One of the ways we can improve our wellbeing is to make modifications to the environments in which we live and work. I’ve talked previously about building a nice study space. We also know that time in nature is generally regenerative and health promoting (assuming you aren’t running away from bees or angry rodents).
Art and decoration are other ways to modify a space for our wellbeing.
I didn’t really start thinking about how art can build wellbeing, until I started noticing that many of the pictures I had put around the house didn’t actually really resonate with me in any real way. So I started thinking about what it is that connects a person to a piece of art.
Nowadays when selecting art for wellbeing purposes, I tend to focus on four main things. I’m not suggesting you should focus on the same things, but I did want to start a conversation about art and wellbeing, and this seemed a good way to do it.
First and most simply, I look for art that is visually appealing. Do I enjoy looking at it? Does it brighten the room, complement the other objects in the room? There are many elements that I might find visually appealing. It might be the level of detail, the patterning or the brightness of the colours. I find botanical art beautiful because of the detail and soft colours. I find modern Aboriginal art (e.g. Chern’ee Sutton) beautiful because of the patterning and bold colours.
Second, I ask myself whether the art conveys some kind of important message to me. Some art communicates simple but important messages like balance, the battle of light and dark, good and evil, importance of nature. Other art communicates complex narratives that encapsulate important life lessons. This can certainly be the case if you know the artist or get to spend time with someone who has studied the piece intensively. A piece might tell the story of a family, of a particular time or event in history. When considering art for wellbeing purposes, I’m after art that conveys messages or narratives that foster an adaptive or therapeutic outlook on life.
The third thing I might consider is whether the art acts as a vehicle to transport me to a particular feeling, memory, concept, person or place. If the art has been done by someone I know, then it is (to a certain extent) a vehicle into their soul, a way for me to feel closer to them. Photos make great art (or inspirations for art) because they help transport us to favourite locations or memories of happy/joyful times. I’ve noticed that some art stirs strong emotions. If those emotions are desired, but difficult to access at other times, the art gains its value from being a reliable transport to those emotional places.
Fourth and final, does the art communicate to others who might see it, something about me? Can my choice of art and how I decorate my spaces communicate to others aspects of who I am that might be difficult to explain otherwise. Think about when you walk into the house of someone you know and look around. If the structure and decoration of the space they live in says something about them, then the space is generally more inviting and warm as a result and you feel warmer towards the person, even if the design language is not what you’d choose.
To be clear, I’m not saying you need to have all this in order to have and enjoy art. I know however that my enjoyment of art (the value I get from it) is enhanced when I look beyond whether a piece is simply appealing to me, towards what it says to me, what it communicates, where it transports me. When I define in more complex terms my relationship to that piece of art, I get greater wellbeing benefits.
As an aside, and also a finishing statement, I kinda observe the same thing with music. There is music that I enjoy, but there is also music that takes me somewhere I can’t really access in any other way.
I hope others are able to find similar experiences in art and music. Only took me 44 years to start appreciating it, but better late than never. Now I just need to raise the cash necessary to buy all the best pieces of art. For some notes on doing art for wellbeing, try this post.