The Art in Hospitals project seeks to offer patients, family and hospital staff an opportunity to experience the healing power of art. Contemporary artworks installed in patient rooms and throughout the hospital encourage visitors, staff and patients to embrace the unexpected.
Encountering contemporary art outside the gallery or museum is often a profound experience, as the unexpected art jolts us out of our routine and familiarity with a particular space. In the moment of being startled and surprised, we are more likely to personalise the experience, searching for a meaning and signficance that connects with our unique individual experience.
In our encounters with contemporary art in the hospital, we are less likely to search for the meaning of the art work and rather ask ourselves what the artwork is doing in this particular place. The artwork sets in motion a signification or aesthetic effect, or produces a combination of them both. If we attempt to look at the work as we might be conditioned to do so in the context of a traditional museum or conventional gallery, we might expect that the aesthetic effect comes from the object, however in a hospital, it is more likely that this effect comes from the unique feelings aroused in the individual when confronting an object inseparable from the significance of its environment. The art object is not only inseperable from the significance of it being encountered in a hospital, but a patient's hopes, worries, concerns and vulnerabilities inform the experience and affect the discovery of a personal meaning.
The encounter with contempoary art in a hospital can be a therapeutic experience insofar as it directs one toward self-reflection. An artwork can mirror how we feel and sometimes assist in giving physical form to emotions which we find difficult to put into words. Seeing aspects of ourselves and the situations in which we find ourselves in the unexpected encounter with contemporary art can alleviate stress and anxiety, and momentarily satisfy our search for meaning.
This concept of integrating contemporary art into the private spaces of a hospital is new. Taking contemporary art out of the museums and galleries opens the work to multiple layers of meaning informed by the environment in which it is encountered and the vulnerable position in which the beholder finds themselves.
There was a major shift in art that took place in the 1990s where the viewer became the subject in the experience of art rather than a passive spectator charged with the challenge of trying to come to terms with a static meaning contained within the work. This new feature of art allows the individual to unravel themselves in the encounter with art instead of trying to unpack an inherent meaning in the work.
There have been a number of artworks installed in hospitals since the 1990s including David Ward's Notturne at St Michael's Paternoster Royal Hospital London in 2006 and Bridget Riley's Mural at St Mary's Hospital London in 2014. Many of these permanent installations have been commissioned by the hospital administration and have had a very positive effect on both patients and staff.