When I was ten I had to sleep in the garage; there wasn’t enough space for all the kids to get bedrooms. On the painted yellow concrete wall hung a poster of a painting by Paul Klee. I spent many hours getting lost staring at that abstract painting.
Even though I still love Klee’s work, I wonder if abstract art like this is appropriate for hospitals. Researchers who study this says that the answer is in: Abstract art is out. Roger Ulrich is the pioneering researcher on the use of art in hospitals. He would argue something like this:
Being a patient is a very negative and frightening experience. Abstract Art, being ambiguous is open to interpretation. If one feels bad, the interpretation is likely to be frightening which is likely to trigger negative feelings. Those negative feelings could harm the patient. Furthermore, the majority of the public does not like abstract art.
Dislike of abstract art by the general public appears to be true in every country where it has been researched. The response to abstract art can even turn violent. Ulrich reports that in Sweden there were seven incidents of patients actually physically attacking and damaging abstract works of art. It is clear that scores of research articles suggest that abstract art is wrong in patient rooms.
Does this apply also to public spaces in hospitals? According to Kathy Hathorn, “Regardless of its interest or critical importance, abstract art in a hospital lobby is clinically inappropriate.” Kathy Hathorn is President and Principal-in-Charge of American Art Resources in Houston.
Roger Ulrich is Professor of Architecture at Texas A&M University and serves on the board of the Center for Health Design.