Feeling down? Hit up an art gallery online for a rapid mood boost
For some people, wandering around a gallery or museum to ponder over a Picasso, revel in a Rembrandt, or find meaning in a Magritte can boost their mood and improve their well-being. But is the same true for viewing art online? New research says that it is.
Evidence is emerging that viewing art can be an effective way of reducing stress and improving mood. For example, studies have shown that placing artwork in hospital rooms made patients happier and less stressed, and they required less medication.
These days, thanks to digital technology, you can view great works of art without leaving your house. A new study by researchers at the University of Vienna and the Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics examined whether the same mental health benefits as physically walking around a museum or gallery were obtained by viewing art online on a computer, tablet, or smartphone.
“Online art viewing is an untapped source of support for well-being that can be consumed as bite-sized bits of meaning-making and pleasure,” said MacKenzie Trupp, first author of the study.
The researchers recruited 240 participants and had them view an interactive exhibition of one of Monet’s Water Lilies paintings using Google Arts and Culture. Google Arts and Culture features over 3,000 collections from galleries worldwide, including the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York, Paris’ Musée d’Orsay, the National Gallery in London, and the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.
The participants’ average viewing time was a little over two minutes, ranging from 10 seconds to almost nine minutes. After viewing the artwork, the participants completed a questionnaire about their state of mind, what pleasure they got from viewing the painting, and how meaningful they found the experience.
The researchers found that viewing one artwork on a smart device, even for a short time – one to two minutes – has a detectible positive effect on mood and anxiety levels. They also found that those participants who were more receptive to viewing art benefited more, something the researchers called "esthetic responsiveness."
“Esthetic responsiveness describes how people react to diverse esthetic stimuli, like art and nature,” said Edward Vessel, a co-author of the study. “The results showed that individuals with high levels of art and esthetic responsiveness benefit more from online art viewing due to having more pleasurable and meaningful art experiences.”
The researchers say that the findings demonstrate the benefits to well-being of viewing art online, particularly for those who are unable to leave their houses for health reasons.
The study was published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior.