Relief Art

Feeling anxious or upset?  A number of things exist to help you out – reading, walking, meditation, exercise.  But have you ever thought of visiting a museum to ease that apprehension?  Turns out that patronizing a museum might be one avenue of relief for anguished souls.  A University of Pennsylvania study entitled “Art Museums as Institutions for Human Flourishing” published in the Journal of Positive Psychology indicates as much.

The relatively new field of “positive psychology” studies “the strengths that enable individuals and communities to thrive.”  It draws on research from a variety of academic disciplines while examining how the arts and humanities affect the human condition.

“We believe our collaborative and interdisciplinary work is all the more vital at a time when so many individuals and communities lack the levels of well-being they need to thrive,” said James O. Pawelski of UPenn.

Pawelski and colleague Katherine Cotter had already planned to study the effects of museums on people’s mental health when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.  Since so many museums were forced to shut down, the duo compiled and reviewed over 100 research articles and government and foundation reports.

They discovered that visiting a museum reduced stress levels, frequent visits decreased anxiety, and viewing figurative art lowered blood pressure. They also found that museum visits lowered the intensity of chronic pain, increased a person’s life span, and lessened the likelihood of being diagnosed with dementia.  And those living with dementia saw mental and physical benefits as well: Spending time in a museum induced more dynamic stress responses, higher cognitive function, and improvements in the symptoms of depression.

Going to a museum also left elementary schoolers feeling “restored” and even made medical residents feel less emotionally exhausted.

To most artists, this shouldn’t be surprising.  Writers, painters, musicians and the like have always had the ability to unite people when politicians couldn’t.  And now, our desires to make people’s lives better has been vindicated once again.

Image: Dallas Museum of Art

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