Museums and Their Positive Effect On Health

Text By Lynn McDaniel

Consider these quotes:

 First-year college students’ self-ratings of their emotional health dropped to record low levels in 2010,’ according to the CIRP Freshman Survey, UCLA’s annual survey of the nation’s entering students at four-year colleges and universities.’   (HERI)

‘Stress doesn’t only make us feel awful emotionally,’ says Jay Winner MD, author of Take the Stress Out of Your Life and director of the Stress Management Program for Sansum Clinic in Santa Barbara, Calif. ‘It can also exacerbate just about any health condition you can think of.’ (Griffin)

 The article goes on to list heart disease, asthma, obesity, diabetes, headaches, depression, anxiety, gastrointestinal problems, Alzheimer’s disease, accelerated aging and premature death as examples of health conditions adversely affected by stress. 

In 2011, the American College Health Association–National College Health Assessment (ACHA–NCHA—a nationwide survey of college students at 2- and 4-year institutions—found that about 30 percent of college students reported feeling ‘so depressed that it was difficult to function’ at some time in the past year. (NIH)

The administrators at Texas A&M University, in their quest to promote the health and well-being of all students, faculty and staff, provide many health service benefits, including immunizations, primary medical care services, sexual assault resources, student counseling services, and stress management tools such as biofeedback.  Texas A&M also offers health-enhancing facilities that are sometimes overlooked and underutilized—such as on-campus museums and cultural opportunities.

Research has proven that viewing and participating in art-related activities has many health benefits.  A report for Arts in Health, by Dr. R. Staricoff, which was published by the Manchester Arts Council in 2004, provided evidence that the arts “can help reduce heart-rate, blood pressure and requests for analgesic medication”, while a recent scientific survey by Glasgow Life, called Cultural Attendance and Public Mental Health, noted that “cultural attendance provides a distinct stimulus to human beings that has an impact on their wellbeing to such a degree that it prolongs their lives.”

An independent study of more than 50,000 participants in Norway provided evidence that “receptive culture” such as viewing art, watching a dance or listening to music actually relieved more stress, anxiety and depression than “creative culture” such as actively writing, dancing, singing, or painting.  How and why does engaging in cultural activities help relieve stress and aid in diminishing depression?  Studies indicate that viewing art allows one to become introspective, to mentally work through problems, to meditate and simply find relief from external pressures.  Even if the exhibition is a disturbing one, such as pictures of Holocaust victims or artifacts from the Titanic, viewing these types of items can be therapeutic and can allow the viewer to reflect, reconcile and heal. (BBC News Health)

Visual art is particularly well suited to helping Alzheimer’s patients, research has found. According to Anne Basting, director of the Center on Age and Community at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, art can trigger the emotional memory that often remains strong in Alzheimer’s patients, and can give them access to other memories as well. (Gregg)

Art heals the mind, body and spirit.  It provides a powerful antidote to the pressures, anxieties and worries of life.  Museums and galleries offer places of respite where people can simply rest, contemplate and unwind.  Texas A&M offers many cultural opportunities, including:

1. The Reynolds Gallery

2. The TAMU Insect Collection

3. The M. Benz Gallery of Floral Art

4. The George Bush Presidential Library and Museum

5. The Cushing Memorial Library and Archives

6. The Sam Houston Sanders Corps of Cadets Center

7. The Texas A&M Sports Museum

8. The Wright Gallery

9. The J. Wayne Stark Gallery

10. The Forsyth Gallery

11. The Leland T. and Jessie Jordan Institute for International Awareness

12. The Department of Anthropology Model Ship Collection

We invite you to come in and heal.

 Works Cited:

Andrews, Linda Wasmer. Psychology Today: Minding the Body. Museums as Healing Places. Website: Published: December 21, 2010. Accessed: July 22, 2013.

American Alliance of Museums. Museums On Call Report: How Museums are Addressing Health Issues. Website:  Date accessed: July 24, 2013.

BBC News Health.  Culture Linked to Improved Health. Website: Date published: May 24, 2011. Date accessed: July 30, 2013.

Gregg, Gail. Art News. The Persistence of Memories. Website: Date published: November 1, 2011.  Date accessed: July 22, 2013.

Griffin, Morgan R. WebMD Feature.  10 Health Problems Related to Stress That You Can Fix.  Website:  Revised: May 3,2010.  Date accessed: July 24, 2013.

Health and Culture.  How museums and galleries can enhance health and wellbeing. Website: Date accessed: July 30, 2013.

Higher Education Research Institute home of Cooperative Institutional Research Program. Publication: Incoming college students rate emotional health at record low, annual survey finds.  Website:  Date published: 2010.  Date accessed:  July 24, 2013.

National Institute of Mental Health. Publications. Depression and College Students.  Website: Date revised: 2012.  Date accessed: July 24, 2013.


Bluebonnets with Cemetery #2

One of the most unique paintings in the Forsyth Gallery’s collection was a gift by the Texas A&M Class of 1985 endowment.  Bluebonnets with Cemetery #2, was painted by Austin-based artist Nina Beall in 1991.  Ms. Beall has been exhibiting her artwork since 1980 and has participated in solo and group shows around the country. 

The Class of 1985 purchased Bluebonnets with Cemetery #2 for its Texas-centric subject of a field of bluebonnets in Spring.  Hills full of royal blue, pale blue, and the extremely rare red bluebonnets rise to the middle ground, where an old, fenced cemetery appears on the viewer’s left.  Skeletal trees line the ridge of hills in the background and the setting sun reflects on the clouds in shades of yellow, peach, and pink.  The painting is currently on display on the first floor of the Memorial Student Center.

beall_ninaThe large painting is an example of the use of the impasto technique to create artworks where the paint appears to be rising from the canvas itself.  The characteristic look of impasto is typically created by applying the paint to the canvas very heavily with the aid of a pallet-knife or brush, though some artists may also choose to use rags, pastry bags, or even their hands.  The word “impasto,” originally derives from the Italian word for dough, and some speculate that the Italian verb “impastare,” meaning “to knead” (as in kneading dough for bread), influenced the modern use of the word. 

Both oil and acrylic paint can be used in the impasto technique. Bluebonnets with Cemetery #2 consists of acrylic paint, as this medium dries faster than oils.  Artists typically use the technique to add an expressive quality to the painting, create more surfaces upon which light can reflect, and give a 3-dimensional sculptural quality to the work.  Impasto was first used by the Dutch and Italian masters of the 16th and 17th Centuries, where it was contrasted with smoother work to give greater interest to folds of cloth and the surfaces of jewels.  Later, during the Impressionist era of the 19th Century, painters like Van Gogh created entire canvases using the technique, as seen in The Starry Night, 1889.  The impasto technique was also extremely popular with the American post-World War II Abstract Expressionists, including Hans Hofmann and Willem de Kooning.  

Ms. Beall states that, “…I am obsessed with the pure physicality of the paint and the process.  Therein lies the mystery for me; and I suppose a rather Taoist philosophy in regards to art, nature, and life.”  A selection of Ms. Beall’s current past works may be viewed on her website: