Biophilic healing art by Susie Frazier

Waking up in a world that’s trying to emerge from a global pandemic is a bit like the moment you come out of a dream. The shift to a new reality is disorienting at first, and may require some time to get your bearings. As organizations and individuals evaluate what they need to feel safe and calm in whatever environment they find themselves working, the demand for wellness strategies has never been more prevalent. 

Whether you manage a corporate setting that affects many people or you’re a sole proprietor who works from home, there is one simple but powerful tactic that can have an immediate impact on health and well-being. It’s the integration of biophilic art.

Biophilia, the idea that humans have an innate affinity towards nature, is widely documented as a key to personal restoration. This urge to connect with life is like medicine for our minds. While many studies recognize the emotional and psychological benefits of integrating natural elements into interior spaces, current research indicates that even patterns derived from nature can improve experience, mood, and happiness.[1] Why?

According to environmental psychologist Stephen Kaplan, it’s because organic forms engage the mind effortlessly [2], an outcome that many of us crave in an effort to relax in these modern times. Physicist Richard Taylor says it’s also because nature features the presence of repetitive, self-similar patterns called fractals, something our human visual system has learned to process with ease and enjoyment. [3] Through brainwave and skin conductance research, Taylor and his team discovered that simply looking at fractal patterns in nature, whether through a window or within a piece of art, resulted in a shocking 60% reduction in stress. With that in mind, NASA researched ways to help the psyche of astronauts living in windowless rooms in outer space. What they learned is that observation periods of nature’s fractals, even for less than 10 seconds and with only a periphery view, were sufficient enough to trigger the desired effect of reducing stress. [4] 

With anxiety disorders now affecting over 41 million people across the United States, this kind of epiphany is why nature-inspired artwork can be such a valuable asset. Companies may still want to plan for longer term programs and policies that indirectly support people’s well-being, but the installation of biophilic art on workplace walls can be a more immediate tool in any wellness toolbox.     

I found my way to this truth a few years ago after learning I had lived with undiagnosed anxiety and ADHD since childhood. I told my doctor the only time I felt relief from my overstimulated brain was when I went outside and looked for earth materials that I could turn into art. To me, natural settings were more than a place to have a healthy workout or cultivate better crops. Mother Nature was more like a therapeutic guide, teaching me a new visual language for managing my mental health. I studied the sensory inputs I experienced outside and integrated them into the soothing objects I made for the inside. This is when it dawned on me my thinking process as an eco-artist was ultimately something that could be beneficial to anyone.

Fortunately, you don’t have to be an artist yourself to experience the benefits of biophilic art. What’s more important is to find an artist whose style is deeply influenced by patterns of the natural world. As you consider what types of work to hang, keep these two priorities in mind:

1.     Choose pieces that connect to a ​sense of place. Fine art has the potential to become more meaningful when it’s tied to a certain locale. If the finished composition can feature actual earth materials gathered nearby, then you’re off to a good start. If those materials offer a story of reclamation and rebirth into something new, the art becomes emotionally inspiring to people as they privately manage their own journey through change.

2.     Choose pieces that align with your core values. When the art on the walls symbolically celebrates a certain culture or belief system, people’s mood and morale can be positively impacted. If your beliefs are rooted in wellness or sustainability, then artwork with organic forms speaks to the center of you really are and what you represent.  

Looking ahead to a new normal in society’s workplaces, some people may continue to work from home while others may rush to come back to the office. In either scenario, integrating earth-minded art on the walls can help create culturally-rich spaces where people feel a new degree of joy and comfort from their surroundings. And who couldn’t use a dose of that right now?

(previously published)