Oct 10, 201301:00 PMPoint of View
Nature, Art, and Beauty: Antidotes to Everyday Traumas
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Entering a cancer clinic can be a jarring experience, especially for patients walking through the dark catacombs of a parking deck. But it doesn’t need to be so. The transition could be a very positive one, so Stephen Kellert said at an east coast medical school last fall when his new film, Biophilic Design: The Architecture of Life, was screened there.
Recalling his walk from a 2,500-car garage into 55 Park Street, a new lab building in New Haven, Kellert depicted an experience of calm and uplift – ideal for people under duress while facing a health crisis: Opening into a wide, four-story atrium, the path takes patients into a space filled with sunlight, lush plantings, and colorful wall panels--from anonymity to the familiar; from the unnatural to the intuitive.
Biophilia – the connection between humanity and nature, or our innate fondness for the natural – is at the core of Kellert’s work in sustainable design and development. It is a complementary notion to green building, one grounded in our primordial relationship with nature. Sustainability makes us think about our relationship to nature, while biophilia is what nature brings to us: the physical comfort we need, and a reassurance we get from an environment.
The relationship between humans and the nature that forms us, has been pursued for centuries in the applied and fine arts: Architects and decorators have been bringing recognizable natural forms into the design of our buildings and places. Like a mirror, figurative art has served as a reminder of our own humanity and our place in nature. Using images of the human form and shapes found in nature, figurative art connects us to the Earth that supports our lives – and a potentially potent element of biophilia.
Though it is often thought of as reserved for the fine arts of painting and sculpture, figurative art can and should be part of everyday life--on any campus, office, classroom or quad. It can offer an explicit connection between the world around us, and the mission and use of our buildings. This can make figurative art – like biophilic design – a critical element in situations intended to nurture, support, and protect its occupants: hospitals, elementary schools, assisted living, supportive veterans’ housing, even libraries and lunchrooms.
Biophilia and figurative art as parts of the healing process certainly aren’t reserved for people in traumatic duress. Everyone can benefit from it. In fact recent research says that we continually need respite. “Post-traumatic emotional responses can arise from any number of everyday situations,” notes psychologist Doug Haldeman who studied everything from bullying, being unfairly treated because of one’s age or abilities, as well as experiencing micro-aggressions related to sexual orientation or race. “The insidious traumas in everyday life are often neglected or minimized, yet research tells us that the effects they generate can be serious,” adds Haldeman.
Like the prehistoric cave paintings made by hunters, figurative art provides both an outlet and a means of reflection. Whether as discrete works of art or incorporated into architecture as ornament, figurative motifs offer a reminder of our own humanity and our inextricable connections to each other. By alluding to the themes and ideas of the healthcare provider – air and water, sustenance, nature, open horizons, and the sun, among others – or by simply tapping into our biophilic nature, representational art helps us learn who we are, as well as about the world around us. And, again, it can connect us explicitly to the mission and use of the buildings we use.
Supporting good health, everywhere
Art is elemental to healing. In today’s world this is hardly reserved for acute-care environments. Consider our schools where children from traumatic home situations need to learn, but also need to feel comforted, protected, and inspired. This is true not just in grade school, but even in college common rooms and corporate headquarters. Plantings, water features, and artwork offer a special kind of nourishment and repose that has a quantifiable impact on those students, workers, and occupants.