I recently attended the annual meeting of the National Organization of Arts and Health (NOAH) which was very illuminating, and for my interests, very helpful for understanding the larger contexts of the subjects I’m pursuing here: visual art, health, and design. I’m sure I will have more to say about those contexts later, but first a note about what we mean when we talk about art.
It’s a big subject, of course, and we could draw from a thousand traditions and ideas and philosophies, but let’s consider just this one, which I found in a book by Daisy Fancourt, who was the keynote speaker at NOAH 2018. She presented such incredible evidence to support claims concerning the healing properties of the arts - the essentially coterminous relationship between healing and art - that the audience gave her standing ovation! I hope to review some of the elements from that presentation soon, but in the meantime, I have her book, Arts in Health.
The book begins by citing archeologist Steven Mithen, who theorizes that neurological developments in homo sapiens in the Paleolithic era.
There are three cognitive processes critical to art making: the mental conception of an image, the intentional communication of this image, and the attribution of meaning to the image.
A definition of art built on cognitive processes may help clarify our thinking. When designers consider artwork for the built environment, they must consider how that work makes meaning and connects people together. The designer is a sort of agent who connects the image-making of the artist and the meaning-making of the viewer. I especially want to emphasize the human connection essential to healing. My critique of current arts in health practice is based significantly on how the practice overlooks connectedness, or “sociality.”