Many moons ago I went to see a doctor to check my eyesight. He sat me down in front of him, then kind of poked a finger in my eye, and instructed me to look at the wall behind him. I tried to do just that but, honestly, my eyes simply refused to follow the doctor's order. There on the wall, behind his back, was the ugliest poster I had ever seen, the kind that gives you a headache the moment you rest your eye on it. I pleaded with him, "Can I please look at something else because this is too painful to look at."
"What's wrong?" he asked, so I told him that my eyes hurt because the art in his office was so bad. There was a pause and, then, he turned around and looked at the poster as if he'd never seen it before. "Funny, I never paid attention to that. Is it that bad?" he sheepishly asked.
"You bet", I said, "and if I were you I would remove it this very moment before someone sues you for damage to their retina. " Instead of throwing me out of the office, the poor fellow allowed me, so to speak, to climb onto my favorite soapbox from where I delivered a soliloquy on the positive impact of art on our everyday lives and on the damage that bad art inflicts on so many of us.
"Mr. Goldman, what do you do for a living?"
"Well, Doctor, I told him, "It's difficult to explain but primarily I talk about art..."
This almost forgotten encounter resurfaced for me because of a number of recent articles that have caught my attention. Randy Kennedy, in The New York Times, writes that, "art and medicine have worked hand in hand for a long time." To hone their drawing skills, artists in the past, like Leonardo da Vinci, dissected human bodies. The latest example is an art-appreciation course for medical students that many schools, including Yale, Stanford, and Cornell, are adding to their curriculum in the belief that the art of looking is vital to the medical profession. A study published in 2001 in the Journal of the American Medical Association suggests that looking at art improves a medical student's observational abilities.
In the Los Angeles Times' Health Section, I read an article titled, "The Healing Canvas" by Jenny Hontz, in which therapists claim that art can soothe the mind and body and that now, science backs them up. A study of 300 people--ages 65 and older--found that art, "boosted the immune system and decreased loneliness." And if you, my dear listeners, want to save on your future medical bills, hear me now. And, I'm quoting from the article, "Those who participated in art groups also had fewer doctor visits and used less medication than those in control groups." What do you think of that? For years, I advocated the curative power of art and, finally, it seems that the medical profession is catching up with me.
At the same time, a long held belief that prayers by strangers can positively affect the process of recovery, is now found to be not valid. An article in The New York Times by Raymond Lawrence, an Episcopal priest and director of pastoral care at Columbia University Medical Center, states that a $2.4 million study found that "strangers' prayers did not help patient's recovery." It only helped the people who prayed to feel better.
As for myself, I have always believed that exposure to art, and letting it be part of your everyday life, does tremendous good-- to your soul and to your body.