study at the Università degli Studi di Bari in Italy showed that when a group of people were asked to contemplate a series of paintings, their pain was found to be a third less intense when they were looking at beautiful artistic imagery.

This has actually been known in the UK for some time. In another study by Dr Lee Elliot Major, research director at the Sutton Trust, it was demonstrated that paintings in hospitals really do help patients, both in terms of longevity and recovery times. I guess we are lucky here in the UK that our National Health Service thought that this research was important enough to actually do something about it as part of its national healthcare policy.

When I visited St Bart’s Hospital in London earlier this year, I noticed William Hogarth’s painting Pool of Bethesda (above) still hanging on the grand staircase, and even my local hospital (a shining beacon in free local healthcare) has a whole section of the hospital dedicated to the best and the brightest in the art world. As well as having its own art gallery, the entire corridor (which runs the entire length of the hospital and is nearly half a mile end to end) is covered in beautiful paintings donated by both talented patients and well known artists. Like many others, I have spent hours there drinking in the fantastic art (O.K. I admit the coffee there is pretty good too!)

Such exhibitions never fail to lift patients, to inspire them, to give them hope.

The opportunity to enjoy something creative offers not only a distraction from physical discomforts and endless medical procedures, but it also gives focus and the invitation to participate in something more fundamental, more important than these crappy bodies we are trapped in.

Through studying art, patients get to engage in something outside themselves, something more spiritual, and through this participation, so begins the healing process.

The body may remain broken and in pain, but the mind, the soul, is growing, expanding in the presence of beauty, reaching for the eternal.

When my body is giving me hell, when I’m feeling pretty darn awful, what do I do ? I go look at the finest that the photographic art world has to offer, and that would of course be the work of all you photographers reading this.

If I appear to be getting overly sentimental, then do excuse me. Maybe the healing power of art is something you have to experience on a personal level before you realise its potential.

But Chris and I, and thousands more like us, we know The Secret :

Art heals the spirit, which in turn heals the body.

And that makes you, the photographers and artists out there reading this, more valuable to us than you could ever know."

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