When walking into the Center for Oncology, you might not expect to participate in a collaborative painting while listening to the soft strumming of an acoustic guitar, or write a poem or even dance. Yet, just as the arts enhance life outside of the healthcare setting, the arts in medicine offer patients, healthcare workers, caregivers and families, opportunities to connect with the parts of themselves that are still well. The arts give those in medical situations a way to share who they are as a whole person, rather than one defined by diagnosis, and in doing so pave a path for connection and empathy. Art teaches us about each other and can help build relationships between patients, artists, and clinicians. (1)
Art is transformative. Our everyday world is curated with art, whether we realize it or not. The architecture of a building, the music playing in a café at lunch, and the colorful drawing taped to the fridge are all small glimpses of joy that permeate our days. Studies show a relationship between actively or passively experiencing art and a release of endorphins, or hormones that reduce pain and stress and make us feel good. (5) By infusing healthcare settings with creative ways to connect to beauty and each other, the arts can engage us in these moments of joy and remind us why we are alive.
The arts invoke the senses to expand the way we see ourselves and others, and in doing so broaden the scope of what seems possible. Engaging in the arts is one method for people to express and process experiences. When used in this way, the arts provide opportunities for emotional release, a reduction in stress and a decline in situational anxiety (3). Studies show a relationship between experiencing art and a reduction in cortisol levels. (4) Artists in healthcare settings facilitate creative and imaginative activities that offer the opportunity to fall into a deep state of concentration that encourages relaxation, comfort and companionship. (5)
The arts serve many of the same purposes inside a healthcare setting as they do outside of one. Like all rituals, the arts help us focus on what’s important to us, express who we are in meaningful ways and connect with each other. The goal of arts in medicine is to create and experience art. The arts can be entertaining, collaborative, relaxing and in times of heightened emotional or physical states it can also be a distraction and tool to take control of the present moment and guide oneself back to equilibrium. (2)
- State of the Field Committee. (2009).
State of the field report: Arts in healthcare 2009. Washington, DC: Society for the Arts in Healthcare.
- Barcott, Bruce. Why Do We Need Art? https://www.washington.edu/alumni/columns/march09/art.html
- Fancourt D, Finn S. What is the evidence on the role of the arts in improving health and well-being? A scoping review. Copenhagen: WHO Regional Office for Europe; 2019 (Health Evidence Network (HEN) synthesis report 67).
- Girija Kaimal, Kendra Ray & Juan Muniz (2016) Reduction of Cortisol Levels and Participants’ Responses Following Art Making, Art Therapy, 33:2, 74-80, DOI: 10.1080/07421656.2016.1166832
Kristin Heron, an artist herself, is the curator of education, outreach and exhibitions at Ormond Memorial Art Museum and Gardens where she manages outreach opportunities including veterans programs and the Art of Healing program.
Interested in volunteering for our Arts in Medicine Program? CLICK HERE for our Volunteer Application.