Archive for January, 2011

Could art classes for the masses lower our health care costs?

Few people give much thought to the psychological effect of places they frequent outside their homes. While they may have a vague sense that spending too much time inside a concrete box next to a big parking lot is bad for their state of mind, most folks turn a blind eye to bland or hostile surroundings. Meanwhile, such blocking efforts tax the brain.

Instead of ignoring these settings, more citizens can become aware of the impact of the built environment on their physical and mental health. They can take part in creating places worth caring about, in the words of author and critic James H. Kunstler.

A first step in creating places worth caring about is to encourage more people to develop the critical eye of an artist. For anyone who believes that only a few individuals can enjoy the benefits of an artist’s visual awareness, I recommend reading or seeing The Pitmen Painters. This play, which recently completed a successful run on Broadway, is about the transformational power of art lessons within a Northumbrian coal mining community during the thirties and forties. Playwright Lee Hall was inspired by William Feaver’s book about weekly art classes that became the celebrated Ashington Group.

A particularly astute observation appeared in The New York Times review of the play: “Its lesson is that in looking at art and articulating our responses, we find essential parts of ourselves that enable us to lead happier, fuller lives and, yes, probably be better citizens. That is something that no nation can afford to ignore.”

As a society, we know a lot about what causes disease, but what are the causes of health?  When more members of the public can consciously see things that enhance or erode their well being, maybe we will see a dramatic drop in preventable dis-ease.

– Sharon VanderKaay

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