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Does figurative or abstract art make hospital patients feel better?

gerard garouste, career coaching, hospital
Gérard GAROUSTE – Le chevalier, 1996-98 -Huile sur toile, 129 x 97 cm


Two researchers from the Technical Faculty of IT and Design of Aalborg University in Denmark have challenged the preference for figurative art in hospitals. They found that, despite what was frequently thought, abstract art also has positive effects on wellbeing, and inspires meaningful personal contemplation.

As outlined by those researchers in their scientific paper: « Within the evidence-based design discourse, and deriving particularly from the theory of emotional congruence, abstract art has been indicated as unsuitable for hospitals. As patients may often experience unfamiliarity, vulnerability, stress, unpredictability and uneasiness in hospitals, these negative factors in terms of patients’ well-being are predicted to be detrimentally reinforced by abstract art, but alleviated by particular forms of figurative art. The present paper focuses particularly on this question of the suitability of abstract art in Danish hospital settings and presents findings from two experimental case studies on 98 patients’ well-being in relation to their experience and use of visual art during hospitalization.

The case studies employed a mixed-method approach, including interviews and observations informed by thermal video recording, surveys and psychophysiological experiments.

Six experiential domains are employed to understand the notion of experience of ‘well-being’: Space, Time, Inter-subjectivity, Body, Mood and Personal identity.

The hypothesis that the ambiguity of abstract art leads to stressful effects is not confirmed by the study’s findings. The studies are developed to qualify current guidelines for the application of art, which emphasize a dichotomy between figurative and abstract art. While confirming the positive effects of figurative art, the studies indicate that the ambiguity of meaning in abstract compositions can also facilitate patients’ memories, thoughts and feelings, addressed as experiential domains of well-being. »

With other words, Art is Art and will always have its place amongst us. Also in hospitals.


Source:, vbn.aau.dkµ


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