Number 69 in our countdown of '70 Ways Art Improves Our Health' highlights that the link between art and wellbeing go way, way back...

Creating art is one of the defining features of being human. The earliest known art object is a shell covered in zigzag markings found in Indonesia that was made 500,000 years ago! And now, some research suggests that we evolved to pursue art for the emotional rush it gives us.

The idea that creativity can make a powerful contribution to the healing process has been embraced in many different cultures. Throughout recorded history, people have used pictures, stories, dances, and chants as healing rituals. The ancient Greeks saw a direct link between works of art and healing. They believed that being in contact with statues and mosaics could heal both the mind and the body.

Part of William Hogarth's murals at St Bartholomew's Hospital

In Britain there have been initiatives to introduce the visual arts into medical environments for a long time. William Hogarth painted a large mural in 1736 in Barts Hospital, London. During the Victorian times, there were attempts to brighten up some hospitals with works of art, such as the decorative tiles at the Royal Berkshire Hospital in Reading.

It’s been nearly 160 years since Florence Nightingale observed that objects can help the healing process. The tireless healer wrote in her Notes on Nursing in 1859 that:

the variety of form and colour in the objects presented to patients have a physical effect and are actual means of recovery.

Depiction of Florence Nightingale

More than a century and a half later, hospitals are, by medical and technological standards, worlds apart from those that Florence would have known. In terms of ‘variety of form’ though, we reckon she’d think there's a bit more work to be done.

Paintings in Hospitals began in 1959 as the first and only national collection of artworks to support people’s physical and mental health in care. Any health or social care provider can borrow artworks from us. And we work with patients and care staff directly to transform cold, clinical environments into something more human.

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