In 1984, Edward O. Wilson introduced the “Biophilia hypothesis.” His idea was that there’s an instinctive bond between humans and other living systems — animals, plants, etc. Leaning on the earlier work of Erich Fromm, Wilson defined Biophilia as “the urge to affiliate with other forms of life.”
More recently, Bob Stone, a researcher in Birmingham, UK, has done some amazing experiments in hospitals and nursing homes. He puts large flat-screen terminals near patients’ beds. The 24-hour imagery on these screens mimics the actual time of day, including sunrise and sunset. The scene might be a fairly static beach or woodland view with the occasional passage of birds or animals. Audio completes the picture.
Guess what? Patients cheer up, become more alert and engaged, have lower blood pressure, and act happier. Believe it or not, this phony environment even works a bit better than pushing people out into familiar gardens in wheelchairs.
In another experiment, this time in the USA, children with ADHD were subjected to actual greenery. Measurable amounts of calm, focus and improved concentration followed after about 20 minutes. They’re calling it “Green therapy.”
Plein air painters have known about this sort of thing for some time. The “event” of outdoor work somehow soothes the savage breast — after a couple of hours even problematic people can be positively mellow. As an antidote to the sweaty anxiety that many painters have in their studios, green therapy calms and centers quicker and cheaper than a Zen master. Brilliant for the artist’s soul; over time it also improves quality.
I know of sunless painters who toil below screaming projectors and dictated deadlines. I’ve shouted down their stairways to get them out and into the greenery. Funnily, in a world of rugged individualists, it’s probably fear that keeps them in their caves. Like the old folks of Birmingham, they get some sustenance from their reference material. Back in the UK, one lady, bedridden and virtually silent for two years, was totally perked up by her seaside-mimicking terminal. “Get my hat,” she called out. “I need to take a bus to the sea. Is there a bus?”
PS: “Unlike phobias, which are the aversions and fears people have of things in the natural world, philias (such as Biophilia) are the attractions and positive feelings that people have toward certain habitats, activities, and objects in their natural surroundings.” (Edward O. Wilson)
Esoterica: I’m laptopping you from a sport-fishing boat off the west coast of Vancouver Island. Over the inter-boat radio, my buddies are completely concerned with fish. Back at the lodge, dinner-table conversations can be positively fishy. Captains of industry, these guys hardly mention their offices or factories. I’m the only one supplementing fishing with painting. My advice: Take a bus to the sea while you still can. Hey, gotta go, there’s a coho on my line.
FYI, last year I took some green therapy in the same spot. If you’re interested, you can read about it and see pictures here.
Precious, fleeting moments
by Bill Erlenbach, Edmonton, AB, Canada
There is a place in Jasper National Park where you can sit on the shores of the Athabasca River and watch the evening light on Mount Kerkeslin while the sunlit upper reaches of Mount Edith Cavell peek over the hill to the southwest. I have spent too few evenings sitting there. Only once did I try to paint it plein air and never in the studio. It is a place of such deep peace that merely picking up a paint brush seems invasive. Perhaps one day soon I will attempt a studio painting of it. At best it will be a faint shadow of my sanctuary away from the flat land city with its belching oil refiners I currently call home.
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Receiving the energy of the Universe
by Verna Korkie, Canmore, Alberta, Canada
Green Therapy has been a huge part of my life, and getting bigger — bigger than painting, at least in the summer. I spend up to 6 hours a day nurturing the flowers and plants (my more practical husband Bob does the veggies and has been the Corn King in our rural subdivision acreage for 38 years!). Working and weeding and bending and schelpping and transplanting (I managed to transplant 7, what turned out to be, sowthistles!), transports me unnoticed into the Zone, capital ZED! It is as if I am directly receiving the energy of the Universe — as if I have a wind-up thing on my back and I am the toy. I am just so happy and content during the Co-Creation of these mini Butchart Gardens. Wouldn’t it be great if everyone could experience this?
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Up in the treetops
by Marny Lawton, Hampton, Connecticut, USA
That explains it — why I love my studio and feel so ‘at home’ and serene when I’m working in it… I’m up in the treetops (actually top floor of my barn surrounded by trees), filled with the sound of birds, buzz of mud wasps, cool breezes, warm sun and cool rain. I love it and it’s where I’ve been the most productive!
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Alive in the out-of-doors
by Melanie Jordan, Minneapolis, MN, USA
Last Friday and Saturday I spent many hours outdoors at the Sundance Ceremony in Pipestone, Minnesota. The sweeping expanse of the prairie sky, the gentle breeze and the many different plants and birds were food for my soul. Watching the sunset over the tree-raising ritual while the moon hung in the changing light was breathtaking. I am interested in learning how to paint clouds now, and flowers, and people and landscapes and . . . .
