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Art for Health’s Sake Exhibition

The Arts and Wellbeing exhibition focused on those who have had direct experience of active engagement in the visual arts both as participant and as facilitator, and demonstrated the positive impact that it has on health and wellbeing. It was on display at the Museum from January to March 2020.

The idea that the arts are good for our health and wellbeing is not a new one. The quote below, from Florence Nightingale 1898: Notes on Nursing What It Is, and What It Is Not, shows that visual imagery was used as part of the healing process in the era that she was nursing. Colour and form means recovery “The effect in sickness of beautiful objects, of variety of objects, and especially of brilliancy of colour is hardly at all appreciated. Such cravings are usually called the “fancies” of patients. And often doubtless patients have “fancies,” as e.g. when they desire two contradictions. But much more often, their (so called) “fancies” are the most valuable indications of what is necessary for their recovery. And it would be well if nurses would watch these (so called) “fancies” closely. I have seen, in fevers (and felt, when I was a fever patient myself), the most acute suffering produced from the patient (in a hut) not being able to see out of window, and the knots in the wood being the only view. I shall never forget the rapture of fever patients over a bunch of bright-coloured flowers. I remember (in my own case) a nosegay of wild flowers being sent me, and from that moment recovery becoming more rapid. This is no fancy. People say the effect is only on the mind. It is no such thing. The effect is on the body, too. Little as we know about the way in which we are affected by form, by colour, and light, we do know this, that they have an actual physical effect. Variety of form and brilliancy of colour in the objects presented to patients are actual means of recovery. But it must be slow variety, e.g., if you show a patient ten or twelve engravings successively, ten-to-one that he does not become cold and faint, or feverish, or even sick; but hang one up opposite him, one on each successive day, or week, or month, and he will revel in the variety. “

Arts and Wellbeing Today
There are many initiatives and research documents which support the concept that the arts are good for us as demonstrated in this quote from Art in Healthcare, a Scottish organisation which advocates for the use of visual arts as a tool for health and wellbeing: “Art has a positive impact on health and wellbeing, both during times of health and in illness. To prevent ill health, engaging with art can advance personal development from building social interaction to improving self-esteem. Physical and mental wellbeing are interconnected and during illness art can contribute to improved patient outcomes. Art can be used as an intervention to support treatment or provide an alternative to treatment for ill health. Art can distract from pain and anxiety to empower, offer respite and maintain a sense of dignity to stimulate holistic healing.”

Thank you to all who agreed to participate in this exhibition, who shared their stories and helped to make it all happen. Art for Health’s Sake Exhibition Management: East Lothian Council’s Arts Service East Lothian Council Museum Service Curator: Fiona Maher, MADE

Read the gallery panel, explore art works from the exhibition and enjoy a talk recorded about arts and wellbeing.