Do the arts make us better?
In the chapter entitled Do the Arts Make us Better? from John Carey’s book What Good are the Arts, he answers his own question with a resounding no. Apparently the arts do not make us better. “Better in comparison to what?” I hear you say. Well, here he has in mind mostly ‘moral betterment’. I am interested in the question with a therapeutic meaning: do the arts make us better i.e. heal us, or at least make us feel better (than we did before looking at the art)? More specifically I am interested in the ability (or otherwise) of visual art to do this.
I saw a blog post at air about an evaluation of their arts programme in Derby Hospitals carried out by the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences at the University of Nottingham in 2010. It concluded that visual art in this environment implied, for many, a taking of pride in creating a high standard of care, that artworks also acted as a distraction from health issues and as a therapeutic aid to well-being as well as providing a practical means of “wayfinding” within the hospital.
I recall that about a year ago I was at Sandwell Hospital, accompanying my son who was having an operation, and what a stressful experience it was. The paintings on the wall (many really good ones) certainly acted as a distraction for me and as a kind of therapy. I wasn’t the patient but I was in need of cheering up and I got that from the paintings. Clearly, not everyone did, I was already interested in seeing paintings, and much of the ‘therapy’ may have been simply the pleasant surprise of seeing good art in this environment. I would much rather be in a gallery than a hospital after all! Nevertheless I have no doubt about the positive effect it had on me.
I am also connecting the qualitative study by the University of Nottingham, my experience of wellbeing, and an upcoming talk I am looking forward to hearing on 27 May 2012, at the Mostyn Gallery, Llandudno by Jane Raymond PhD, Professor of Visual Cognition Psychology, Bangor University and University of Birmingham, entitled From Seeing to Feeling: what does the human brain do when it looks at paintings? A gallery talk specifically with the paintings of Mali Morris in mind (and in view).