Who is Anonymous?
by Bruce Argue, Lenham, Kent, England
Who is this Anonymous? Please Robert, don’t allow this irritating person/s to soil your postings. In your Twice-Weekly letter, July 5, 2013, Susi Franco confronted ‘Anonymous,’ and rightly, and was highly critical of the contents of their remarks and their failure to be man/woman enough to comment using their own name.
(RG note) Thanks, Bruce. We will continue to accept “Anonymous” as some artists prefer to protect their careers. Others want to be honest but not to disclose themselves to be owners of health or mental issues. Our main problems with “Anonymous” is that we can’t illustrate his/her work or confront him/her directly. See letters below.
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One of my galleries cheats me. He regularly jacks up my standard agreed prices and says it’s something to do with the framing. It isn’t. He puts regular middle-priced frames on them. What should I do?
(RG note) Since the advent of the Internet, serious collectors go online to competing dealers to get an idea how your work is selling and the range of your prices. If you do have your own website you need to publish prices there too to confirm what can be expected in the galleries. Art dealers who jack your prices above published standard prices will simply sell less of your work. Smart dealers know this.
Angry art instructor
My art instructor encouraged me to paint like him, and now that I do he trashes my work at every opportunity. What should I do?
(RG note) Don’t paint like him. That encouragement to do that was only an exercise that he thought you needed before you found your own style.
Communing with Nature
Several posts ago, you wrote about depression and self-worth. Having been very discouraged at my prospects as an artist for a long time, what you said rang true with me, and so I began to look for all the videos and other material I could find that dealt with improving self-esteem and a sense of deserving good things. My attitudes have begun to change and, already, more opportunities and successes have come my way.
Regarding Green Therapy, I paint regularly with a group of artists, and find that it really helps my outlook just to be outdoors for the day. I get to commune not only with other artists, but Nature itself.
Sensory garden helps patients
by Dr. Chris Ellis, Pietermaritzburg, South Africa
Town Hill Psychiatric Hospital in Pietermaritzburg was built in the late 1870s and opened in 1880. It was designed and built in the grand fashion of Victorian mental institutions; most of its buildings are now listed historical monuments as examples of Victorian colonial architecture. At the beginning of the 20th century, it was almost a self-sufficient community, with vegetable gardens, a piggery, quarry and permanent residences for many of the staff, gardeners and workmen. The first medical superintendent, Dr James Hyslop, planted the trees, many of which still remain and must be up to 100 years old. There are groves of bamboo, yellowwood, cycads, enormous azaleas and avenues lined with jacaranda and London planes in the grounds, which give it the atmosphere of an English country estate in a condition of mild decaying colonial splendour.
In 2009, we decided to design and plant a sensory garden in a spare patch of ground outside Peacehaven ward, which houses long term female patients and some younger patients who are awaiting placement in the community. Sensory or therapeutic gardens are used to provide a healing and nutritional environment for patients, staff and visitors. The garden consists of exotic and indigenous shrubs and herbs that are visually pleasing to the eye and stimulating to the senses of smell, touch and taste. It provides a relaxing atmosphere and therapy in the form of gardening, watering and empowerment activities for patients. Obviously, poisonous or toxic plants are avoided, as well as shrubs with thorns.
We still don’t understand all the sensory pathways of taste and smell. There appears to be some crossover, as the sensations that we consider being taste can actually be conveyed by smell, and vice versa. Smell is also tied up (via the limbic system) with memory, and hence the nostalgia induced by certain smells. Emotion is also enmeshed with this system, so that events, places or people who are emotionally significant, are likely to be remembered. These are ancient primaeval pathways that began to evolve in our forebears’ forebears over 400 million years ago (H. sapiens does not seem to be in a hurry over these matters).
Patients may also use the herbs from the culinary section, such as parsley, basil, mint and thyme, to spice up their normal diets. We plan to map out trails so that patients and staff from the other wards can visit as part of therapeutic exercises. This is all part of a strategy to create a healing, natural environment to aid the recovery of our patients.
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You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013.
That includes Leonard Earl Johnson of New Orleans, LA, USA, “We are calmed by our window-garden views of seabirds — a flock of Rosy Spoonbills passes daily, to and from work — the thrill of living in a Big Swamp City.”
And also Richard Kent of Irving, CA, USA, who wrote, “I thoroughly enjoy your letters, your books, and your website and all the links. You provide food, gems, and gold — the real stuff that can’t be taken away or turned to dust. Thanks for being such an inspiration.”
Enjoy the past comments below for Green therapy…