Science behind art

In a modern world where stress, depression and anxiety are becoming more and more common and burn-outs are happening frequently, we decided to conduct a research study in order to investigate the connection between art and well-being. In this article we will share some of our insights on about how art can help people in their everyday life.

Key findings

  • A great majority, 88%, think that their work environment has a direct impact on their focus, creativity and well-being. Of those, 80% think that art plays an important role in the environment to enhance focus, creativity and well-being.
  • 65% think that having art at the workspace has a connection to their creativity.
  • 78,8% think that having art at the workspace has a connection to their well-being.
  • Less than 50% of our respondents had a direct impact on what their workspace looked like. As an organisation grows, the less the employees have a say in how the workspace looks like.
    Scientific research studies shows a clear connection between employee engagement and enhanced productivity, greater well-being and enhanced creativity if the employees have been involved in forming the workspace.
  • 80% of patients suffering from stress, anxiety and depressions indicated improved mental health and well-being after switching from prescription drugs to regular art and culture exposure in the public project "Kultur på recept".
Acoustic art installation made by Ruth Crone Foster for

Art and the brain

Empirical neuroscientific studies suggest that art improves health and well-being among individuals. A research group from Roma Tre University and IRCCS Santa Lucia Foundation elaborates:

“Aesthetic experience, in many settings, may promote well-being. Neuroaesthetics research suggests that aesthetic pleasure is derived by the interaction between emotion processing that involves reward-related areas in the brain and top-down processes derived from the relationship of the beholder with the cultural artifact. The self-rewarding nature of aesthetic experience may influence the beholder’s affective state, possibly improving well-being.”

– Mastandrea, Figioli & Basil, 2019 (Source)

Adding to this an analysis from the University of Sydney, Australia concludes that art can actually rewire the brain through neuroplasticity and act as "exercise" for the frontal cortex – especially in an ageing brain. (Source)

Combined these might some of the explanations to how exposure to art can result in an experienced sense of increased well-being and health. But how can these conclusions help us work with art more strategically in different sectors?

Art by Mette Colberg implemented at a glass ceiling to create a sensory experience in the entire room that changes throughout the day and with the seasons.

Art in the workspace

Art has been scientifically proven to boost productivity, creativity and well-being. We experienced this fact in our research study where 78,8% responded that they think that having art at the workspace has a connection to their well-being. But art is not just art. It is important that the art we choose to outfit our workspaces with is engaging, inspiring and meaningful.

Employees working at Fellow Workspace, where we helped implement art throughout the co-working space. Read more about the case.

A scientific study from the University of Exeter shows that employees clearly get more done and even feel better while doing it when the environment is enriched. The team behind this study found that people who worked in a so called “enriched” office, an office that was containing plants and art arranged by a manager, worked about 15% quicker than those in a lean office and had fewer health complaints – this figure then doubled for people who worked in an empowered space, meaning a space where the employees had a say in what the office contained. As for those who’d seen their personal touches undermined; their productivity levels were the same as those in the lean space. (Source)

Employees from Be My Eyes experiencing the art wall by artist Iris Bakker for the first time. The art pieces was created based upon an employee engagement workshop where the employees could tell their success stories from within the company. Each piece is meant to represent a story. Read more about the case.

Unfortunately our research study concluded that less than 50% of employees actually had a say in how their workspace looks like. Our research also pointed to the fact that if employees actually have a say in how the workspace looks then they choose to integrate art, but when it is the CEO or Office managers calling the shots on workspace decorations art is more often left out as Knight also states:

“There is a real tendency to opt for sanitised, lean workspaces, designed to encourage staff to just get on with their work and avoid distraction”

Dr. Craig Knight, 2016

Due to the neurological impact of art many businesses may miss out on the potential art can have for stress relief, increased productivity, enhanced creativity and general well-being among employees.

Art in healthcare

An interesting project was conducted in Denmark between 2016-2019 called "Kultur på recept" (Culture on prescription) where participants have been going to 2-3 different cultural activities every week for 10 weeks instead of receiving prescription medicine for mild to moderate stress, anxiety and depression. 800 people took part in this project and the results where astounding. 8 out of 10 of the participants felt better when the course ended in a self-rated test, especially amongst the group of participants who scored the lowest in the test before the start of the course.

Project made for Fenrishus where art was utilized to create a more joyful and stress reducing environment for patients, families and personel. Read more about the case.

Similar effects has long been studied at healthcare facilities around the globe where art has strategically been implemented to increase recovery time and support both patients, families and personel relief stress and anxiety in an often stressful environment. A report made by the organisation called "Americans for the arts" concludes:

Studies have proven that integrating the arts into healthcare settings helps to cultivate a healing environment, support the physical, mental, and emotional recovery of patients, communicate health and recovery information, and foster a positive environment for caregivers that reduces stress and improves workplace satisfaction and employee retention.

– Americans for the arts, 2009 (Source)

All signs pointing to the fact that art has a neurological potential to support the body to heal or recover, whilst reducing stress and anxiety of all of the people involved in the process.

Previously we've worked with healthcare facilities to develop art strategies in order to attempt to reap some of these fantastic benefits. An example of this is Fenrishus, which is a care centre for kids and young people with special needs. The centre offers specialised solutions for people with disabilities and functional impairments 24-hours a day. The overall result was an art solution that transformed the institutional setting with care-taking needs into a contemplative space that brings joy and appreciation of the smallest details in everyday life for everyone - both staff, visitors and users.

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