Artsy at Work Interiors

Artsy at Work: 5 Principles of Art for Healthcare Environments

Creating and choosing art for healthcare environments is about much more than just beautifying a space.  People in those environments are often worried, stressed, sad, and in need of healing.  Experts have found that through evidence-based design, these places can become much more warm and welcoming and certain design choices can actually aid the healing process.  Carefully chosen artwork in these settings not only has a positive impact on the patients, visitors, and staff, but also on the perception of care given by the facility.

I’ve had several artists, designers, and publishers ask about placing artwork in healthcare environments.  They want to be a part of creating a healing environment, but aren’t sure how to go about it.  So considering evidence-based design and my own experiences in curating art for healthcare, I’ve put together a few guiding principles when creating or choosing art for healthcare environments–

1 | happy, engaging imagery

Nine times out of ten, unless you’re there for the entrance of a new baby into the world, being in a hospital or other type of healthcare environment is not a happy or joyful occasion.  And with all the weird smells, strange noises, and necessary sterility of these settings, no wonder they can be seen as such cold, intimidating places!  Creating and curating art for healthcare environments that fosters a more warm, welcoming atmosphere goes a long way toward making patients and visitors feel more at ease in their surroundings.  Work that makes us smile, reminds us of family and love, and calls to mind memories of happy times all can work together to ease the mind and spirit.

Tran collage

Foard_Lifetime Partners

Viola collage

from top liz tran | christina ford | pamela viola

2 | lead the viewer on a journey 

Often when you ask a hospital patient how they’re doing, you may get an answer that begins with “I’d rather be…”.  Patients and visitors often wish they were anywhere but where they are.  Artwork that creates a sense of voyeuristic escape can lessen anxiety by giving the viewer a means of  liberation from their current situation.  They’re able to think less about their pain or circumstances as their mind wanders and wonders what might be over that hill or around that bend.




from top marla bagettaerin hanson | sabre esler

3 | create a sense of calm, peacefulness and positivity

By using natural, organic imagery as symbols of peace, restoration, and comfort, the artwork in healthcare environments can become instruments of healing.  Studies have shown that patients shown nurturing scenes of nature required lower strength pain medication.  These kinds of images also foster a sense of the world outside the walls of the facility and the goal to get back to where the skies are blue and the waters peaceful.

Thomas Hager

Pisano_Early Morning Light


from top thomas hager | jessica pisano | ali cavanaugh

4 | encourage interaction

AIH_Installation_YamashitaHospital_jun_kanekoAIH_Dolf James at BMC_Stellers


from top  jun kaneko | dolf james via Stellers Galleryjason bruges via Design Boom

Hospitals can be lonely, scary places.  Choosing artwork that may garner conversation goes a long way toward creating connections among patients and visitors, as well as providing a much needed mental escape.  Sculpture and interactive digital artwork do well to give patients and visitors a purposeful sense of exploration and the unexpected and abstract can create a path to solving a puzzle and thereby, a means of distraction.

5 | create reflections of community

Each hospital or healthcare facility has an important role to play as a part of a community.  Honoring the history, landmarks, and atmosphere of that community can create a sense of familiarity and connection in places where we often feel helpless and alone.

Wilson collage


Smith collage

from top russ wilson | joe segal | amy carmichael smith

Creating and curating art for healthcare environments is about so much more than simply manufacturing a pleasing looking space.  Instead of merely being places of clinical procedures and processes, through art and design hospitals and other medical facilities are  becoming places of nurturing and healing.  Artists, designers, and consultants are looking more and more not at what the artwork speaks to them, but how it promotes positivity and restoration to the visitor and patient.

You can read more on evidence based design in this Guide to Evidence Based Art by Kathy Hathorn, MA, and Upali Nanda, Ph.D.

All images are linked above.

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  • Janice La Verne Baker

    hi, I’m Janice Baker, friend of Liz Tran… I think you put up some great examples. A while back the hospital where I worked for 25 years hired a consultant and things got pretty narrow. Only landscape was considered. In years past we had an exhibit of patients poetry and art work (I worked inpatient psych). It was very well received. We also had a printmaking exhibit by a patient who spent a month in the ICU. All the woodblock prints were made from the perspective of lying in bed looking up. People loved this and it was written up in the paper. These typed of temporary installations have been deemed “too upsetting” to happen anymore. Anyway, it was interesting to see the examples you posted as many of them wouldn’t make it past our hospital’s committee! Thanks for letting me write this. I think that sometimes evidence based art consultation has missed the boat.

    • Artsy Forager

      Hi Janice!
      Thanks so much for taking the time to comment and let me know about your experience. I’m a huge fan of Liz’s work and love seeing it embraced by hospitals in Seattle and elsewhere. I do agree that some consultants and arts committees can take the evidence-based principles to the extreme. While I agree that for the most part landscapes & natural scenes work best in patient rooms, many consultants and institutions are now embracing more contemporary, even abstract ( gasp! )work in more public areas. I think a lot is to be said for the way a piece of art makes the viewer feel, regardless of the subject matter. 😉

      Exhibitions of patient-created artwork are a wonderful asset and its a shame the hospital you worked for discontinued that program. I would think that programs like those would help patients know they are not alone in their struggles and there is hope beyond the hospital’s walls.

      Thanks again for commenting! I loved hearing your views as someone who works in one of these settings.