GB: What I have determined thus far, is that the more benign the work is, having specific reference to representational images, nature, and a certain depth … the more significant the art’s contribution to recuperation.
HD: Yes; that is a good summary of the limited amount of research that has been done on the impact of art on health (so-called Evidence-based Art)
GB: I’m sensing that you are advocating a certain “formulaic” guideline to the selection of art in healthcare environments. My impression is that this is the visual version of “elevator music”.
HD: Yes! If designers don’t understand the current limitations of evidence-based design they might be inclined to use a standardized “Cookie Cutter” approach to each art installation. How depressing! A better approach would be to learn the research that has been done to help inform your decision but not to make your selection.
GB: You seem to dismiss evidence based design to a point, and I couldn’t agree more. The research is too limited to draw any substantial information from the data obtained thus far. That everyone is so quick to jump on that band wagon makes it suspect in my opinion.
HD: I agree with you; I’m concerned that designers are embracing evidence-based design (EBD) without fully understanding it; that it is becoming a fad. They need to realize how expensive and time consuming good research is. They need to realize that there is not much solid evidence out there yet.
If their expectations are met with disappointment then there will be a backlash that will lead people to reject EBD. That would be very unfortunate because I believe EBD has the potential to be a tremendously powerful tool to help us build better healing environments.
GB: The other most apparent issue I might take with your book is that your authoritative references, at least based upon what I have read thus far, all have a vested interest in the supporting data. The comments I have read all come from persons associated with the placement of art in health care facilities. Is there not a certain bias that exists, based upon the programs they have implemented and the future work they have proposed?
HD: This is a good point. You might compare this to drug companies funding medical research. Can you believe what they report? One way to get around this problem is to be suspicious of data that is not published in a data peer-reviewed journal.
One reasons that the research is being done by those with a vested interest is because they are willing to fund the studies. Hopefully in the future more EBD research would be funded by universities and government agencies like the National Institute of Health.
GB: I noticed that the formula for the best at selection was landscape where the subject included “deep space”, (the example that comes to mind is Frederick Edwin Church, or Thomas Cole and the Hudson River School painters). Yet, on the cover of your book, and some of the projects I have seen on contributors websites, there is a proliferation of large photo murals of “close up” images. These images are so overscaled that they become abstractions, and do not conform with the optimal imagery you suggest. This seems contradictory to the case you are making, and an inappropriate solution, based upon the data you present.
HD: If you were to rely on simplistic formulas then you are right. However, I believe that there is more to art for healthcare than simply pastoral landscapes. Some of the images that I create are close up. Getting in close can reveal the rich patterns, textures and colors of nature. These images play with abstraction but in most cases are still realistic and recognizable.
Gregory Blue specializes in “wayfinding” for healthcare. His firm is called Gregory Blue and Associates (GB+A).