The Art of Healing

In 2005, my brother suffered a heart attack. Thankfully, he’s made a full recovery, due in part to my quick-thinking sister-in-law who gave him an aspirin when he was experiencing chest pains, to the lightening-fast response of the EMTs in Fairfax County, Virginia, who teleported him to one of the area’s premier cardiac hospitals, the Inova Heart and Vascular Institute.

Hospitals can unnerve me with their cold, clinical atmosphere, antiseptic smells, and ominous looking equipment. When I arrived at Inova I was taken aback from the moment I stepped into the lobby. Multi-story glass windows poured sunlight into the area, and everywhere I looked there was color – from the warm wood tones of the front desk to the swirling inset design of the floor, and the beautiful artwork hung on walls which were painted in soothing, “real-people-can-live-with-these” colors.

As I walked the organically curved hallways to the cardiac wing, I came upon a stunning indoor Zen garden bathed in sun from an overhead skylight. Outside were beautiful meditation gardens, with calming reflective pools and soothing waterfalls. I felt the weight of my anxiety ease as I approached the Intensive Care Unit, where I found my brother in a quiet, sea-blue room, his bed facing a beautiful photograph of a pristine lake flanked by snow covered mountains. What kind of a place was this?

It was the kind of place that understood that our environments directly impact our well-being, and things like color, art and nature can have a profound effect on how well we heal. Florence Nightingale was one of the earliest proponents of noting how important one’s physical environment was to healing. Fast forward to the year 2000 when Diane Brown, a curator and private art dealer founded RxArt.

RxArt is an amazing program that brings contemporary art to healthcare facilities (many of these children’s hospitals) to help patients relieve stress and anxiety by engaging them through these art installations. The program offers a rich variety of art forms and boasts an impressive list of contemporary artists from the whimsical Weimaraners of William Wegman to the contemplative wall paintings of Mary Temple.

Art can be provocative, and is, in fact, often spoken about in terms of how it shocks us or how it deconstructs that which is comfortable and familiar. But art can also be profoundly healing – soothing, inspiring, it engages us and allows us to see beyond our immediate situation for respite from our struggles. It reminds us of the beauty that exists within the world during times when it might otherwise be difficult for us to see with our own eyes. It allows us to connect – to the artist, to a concept, to a cause, and sometimes to a forgotten part of ourselves. Art is good medicine.

Article by LYDIA GNAU
Painting courtesy of KIMBERLY KIRK
Kimberly Kirk is a young emerging artist whose visual creative process is uniquely influenced by her strong background in dance and storytelling. Inspired by her love for nature and spirit, her art is saturated with vivid natural hues and rich with symbolic meanings. She holds a BA in Transformational Arts from the University of Minnesota. Transformational Arts is the study of empowerment through the arts--dance, creative writing, theater, and music. She makes her home in beautiful Kauai with her husband and daughter where she nurses an addiction to surfing.


  1. As someone who is asked to choose art on behalf of clients, i totally agree with your postings. Art means different things to different people and people' take out' is always different. It is subjective and is therefore often impossible to select for the end user.


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