Can art make us feel better?
25th August 2016
A collaboration between award-winning artist and stroke survivor Mark Ware, and psychologist Dr Nichola Street, lecturer and researcher at Staffordshire University, is attempting to answer this profound question.
Their project entitled, Reflecting Nature, is currently touring the country and includes an exhibition of sixteen digital art prints that feature two things that have been shown to trigger positive responses in the viewer: symmetrical patterns and images of nature.
The Reflecting Nature exhibition and the scientific investigations underpinning it aim to provide insights into the role individual differences play in aesthetic responses to natural and built environments. Mark Ware and Dr Street are exploring how these responses can be enhanced and magnified using artistic outputs to provoke particular psychological states.
Dr Street says, 'Throughout the Reflecting Nature tour, the general public are being given the opportunity to participate in the project’s research activities by volunteering to have their responses to the art investigated providing preference responses and qualitative data in the form of titles for the artwork. Visitors also have the chance to try out the equipment being used in the ongoing lab experiments using eye-tracking equipment and a number of different psychological tasks aimed at demonstrating the power of altered subjective experience and the methods by which psychologists explore such complex phenomena.’
The potential impact of the findings include dissemination of the ideas into the design of immersive environments, created to help improve psychological states and stress recovery responses. The types of environments this would apply to include hospitals, prisons, schools and even human space flight capsules where immobility is high. It is hoped that the outcome of this project will also be of benefit to people with neurological conditions, including stroke.
Why symmetry and nature?
Research has shown that we are drawn to symmetrical imagery and some believe that this is because the brain requires less effort to understand what it sees. Annecdotal evidence for this is strong and can be seen in how children enjoy using kaleidoscopes.
Other research suggests that we find precise, ‘artificial’ symmetry uninteresting. With that in mind, Mark has created symmetrical images featuring various levels of subtle variations, top to bottom and left to right. It is hoped that these variations will stimulate the brain on a subconscious level whilst at the same time retaining the benefits of looking at symmetrical imagery.
Studies have shown that we also benefit from exposure to the natural environment, sometimes referred to as the ‘biophilia effect’. This can apply to something as simple as looking at a photograph of nature.
Mark Ware MFA is an award winning professional artist and is interested in exploring, through his art, his altered subjective experiences caused by having a severe stroke in 1996 at the age of 39. Prior to his stroke, Mark received a 1st class (hons) degree in Fine Art in the UK and a Master of Fine Arts at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Following this, he ran a business in film & video production, stills photography and marketing & promotion. Since his stroke, he has concentrated on his Fine Art creating large scale multimedia events, staged at mostly non-gallery locations ranging from cathedrals to shopping centres.
Psychologist Dr Nichola Street is a lecturer and researcher at Staffordshire University at the School of Psychology, Sport and Exercise with an interest in understanding the concept of beauty. Her research aims to explore responses to art, nature and beauty in the world around us from a psychological perspective. Ultimately, she has a particular interest in pursuing a deeper understanding of how to harness the power that artistic stimulus can have on our psychological and physiological wellbeing.